05/04/2011 2:56PM

Keeneland releases purse money it had been holding

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Keeneland Racecourse on Wednesday released purses that had been withheld from its April 15 card following notification from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that one or more suspicious postrace samples from horses who performed in the day’s 10 races had tested clean for prohibited substances, according to racing officials.

The delay in releasing the purses had upset horsemen who were owed money from the card and created confusion on the backstretch over the status of other distributions from the final seven days of Keeneland’s 15-day race meet. Purses are typically deposited into horsemen’s accounts 72 hours after races are declared official, following the completion of screening tests for prohibited substances, but many horsemen complained this week that purses for the April 15 card and the meet’s final seven days of racing had not been distributed as of Monday.

The delay also renewed criticism of Keeneland’s policy to withhold all of the purses earned on a card if the racing commission has notified the track that a postrace test has returned a suspicious result. Another Kentucky track, Churchill Downs, does not withhold the purses in the event of a suspicious test, according to John Asher, a spokesman for the track.

Last year, under similar circumstances at Keeneland’s fall meet, representatives of horsemen had complained to the commission about Keeneland’s policy, urging the commission to force the track to reconsider the policy.

Typically, confirmation tests take only a week to be completed. But Lisa Underwood, the executive director of the commission, said on Wednesday that confirmation tests on the April 15 samples were delayed by a software malfunction affecting the equipment at the commission’s new drug testing laboratory outside of Lexington.

“I can certainly understand why some horsemen were upset,” Underwood said. “It’s their money, and they are entitled to it.”

Kentucky regulations do not require the timely distribution of purses, nor do they require the purses to be withheld if a test is positive. Keeneland’s policy of withholding the money until the samples have been cleared relieves the track of having to seek restitution from owners who may have to give up a purse if a horse is disqualified because of a medication violation.

In response to questions about the delay, a Keeneland spokesperson, Julie Balog, reiterated the track’s policy that requires all tests to be clear before purse funds are released.

Kentucky’s drug-testing lab, HFL Sports Science, is required under contract with the commission to return the results of its preliminary screening of postrace samples within three business days of the completion of the race card. For a card run on Monday, then, the lab would be required to have the results by the end of business on Thursday.

Because, however, of Keeneland’s late-meet racing schedule, which included the Easter holiday, and the lab’s Monday-through-Friday business week, some notifications of cleared samples from the last seven days of the meet did not arrive at Keeneland for a week or more after the cards were run. That delay led to further confusion among horsemen about whether purse distributions for cards run after April 15 were also running into delays associated with suspicious samples.

Anxious horsemen had inundated Keeneland’s bookkeeper after the meet had concluded inquiring about the status of the purse distributions, according to several officials. Underwood said that the lab-equipment malfunction had not affected the testing for any other race cards.