Updated on 09/15/2010 2:34PM

Kentucky commission approves out-of-competition testing

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LOUISVILLE – The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a rule that will allow regulators to draw samples from virtually any horse, at any time, to test for blood-doping drugs or powerful painkillers like neurotoxins.

At a meeting at Churchill Downs in Louisville, commission members voted to approve the rules on an emergency basis, meaning that the regulations will take effect once Gov. Steve Beshear signs off. The rules were expedited through the commission and its committees over the last month because of requirements that tracks hosting the Breeders’ Cup have the capability to conduct out-of-competition testing. The Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for Nov. 5-6 at Churchill Downs this year.

The rules will enable drug-testing personnel to draw blood and urine samples from horses stabled within Kentucky and at out-of-state locations. Any horse that tests positive for a drug named in the regulations – a list that includes powerful blood-doping drugs like erythropoietin and darbepoietin and neurotoxins such as cobra venom – will be suspended for 180 days, while the trainer will be suspended for a period of at least five years and up to 10 years.

Rules similar to those approved by the commission have been enacted in four racing jurisdictions: Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and the Canadian province of Ontario. New York also has approved out-of-competition testing rules, and the regulations are expected to go into effect within several months.

Out-of-competition testing programs are designed to deter or catch horsemen who administer long-lasting drugs that are difficult to detect within several days of administration. Problems with blood-doping drugs have been particularly acute in harness racing over the past five years.

Alan Leavitt, a commission member who is a Standardbred owner and breeder in Kentucky, cited the sport’s problems with blood-doping in comments supporting the rule, but he also noted that Kentucky’s regulations strayed from those adopted in other states by issuing a penalty of 5 to 10 years. The five jurisdictions that have adopted out-of-competition testing rules all mandate a minimum 10-year penalty.

The 10-year penalty “has been characterized by some as a death sentence,” Leavitt said. “That is what it is intended to be.”
Leavitt called blood-doping “the greatest threat to the existence of harness racing we have ever had.”

The penalties and the regulations were hashed out in marathon meetings over the last month of the commission’s rules committee and the Equine Drug Research Council, which recommends medication policies to the commission. Those meetings were frequently contentious, especially in the area of the penalty for the horse and the trainer, in addition to debates over the extent of the commission’s legal authority across state lines.

Horsemen in the state, represented by the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association president, Rick Hiles, had pushed back against the mandatory 10-year sentence as had some legal experts on the committees, based on the belief that the penalty would not withstand a legal challenge.

Under the rule, any horse that tests positive will be barred from racing for 180 days, regardless of whether the horse is sold or transferred to another barn, in an effort to ensure that any long-lasting drugs have cleared the horse’s system. The horse also will need to test negative for performance-enhancing medications before being cleared to race.

◗ Also at the meeting, the commission granted a request by Churchill Downs to drop a plan to offer night racing on the opening night of its fall meet, Oct. 31, Halloween. Kevin Flanery, president of the track, said members of the local community had requested that the track change its plans. The track will now have a first post of 12:40 p.m. on opening day.