02/14/2006 1:00AM

Ky. drug penalties hit roadblock


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A subcommittee of the Kentucky legislature on Monday deferred action on new rules designed to toughen penalties for horse racing drug violations, two days before the regulations were scheduled to expire.

The Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee deferred action on the rules until March, after several subcommittee members said that the rules did not include adequate protections for horsemen and veterinarians, according to officials who attended the hearing. The penalty rules, which are part of a broader effort to reform Kentucky's medication rules, were approved three months ago by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority and enacted as emergency regulations by Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

The Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee must approve any state regulations before the rules become law. An emergency regulation remains in effect for 90 days, and the new rules regarding penalties will expire on Wednesday. The state's old rules will apply until further action is taken on the new rules, according to Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

Gallagher said that the authority had not yet determined what course of action to take, but said that the old rules provided for penalties that are consistent with the recommendations of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which form the basis for penalties in many racing jurisdictions.

On Friday, the Equine Drug Research Council, an advisory group to the racing authority, approved an attachment to the new penalty rules that advised horsemen on the withdrawal times for approximately 50 therapeutic drugs. The attachment also included threshold levels for nine different drugs.

Threshold levels are used by drug-testing officials to determine whether a drug is present in a high enough concentration to have affected the performance of a horse in a race. Anything below the level is not considered a positive.

Connie Whitfield, the chairwoman of the council and the vice chairwoman of the authority, had said that the council included the threshold levels at the request of members of the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee. The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association had also pushed for the inclusion of the threshold levels.

At the Monday hearing, committee member Jimmie Lee, a Democrat from Elizabethtown, Ky., criticized the attachment because it did not include threshold levels for all 50 drugs listed in the withdrawal guidelines. Racing officials in the state have said that no such data exists.

"There's no realistic way to come up with a threshold level for all 50 drugs contained in that document unless you want to pull mythical numbers out of a hat without any science to back it up," said Gallagher.

Mark York, a spokesman for the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the racing authority, said on Tuesday that the cabinet does not intend to change any of the rules that were already approved and will attempt to push the same rules through the legislative committee when it next meets in March.

"The withdrawal guidelines and the penalties were approved unanimously by the Equine Drug Council and by the authority," York said. "They have received more public comment and debate, by authority members, by the cabinet, by the racing industry, than any other regulations. Our intention is to move forward and proceed at the next meeting with the rules that were approved."