Kentucky Set For Drug-Testing Upgrade

A move by the Kentucky Racing Commission to upgrade equine drug-testing standards in the state has stirred the pot in a simmering conflict between those who believe change is long overdue, and those who see it as a veiled attempt to tinker with medication rules. Kentucky's medication policies have been targeted by those who believe they are too liberal.

The racing commission had issued a "request for proposals" for equine drug testing, which currently is handled by Truesdail Laboratories in California. The new contract was awarded to Truesdail, but another bidder filed a protest, so the matter was handed over to the state attorney general's office.

When the conflict is resolved, perhaps within two weeks, the drug-testing contract will be finalized by the state Finance and Administration Cabinet, not the racing commission. Richard (Smitty) Taylor, chairman of the commission, said the number of ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay) tests will increase from three to 30, and blood samples as well as urine samples will be tested.

Calvert Bratton, chief administrative officer for the racing commission, said the 30 ELISA tests will vary--about 100 are available. There will be five blood screens, he said.

A Kentucky Thoroughbred Association committee made up of breeders, owners, trainers, and veterinarians made recommendations to the racing commission to assist with the RFP.

"We've taken a monumental step forward," KTA executive director David Switzer said. "The whole thing was prompted by attitudes about how liberal our medication policies were. We applaud chairman Taylor for taking the initiatives to improve testing procedures."

Equine law attorney Edward (Ned) Bonnie, a member of the KTA committee and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Task Force on Racing Integrity and Drug-Testing Standards, agreed with Switzer. He said he hadn't heard of any plans to overhaul medication rules.

"There is an emphasis to enforce rules as currently written and interpreted," Bonnie said. "There was no interest in or an attempt to change rules, be it threshold levels or otherwise. That isn't the purpose of the exercise."

Currently, Kentucky doesn't have threshold levels for therapeutic medication. And that might be the crux of the conflict.

"The veterinarians are concerned about substantive changes in medication rules," said Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. "They would be quantifying therapeutic medication, which would infringe on a veterinarian's ability to treat a horse in the manner in which it needs to be treated."

"I don't think everybody understands this," Kentucky HBPA president Rick Hiles said. "In order to test for therapeutic drugs, you have to test levels, and in order to test for levels, you have to change medication rules. How can you tell a guy his horse tested high if you don't have a level set? When you set the levels, you're changing medication policies."

Bonnie acknowleged that the only way to "test how much and when Lasix is administered" is with blood tests. "When you change the number of tests you run, there's always the concern of, 'What drugs are they going to test for now?' "

Taylor said if the issue does come up at a racing commission meeting--the next one is scheduled for April 14--the RFP may be discussed for informational purposes only. "We may well have someone there to explain that it has been awarded, and here's what it does," Taylor said. "As a point of information, we'll probably let people know what the deal is."

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