06/16/2008 12:00AM

Kentucky panel won't rush steroid rules

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky's regulators will move deliberately toward adopting rules either banning or regulating anabolic steroids, but the effort will be tempered by a desire to put the proper rules in place, the chairman of a subcommittee formed to study the drugs said at a meeting Monday.

"The last thing we want to do is make a mistake in our recommendations," said Dr. Jim Smith, who was appointed the chairman of the steroid subcommittee of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council last month. "We will move as fast as we can, but we do want to protect everybody."

The issue of steroid regulations in Kentucky is being closely watched by the racing industry, which has been pressing states to adopt a rule supported by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium by the end of the year. Most major racing jurisdictions have either already adopted the rule or are in the process of adopting it.

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council is an offshoot of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. It issues recommendations to the authority about the regulation of drugs. Smith said the subcommittee hoped to have a recommendation ready for the council in "two to three months." That would make the implementation of a rule by the end of the year difficult, because of the administrative process required for new regulations.

The debate in Kentucky is being influenced by the position of the council's chair, Connie Harriman-Whitfield, and that of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Though Harriman-Whitfield has not expressed a detailed explanation of her position, she is widely believed to be waiting on the results of a federal hearing this week about the role of anabolic steroids in racing and whether the federal government will pass a bill requiring racetracks to comply with federal mandates on drug rules in order to conduct interstate simulcasting. Most racing officials oppose any effort by the federal government to regulate the sport.

The hearing is being conducted by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Harriman-Whitfield's husband, Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, is the ranking member of the subcommittee. Harriman-Whitfield is also the senior vice president for development of the Humane Society of the United States, which has been aggressively pushing for racing industry reforms since the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles after her second-place finish in this year's Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky HBPA has urged the council to move cautiously on steroid regulations, contending that current testing procedures for the drugs are inadequate and have the potential to result in positives for horsemen who have used the drugs for therapeutic purposes. The model rule supported by the medication consortium allows for the administration of four anabolic steroids as long as the drugs are used at least 30 days prior to a race, and the consortium is currently funding research into testing procedures. The research is expected to be complete in September.

Kentucky state Rep. Damon Thayer, who is a member of the Equine Drug Council, referenced the federal hearing at the council meeting Monday, criticizing the hearing as a "dog and pony show." He said the federal government should not get involved in regulating racing at the state level, drawing icy comments from Harriman-Whitfield, who questioned Thayer's knowledge of the issue and the subcommittee's work.

Thayer also said he "regretted" making a motion at the council meeting last month to form a subcommittee to study anabolic steroids, contending that the council should be drawing on the research and efforts of the consortium to inform its recommendation.

Harriman-Whitfield and members of the subcommittee disputed Thayer's implication that the council was ignoring the consortium.

"The assumption that we are at odds with them, I don't know where that is coming from," Harriman-Whitfield said.