Veterinarians, Trainers Support Ky. Drug Policy

The debate over whether Kentucky should implement a restrictive race-day medication policy heated up Nov. 18 with calls by racetrack veterinarians and trainers to keep the current policy intact, and criticism of the way the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium handles its business.

Some speakers at the Kentucky Racing Commission-sponsored forum at Churchill Downs went so far as to say a switch to a Salix-only policy on race day would open the state up to cheating.

The hearing, the second held in Kentucky, came about after racing commission chairman Frank Shoop announced in September Kentucky should follow the lead of the consortium in its quest for uniform medication rules and drug-testing procedures. The consortium will present the policy to regulators Dec. 10 in Tucson, Ariz.

Kentucky rules allow up to five medications on race day, including Salix; no more than two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), namely Bute and Banamine, naproxen, or ketoprofen; no more than one steroidal anti-inflammatory agent such as prednisolone, dexamethasone, prednisone, or triamcinolone; and furosemide and amicar, both of which can be used to treat bleeding.

Trainer Tom Amoss, who races primarily in Kentucky and Louisiana, urged regulators to keep the horse in the equation. He said use of NSAIDs is akin to aspirin used by humans for minor aches and pains.

"When I hear these viewpoints, the strongest and most important viewpoint should be that of the horse," Amoss said. "Go to people who work with the horse. Their opinions should not only be stated, but strongly considered."

Mark Cheney, DVM, said adjunct medication is a necessity because of a number of environmental factors that interfere with horses’ respiration. Year-round racing, he said, compounds the situation.

Cheney said there should be two priorities: eliminating illegal substances and protecting the welfare of the horse. Eliminating use of therapeutic, nonperformance-enhancing medication on race day would be counterproductive, he said.

"The cheaters will prosper," Cheney said.

Cheney said the consortium should instead focus its energy and resources on integrity issues and developing tests for "designer drugs." He also questioned the motives of members of the consortium, which is made up of individuals and organizations within the pari-mutuel industry.

"I think the consortium could use some common sense instead of science and come to conclusions...Everyone is thinking about politics and their ego," Cheney said.

Lonny Powell, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and treasurer for the consortium, said members looked at many possibilities and reached a consensus on a Salix-only policy. He suggested Kentucky would be left behind if it didn’t support the consortium’s proposal.

"Embracing the status quo in Kentucky is a vote for no national medication (policy)," Powell said. "Plain and simple, that’s how it shakes out. A dig-in-and-oppose position has no shot at reconciliation with a national policy."

John Piehowicz, DVM, who practices primarily at Turfway Park, questioned the way the consortium meets in private. He also said there is no evidence owners, trainers, or the public have complained about Kentucky’s medication policy.

In a follow-up interview, Scot Waterman, DVM, executive director of the consortium, said the goal "was not to be secretive or submarine anybody…the goal was to give the first opportunity to comment (on the proposal) to the people in a position to make things happen."


About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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