03/16/2010 11:00PM

Kentucky picks new drug lab


LEXINGTON, Ky.- A drug-testing company based in England will open a laboratory in Kentucky and conduct tests on postrace equine blood and urine samples for Kentucky racetracks beginning in 2011 under a contract unanimously approved by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission outside of Lexington on Tuesday.

HFL Sport Science, which already conducts testing for British racetracks out of a laboratory in Newmarket, will replace the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine's Racing Laboratory as of Jan. 31, 2011, according to the contract. The contract runs through Jan. 31, 2013.

Commissioners said they were drawn to the new testing company because of its low costs and its promise to build a lab in the state. A task force commissioned by Gov. Steve Beshear had recommended late in 2008 that the racing commission contract with a racing laboratory that was located in Kentucky, though no current lab fit that definition.

Though he ultimately voted to endorse the contract, commissioner Ned Bonnie said he had some reservations, citing HFL Sport Science's lack of a track record in the United States

Dr. Jerry Yon, a commission member who worked closely with the company on the contract, said that the company has been conducting drug-testing and research on animals for 40 years, and that HFL's parent company, Quotient Bioservices, was committed to the Kentucky contract because of its ambitions to expand to the North American market.

Drug-testing in Kentucky is currently funded by the state's racetracks. Before the University of Florida took over the testing, postrace drug tests were performed at a racing laboratory at Ohio State University.

The contract includes a clause that will automatically adjust the costs of drug-testing if the HFL lab contracts with another state for drug-testing at a lower cost than provided for in the Kentucky agreement, commissioners said.

In addition, HFL has agreed to contribute 5 percent of its profits from drug-testing for other states to an arm of the commission, the Equine Drug Research Commission, which funds studies on medications and drug testing.

In other commission news, Kentucky stewards have issued six-month suspensions to two trainers whose horses tested positive for the Class A drug tramadol, a synthetic painkiller akin to codeine. One of the trainers, Robert Watkins, has accepted the suspension, and the other, Dean Ward, has appealed the ruling, according to chief steward John Veitch.

* The commission approved language that defines the term "frivolous" in new rules that are intended to punish licensees who file appeals that are not based on merit. The rules allow the commission to recover legal costs and increase penalties if the appeals are ruled to be frivolous.

* Keeneland Racecourse received approval to lower the minimum bet on all of its pick 3 wagers to 50 cents.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the disposition of rulings for Class A drug infractions involving two trainers. Dean Ward has appealed his suspension, while Robert Watkins has accepted his - not the other way around.