03/22/2005 1:00AM

Kentucky drug council weighs harsher penalties


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Equine Drug Council has begun to consider harsher penalties for medication positives and will forward its recommendations to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority within a month, council members said at a meeting on Tuesday at the Red Mile harness track in Lexington.

Among the recommendations discussed at the meeting on Tuesday was a three-year suspension for any trainer whose horse tests positive for a Class A drug. Drugs in the Class A category include performance-enhancing drugs that have no clear therapeutic benefit. Council members also discussed banning horses who test positive, and changes to the process of adjudicating positive tests so that the cases do not get bogged down in appeals.

"This goes back to what your parents probably told you," said Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, who attends the meetings of the council. "Probably 5 percent of the population makes 95 percent of the population look bad, and what we're talking about is strict penalties for the 5 percent that is making everyone else look bad."

The new penalties are being loosely based on work carried out by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national group of racing officials which has been working for five years on developing model rules and penalties for drug violations.

The drug council, which is chaired by Connie Whitfield, makes recommendations to the authority on how to address medication issues. The council has aggressively pursued regulatory change, and earlier this year recommended a dramatic overhaul of the state's permitted medications over the objections of many Kentucky horsemen.

The council did not vote on any proposals or recommendations at the Tuesday meeting. The council has tentatively scheduled another meeting in two weeks. Whitfield said that the council expects to vote on recommendations then.

The council's work is running ahead of that of the national consortium, which expects to ratify its recommendations for penalty guidelines in June, according to Dan Fick, a member of the consortium and the executive vice president of The Jockey Club.

Whitfield said the council has been using draft documents developed by the consortium on the recommended penalty guidelines, and she said after the meeting that the Kentucky council would press ahead with its work regardless of the consortium's schedule.

"We're going to go forward," Whitfield said. "We've had all their drafts as they've promulgated them, and we have told them of our strong desire to move forward because this is such a critical issue. We need to keep our momentum."