07/10/2005 11:00PM

Drug inquiry sought in Kentucky


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority will ask the state's inspector general to investigate whether the former state racing commission failed to enforce its own rules regarding positive drug tests for approximately 20 horses in 2002 and 2003, authority members said Monday at a meeting at Keeneland Racecourse.

The decision to ask for a formal investigation came three days after the authority's executive director, Jim Gallagher, appeared before the state's Interim Joint Subcommittee on Licensing and Occupations last Friday to disclose the positive drug tests, which he discovered while making an informal inquiry shortly after he joined the authority last September.

At the hearing Friday and again at the authority meeting on Monday, Gallagher said that he uncovered approximately 20 instances in which findings for drugs such as methadone and clenbuterol were never called as positives under the former racing commission, a Democrat-controlled body that was disbanded shortly after Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, took office in late 2003. The positive results came from both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, Gallagher said.

Gallagher declined on Monday to identify the trainers whose horses tested positive. He said he found no evidence that the trainers were ever informed that their horses had tested positive.

Bernie Hettel, the Kentucky Racing Commission's former executive director and chief steward, did not respond to a phone message left at his home on Monday afternoon.

William Street, the authority chairman, pressed for the formal investigation at the Monday meeting, and his request was endorsed by LaJuana Wilcher, the secretary of the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, who generally attends racing authority meetings. Wilcher's cabinet includes the Office of the Inspector General.

According to Gallagher, the positive test results were relayed from the testing laboratory at Iowa State University to personnel at the racing commission. The commission, Gallagher said, then changed its regulations so that the concentrations of drugs found in the sample would fall below the state's acceptable threshold levels, negating the need to call them positives. Gallagher said he had pieced together a paper trail about the process largely from laboratory records.

The testing laboratory "would send positive results," Gallagher said, "but then there were conversations between members of the laboratory and the racing commission that did not make the process go forward any further. This was all happening by telephone."

Racing authority members declined to comment on whether any crime might have been committed, reserving that question for the inspector general.

"I can say that it's not the way I would conduct business," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said that his inquiry grew out of conversations he had with lab personnel, whom he declined to identify, shortly after he arrived at the authority.

The director of the Iowa State laboratory, Walter Hyde, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The allegation of drug positives that were not called is complicating the already contentious issue of drug reform in Kentucky, a process that has been embraced by the current racing authority. Over the past eight months, the racing authority has approved stricter rules to deal with race-day medication use and harsher penalties for drug violations, sometimes over the objections of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents trainers. The horsemen have typically drawn support from Democrats.

After the hearing Friday, the Licensing and Occupations Committee requested documents from the authority regarding Gallagher's informal inquiry. Street and other authority members said they would like to involve the inspector general in order to make sure that a complete and fair investigation is conducted.