06/26/2005 11:00PM

KHA approves stiffer drug penalties

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The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority voted unanimously Monday to approve stricter penalties for medication violations, including increased suspensions and fines for trainers and, in some cases, the suspension of horses.

The penalties, which were recommended by the Kentucky Equine Drug Council, were tabled last month for some minor revisions. The authority's approval is one of the final elements of an eight-month overhaul of the state's drug rules. The authority now will begin drafting a complete set of rules that will be submitted to the state for a formal review before the regulations can go into effect.

Earlier this year, over the objections of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, an influential trainer's group, the authority passed rules that significantly limit the number of raceday medications that can be administered to horses. Before the changes, Kentucky had the country's most liberal raceday medication policies.

Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the authority, said Monday that the new raceday medication rules and the new penalties will be drafted into one document and sent to the state's Legislative Rules Committee. The rules would then need to be posted for a period of public comment before final approval, a process that could take several months.

The authority's other option would be to adopt the rules and penalties as an emergency regulation, which would put the rules into effect immediately while the state goes through the formal adoption process. Gallagher said it was "unclear" at this point whether the authority would use the emergency regulation process.

The penalties approved Monday would divide medications into three classes, with Class A drugs defined as any medication that is both performance-enhancing and has no therapeutic benefit to a horse. Penalties for a positive finding of a Class A drug would start at a loss of purse, $5,000 to $10,000 fine, and up to a three-year suspension or revocation of a trainer's license.

Under the guidelines, horses would be liable for suspension beginning with a second offense for a Class B drug and a first offense for a Class A drug. During the terms of the suspension, the horse would be ejected from the racetrack and would be unable to race. Horse suspensions were inserted into the penalty guidelines in order to put pressure on owners to hire trainers that play by the rules, authority members said.

Marty Maline, the executive director of the KHBPA, said before the vote Monday that the current draft of the penalties had not been reviewed by the KHBPA and that he objected to the authority taking a vote. The vice-chairman of the authority, Connie Whitfield - who is also the chairman of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council - said that the rules had not changed significantly since the last revision, which was approved by the KHBPA's representative on the council, Susan Bunning.

Gallagher said that several elements of the penalties approved Monday would need to be reviewed by legal authorities, especially in regard to penalties and testing for so-called milkshake, or alkalizing agent, violations.

William Street, the chairman of the authority, said that the final draft of the rules and penalties should be sent to authority members before the document is sent to the state's rules committee, to guard against any misunderstanding.

"It's quite one thing to approve something in principle," Street said. "It's quite another to see it actually in writing."