12/21/2004 1:00AM

Governor seeks stricter drug rules

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher asked the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council on Tuesday to try to bring the state's permissive medication policies more in line with other states.

Fletcher made his request in an unannounced appearance at the Kentucky Horse Park, addressing the panel's first meeting in two years. He joined other speakers who criticized the state's medication policies.

The criticism came from several representatives on the nine-member council, which was reconstituted earlier this year by Fletcher. The tone of the comments indicates that the council will likely recommend to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority that it rewrite its medication policies to conform with broader national standards.

Fletcher opened the meeting by asking the council to search for ways to bring "more integrity" to Kentucky's racing. Citing the work done by a national task force that has urged racing states to adopt a medication policy limiting raceday medication to the anti-bleeding diuretic Lasix, Fletcher said that the state will be unable to promote Kentucky's racing product unless its rules were more consistent with other states.

The Equine Drug Council was allowed to dissolve under the previous administration of Gov. Paul Patton. The council was established by statute 22 years ago to recommend medication and drug-testing policies to Kentucky's horse racing regulators.

Kentucky's medication policy allows horses to be administered on raceday two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, a steroidal anti-inflammatory, Lasix, and another anti-bleeding medication. Although the policy is the most permissive in the country, the rules were actually tightened in 2002 under pressure from the racing industry.

Jim Gallagher, the new executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, pointed to a handful of misspelled medication names in the authority's rules along with inconsistencies in the state's laws and the policies passed by Kentucky's former regulator. Gallagher read parts of the statute at the meeting that appeared to indicate that the medications that are currently allowed should actually be banned.

"I just want to express to the council members how administratively problematic these rules are," Gallagher said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us."

Alan Leavitt, the president of Walnut Hall Ltd. and a representative of Standardbred interests, said that the criticism of Kentucky's rules could only be applied to Thoroughbred racing. He noted that Standardbreds race under strict rules that allow only Lasix to be administered on raceday.

John Ward, a Kentucky Thoroughbred trainer and a council member, was harshly critical of the Thoroughbred rules, suggesting that the state had bowed to pressure from veterinarians and drug manufacturers. He called for the rules to be reformed.

The council has scheduled another meeting for Jan. 14 and plans to meet once every three weeks. The panel is expected to issue a recommendation to the racing authority by spring.