Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council Targets Corticosteroids

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (KEDRC), citing a need to explore use of corticosteroids in racehorses, agreed Feb. 9 to take bids for research into one of the drugs in the research planning phase.

The KEDRC, which makes recommendations to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC), received a letter from The Jockey Club urging Kentucky to take the lead in the research. The drug council receives a portion of revenue from pari-mutuel handle in Kentucky, and is believed to have about $3 million on hand.

Though most racing jurisdictions in North America have greatly curtailed the use of race-day medication, corticosteroids, commonly used in racehorses, are getting a hard look from industry officials.

Corticosteroids have strong anti-inflammatory capabilities and are designed to be used therapeutically. They are injected into joints to alleviate swelling and not currently regulated. Corticosteroids are being studied by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the broad-based national group that makes recommendations to regulators for use in model rules. Nine corticosteroids have been identified for development of threshold testing levels, which means they would be treated like anabolic steroids--permitted for therapeutic non-racing use but banned on race days.

Industry officials and veterinarians have indicated joint injections are commonplace at racetracks. Over time, they could have debilitating effects, they have said.

The drug that could be researched with Kentucky funds is isoflupredone, which on veterinary websites is said to have a "potent anti-inflammatory effect."

Ned Bonnie, a member of the KEDRC and the KHRC, said use of corticosteroids could increase should Kentucky lower the threshold testing level for phenylbutazone (Bute), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that can't be administered within 24 hours of a race. "This becomes very important if there is movement in Kentucky on phenylbutazone, and there is interest," Bonnie said.

Bonnie cited comments from people involved with second careers for racehorses who claim racehorses that have been regularly injected with corticosteroids have trouble rehabilitating.

"It's a tear-jerkers' argument, but it's out there," Bonnie said. "I know from personal experience it's a serious problem."

Scot Waterman, DVM, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC), said corticosteroids and NSAIDs such as phenylbutazone are "closely linked. They're both anti-inflammatory in nature."

The RMTC has identified eight corticosteroids to be researched; work is under way on four of them, officials said.

"Regulatory veterinarians have said corticosteroids are high on their list of concerns," Mary Scollay, DVM, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said "It's a good time to get the work done."

By statute, any research paid for by KEDRC funds must be performed in Kentucky.

In a related matter, the KEDRC and the KHRC Feb. 9 approved an addendum to a new drug-testing contract with HFL Laboratory, which has been acquired by a company called LGC, a worldwide entity involved in forensics and pharmaceutical standards. Its Lexington laboratory is its first in the United States.

The addendum includes pricing for out-of-competition testing and new race-day drug-testing protocol that will begin Feb. 11 at Turfway Park, located in Northern Kentucky.

Originally posted on BloodHorse.com.

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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