The Kentucky Equine Drug Council will ask the Kentucky Racing Commission Jan. 15 to form a committee to tackle the complicated and controversial issue of out-of-competition testing.
The council, which met Jan. 10, also is pursuing changes in state statute that would allow it to pay for research done outside of Kentucky. Dr. Rick Sams of Ohio State University continues to serve as a consultant, but hasn't been paid.
The issue of out-of-competition testing could very well serve as a gauge of just how serious the industry is maintaining integrity in regard to racehorse medication. Owners and trainers in effect would be asked to surrender some rights to facilitate testing other than on race days.
Out-of-competition testing has sprung up from use of erythropoeitin, or EPO, and other related blood-doping substances. Because the drug is administered on a schedule, testing would be done at random and not necessarily on race days. There are no provisions in Kentucky for such testing.
Ned Bonnie, a member of the drug council, surveyed racetracks and horsemen. Concerns range from legal ramifications of out-of-competition testing to whether security personnel would even be able to identify EPO. In addition, a key question is whether owners and trainers would sign stall applications or stakes nominations that mandate they be subject to out-of-competition testing.
The drug council also would like to identify pharmacies that sell EPO or other substances that fall under the category of "prohibited practices," and supports enactment of a rule that would prohibit use of certain Association of Racing Commissioners International-classified drugs.
Bonnie said it sends a wrong message to the public to have a rule for prohibited practices, but not be able to enforce it. Racing commission chairman Frank Shoop said it's not for lack of support.
"I'm at a loss on what to do myself," Shoop said. "My inaction is not because I'm not interested...I just don't know what to do. The commission doesn't have the personnel or funds to police out-of-competition testing. It's a complex issue."
The commission will discuss whether to form a committee to look int o the matter.
The drug council has more than $785,000 in its 2003 budget, but by statute it can't spend the money on research done outside of the state. That leaves the research in the hands of the University of Kentucky. Officials are working on ways to pay Sams of Ohio State, and at the Jan. 10 meeting decided to pursue legislative change.
Commission attorney Bruce Miller and the late Don Sturgill, who served as general counsel of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, have offered opinions that the statute doesn't permit the funds to be spent out of state. Bonnie said he believes the opinion "to be in error."
"The research needs to be done in Kentucky, but it does not mean consulting can't be done by people outside of the state," Bonnie said. "Are we going to say that the University of Kentucky has to review itself? That's not likely. That would be such a serious conflict of interest that it would be laughable."
The issue has been simmering for more than a year. Dr. Thomas Tobin of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center has handled most drug council research, but there has been a push by Bonnie and other council members to hire other consultants, for instance Sams.
Dr. Arnold Pessin, coordinator of the Lexington-based Race Track Practitioners, told the council there is no need to have the research reviewed by a consultant because Tobin's peers review it before it is released.
"All this review isn't necessary," Pessin said. "His work is reviewed by others. This to me looks like a way to get control of money and cut the legs out from under the University of Kentucky."
Alice Chandler, a member of the drug council, chairs the Gluck board and said that's not the case. She supports the move to get the statute changed so out-of-state consultants can be hired.
In other business, the drug council, through Tobin, is devising a list of withdrawal guidelines relevant to threshold levels for medication. There are about 20 to 30, but the emphasis would be placed on substances that are more commonly used.
"These trainers are in the dark more than we are," said Dr. Bill Baker, a drug council member. "Veterinarians and trainers are trying to get some guidelines, but there are no answers."