The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will soon consider changes to the voided claim rule after its rules committee recommended updates to the standard.
In a unanimous vote, the KHRC's rules committee approved Jan. 16 updates that would require all horses claimed in a race be subject to post-race drug testing. Furthermore, if a horse is placed on the vet's list after the race—any time through his appearance in the test barn—the connections who claimed the horse have the option to void that claim.
The rules committee made no changes to the recommendations initially put forward by the KHRC's safety committee. The changes are expected to be considered by the full commission at its next regular meeting, scheduled Feb. 20.
Currently horses that are claimed could be selected by the stewards for a post-race test or if the claimant requests such a test. The updated recommendation would see all claimed horses be subject to post-race testing.
Unchanged is the provision that if a claimed horse tests positive for a substance associated with a Class A, B, or C penalty, the claim may be voided at the option of the claimant.
The stewards can void a claim and return the horse to its previous owner if it is euthanized before leaving the track or if the KHRC veterinarian determines the horse will be placed on the vet's list after bleeding that can be visually observed, or is unsound or lame before being released to the successful claimant. That release would occur after the horse's trip to the test barn.
Claimants will continue to have the option to elect on their claim envelope to claim the horse regardless of whether the KHRC vet determines the horse will be placed on the vet's list.
The committee approved the changes despite concerns of horsemen who attended the meeting. Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Marty Maline said his board and president opposed the changes as unnecessary. Maline said horsemen have not seen data indicating that entering unsound horses in races is a problem in Kentucky and he noted that with regulatory vets conducting pre-race testing, added regulation is not needed.
Committee member and KHRC vice chairman John Roach said it would be difficult to have a scientific test to determine if horsemen are choosing to not run their horses because of the rule. He said horses need as much protection as possible.
"We have a problem bringing new people to our races," Roach said. "I don't understand why we would not do everything we can for the horse. Even if it's just incremental improvement, it's worth it.
"I think we need to be focused on bringing new, young people to our tracks. They don't want to see horses injured on the track."
National HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback said the rule is different from a model rule recently approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Hamelbeck said the decision on a horse's soundness should be determined before it leaves the track. He noted that it could be problematic if a sound horse is injured after it leaves the track.
KHRC's equine medical director Dr. Mary Scollay noted that the KHRC researched a number of claiming rules in place in other major states and that Kentucky's rule is similar to the standard in California.
The most recent numbers from the Equine Injury Database, released in March of 2017, showed a decline in the rate of catastrophic breakdowns for a fourth straight year. Veterinarian and epidemiologist Dr. Tim Parkin said at that time that a number of safety initiatives put in place by tracks, horsemen, and regulators have contributed to that reduction.
The committee also opened for discussion—it never planned to vote on the matter—updates to its out-of-competition testing rule to move into line with the ARCI's call for horses who receive an anabolic steroid treatment to be placed on the vet's list for six months.
Currently the KHRC requires such treatments to be reported and horses not race for at least 60 days after the treatment. The new rule would effectively keep a horse who has received a steroid treatment out of racing for at least six months and continue to require that such treatments be reported.
Kentucky also is updating its out-of-competition rules to require treatment records of substances such as clenbuterol, thyroxine, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). While these substances have recognized therapeutic use in horses, there also are big concerns about their abuse. Updated out-of-competition testing targets such abuse while the reporting requirement would allow for any therapeutic use.
A number of states are expected to make similar updates to their out-of-competition rules this year to move into line with the model rule, which has the support of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.
Horsemen present at the meeting raised some concerns regarding the out-of-competition testing for therapeutic substances and the committee encouraged them to list any concerns and ideas to be considered at an upcoming committee meeting.