06/27/2005 11:00PM

Impeding progress in Kentucky

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TUCSON, Ariz. - Racing's best hope of getting uniform drug-testing penalties and finding tests for currently undetectable drugs - the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium - met in Chicago this week.

It made progress in its task of cleaning up racing, working on funding formulas, uniform penalties, and research proposals.

Fourteen states so far have adopted all or part of the model rules proposed by the Consortium. Another nine are in the rule-making process, and that could be done by fall or the end of the year.

And then there is Kentucky.

Hope bloomed with spring in Kentucky, when the state's Drug Testing Council and new Kentucky Horse Racing Authority showed signs of curbing the state's notoriously permissive drug rules, once described by Andy Beyer as "anything except dynamite." This week, the authority - populated with anti-drug horse people like Constance Whitfield, a lawyer and the wife of U.S. Congressman Ed Whitfield; former Castleton Farm president John Cashman; Alice Chandler, a longtime illegal medication foe; and Alan Leavitt, a Harvard-educated master of Walnut Hall Ltd. and one of the world's leading breeders of trotters and pacers - and the Drug Council, with many of the same people plus trainer and Kentucky Thoroughbred Association president John Ward, put forth tough rules that could catapult Kentucky to the forefront of integrity and enforcement.

The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association isn't happy with all the rules, but, realizing the determination and resolve of the authority to put them in place, backed off a bit.

Well, not exactly. It turned to friends in the state's legislature, who, even though they are Kentuckians, do not necessarily know much about racing. That does not disqualify or discourage them from questioning the rationale and rules and regulations proposed by those who do, people who were appointed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher for just that reason and to do that job.

A representative named Dever Butler and a state senator named Gary Tapp, both of whom are members of the Legislative Research Commission, decided it was time to ensure that the experts appointed to the authority by Gov. Fletcher met their high standards, and those of the HBPA. Their concerns were eerily similar to those of the HBPA, that perhaps the authority had gone too far in trying to clean up Kentucky racing.

During a meeting of the License and Occupation Interim Committee, Butler and Tapp got the chairman, Larry Clark, to ask the authority to enlighten them. They wanted to know if "interested parties" had an opportunity to fully present arguments for or against adoption of the rules. They asked what process the Consortium used in developing its recommendations. The answer to that, of course, is three years of deliberations by 27 national leaders of the sport, a wide spectrum of prominent horsemen, respected veterinarians and chemists, and racing executives.

Particularly disturbing to the legislators - and their friends in the HBPA, who may have helped them draft their questions, since they sounded strangely familiar - is who made the statement quoted by authority vice chair Whitfield, that "in Kentucky horse racing, there are only cheaters and losers."

Finally, the legislators wanted to know if there was any empirical evidence that suggests Kentucky's current equine medication policies diminish the integrity of Kentucky's racing product. To find out, all they need to do is get out of Frankfort and expand their horizons by taking a brief racing tour around the country and ask others what they think.

If what has been proposed by the Kentucky Drug Council and the Horse Racing Authority turns out to be undone by legislators, it could send Kentucky back to the Dark Ages, where it was before - the bad joke of racing.

Despite frustrating frivolities such as the legislative end in Kentucky, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium labors on. It will continue to work through and with state racing commissions to complete the job. It will have to convince horsemen and tracks that racing is in crisis because of illegal medications and uneven rules and penalties governing them, and that it is worth large dollars to put this problem behind us. It will be a big job and will have to be done piece by piece, but the potential result will be well worth the effort.