12/03/2013 4:42PM

Kentucky advisory committee approves changes to medication rules

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An advisory committee to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday approved changes to the state’s medication rules that would align Kentucky with rules passed in almost a dozen other states this year, but not before hearing strident complaints about a provision tightening the use of the bronchial dilator clenbuterol.

The Equine Drug Research Committee voted 4-2 to recommend the new regulations, with Rick Hiles, the president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and Dr. Andy Roberts, a veterinarian who primarily treats Standardbreds, in opposition. The full Kentucky racing commission likely will vote on the changes at its meeting Dec. 11, and if they are approved, they likely will go into effect in midsummer, according to commission officials.

Though Kentucky’s regulations largely mirror the uniform rules supported by a wide range of racing organizations, the changes include reclassifying some therapeutic medications into different withdrawal-time windows, including clenbuterol, which is currently legal to administer within three days of a race for both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. The new rule would ban the use of the drug within 14 days of a race.

Hiles, an owner and trainer who said he rarely used clenbuterol on his own horses, said horsemen were largely opposed to extending the withdrawal period because of the drug’s usefulness as an expectorant to clear horses’ lungs. The drug is not classified as an expectorant but works to dilate airway vessels in the lungs to treat respiratory conditions.

Regulatory agencies have moved to extend the withdrawal time for the drug because of its ability to act as a repartitioning agent, a side effect that allows an animal who is being administered the drug regularly to convert more of its food into lean muscle mass rather than fat. For that reason, the drug can be used to obtain the effects of anabolic steroids, which are banned for non-therapeutic uses in racing.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the racing commission’s equine medical director who advises the Equine Drug Research Committee, said a survey of New York horsemen done in conjunction with an investigation into a rash of breakdowns at Aqueduct in 2012 indicated that the vast majority of horsemen at the track were regularly administering the drug for its anabolic effects, rather than for treating respiratory airway disease. The results of that survey formed the impetus to crack down on the use of the medication over the past 18 months in all states.

Roberts, who treats both Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, also criticized the rule change, saying abuse of the drug in Kentucky to exploit its muscle-building effects is rare. The change would take away a useful treatment for horses for the purposes of addressing a problem that doesn’t exist, he said.

“This is like using a nuclear bomb to kill a cockroach,” he said.

Roberts and Hiles took turns attacking the new regulation for more than 30 minutes until Kentucky Sen. Damon Thayer, a member of the committee, called for a vote, saying the state needed to adopt the new rule because of widespread public-perception problems with the sport’s drug policies. Then, Dr. Gary Lavin, a retired racetrack veterinarian and committee member, indicated he would support the change, even though he had “grave reservations” about the rule, because of the benefits of uniformity with other states.

“This [effort to achieve uniformity] is the best thing to come around in racing for a long, long time,” Lavin said.

The full racing commission, whose members have generally supported efforts to tighten drug rules, is expected to approve the changes.