07/11/2005 11:00PM

Legislators blind to the obvious

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TUCSON, Ariz. - I wasn't surprised - and no one else who follows Kentucky racing should have been, either - when Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the state's new, reform-minded Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, told a legislative subcommittee last week that serious drug offenses were overlooked by the former racing commission, which happily was abolished by Kentucky's governor, Ernie Fletcher.

I won't be surprised, either, if Fletcher's political opponents continue to try to dismantle all the reforms drafted by the new Racing Authority and the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council.

All one has to do to understand the attempts to trash the progress of racing in Kentucky is listen to the reactions of the legislators who heard Gallagher's testimony last week.

But first, let's set the scene.

Members of the state's interim joint Subcommittee on Licensing and Occupations, echoing the status quo views of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, asked Gallagher to explain why the authority and the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council want to make the medication rules in Kentucky conform with the rest of the nation.

They asked the wrong guy.

Gallagher was the workhorse of the New York Racing and Wagering Board for 22 years before he took the Kentucky job, serving for 12 of those years as chief of racing operations. During that time, he served as liaison between the New York board and Dr. George Maylin's Equine Drug Testing Laboratory at Cornell University, and after that he was executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force. He knows where the bodies of drug violation are buried, and he told the committee a number of them were buried under the bluegrass of Kentucky.

Gallagher said Gov. Fletcher made it clear that he wanted Kentucky's medication mess cleaned up and replaced with sound regulation, integrity, and credibility. Gallagher told the committee that Kentucky previously had "the most liberal and permissive" medication policies in the country, and that those policies had never gone through the proper administrative review process, were not subject to public review or comment, and were never reviewed by the appropriate legislative committees. They were applied, however, as if they had been.

Until 2002, Kentucky allowed the use of six non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, five steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, three bleeder medications, and two other medications - a total of 16 different medications - to be given up to four hours before post time.

That policy was narrowed three years ago, so that only five medications could be given four hours before post. But Kentucky remained one of only three racing states, out of 32, that allowed such use of multiple non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Kentucky and Florida were the only two states in the country that allowed steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on race day four hours before post; 30 of the 32 racing states prohibit that practice.

Gallagher told the committee that the former racing commission was "in shambles when it came to establishing and enforcing equine medication rules," and that findings that should have been vigorously pursued by investigation were not.

He contrasted what Kentucky had been doing with the efforts of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which represents 25 different groups, including the national HBPA. The consortium's policies have been adopted, totally or in part, by 15 states, and eight others, including Kentucky, are considering them. Despite the stance of the Kentucky HBPA, the consortium has received Kentucky dollars from Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the NTRA, The Jockey Club, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, based in Kentucky.

After hearing all of that, here is how some of Kentucky's legislators on the subcommittee responded, as quoted in The Blood-Horse:

Rep. Larry Clark, ignoring the message and attacking the messenger: "There has to be a line of communication. You've got a job to do to communicate with this legislative body."

Rep. Denver Butler, chairman of the subcommittee: "I haven't heard any outcry that we have a problem with drugs in Kentucky. Who is really pushing this? The breeders or someone who has a business to test drugs?"

Rep. Tom Burch: "I know a lot of people who go to the racetrack, and I haven't heard one of them raise this question about the drugs a horse takes and what it does to the quality of racing in Kentucky. To say every horse has to be drug-free . . . it's an illusion. Who is complaining?"

The answer, Rep. Burch, is those who prefer purity to politics in racing.