02/21/2006 12:00AM

Medication reform dies dumb death

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TUCSON, Ariz. - If you have been wondering why Kentucky's hardboot Thoroughbred horsemen have been relatively quiet in recent weeks on proposed medication reform in the Bluegrass, stop wondering.

They didn't have to make noise. Their hardboot veterinarian friends rode their anti-reform steeds for them, clattering right into the Kentucky legislature in Frankfort, where politicians - not scientists - promptly administered euthanasia to the progressive new rules.

A lawyer named Robert Stallings showed up at the hearing, representing 25 veterinarians, and when he was done making his claims, a state representative named Jimmie Lee announced that the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, and its Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, had not given horsemen sufficient guidance on what constituted a violation for most of the therapeutic medications in question.

The Equine Drug Research Council had adopted an attachment to the recommended penalties that included withdrawal times for most of the drugs in question, but Lee told the authority's representatives, "You haven't given them what the standards are."

With that, the subcommittee made sure that the work of more than eight months by the new authority and its advisory drug council would remain tightly corked in a bourbon bottle, and that Kentucky would remain in the middle ages on medication.

If the subcommittee members were led to believe that "every state in the union" had threshold levels for those drugs, but Kentucky did not, as the Louisville Courier-Journal reported, the subcommittee was misled. Not a single state has threshold levels for the 50 medications in question.

With the refusal of the subcommittee to pass the proposed legislation, and the expiration last week of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's emergency regulation that had temporarily permitted the new rules, Kentucky racing reverts to its permissive old rules.

So the hardboots win for now. That's troubling, but two other aspects of the situation are equally troubling.

It is distressing that a reform-minded racing authority, appointed by a governor, and its drug-testing research arm spent much of a year of their time and effort crafting new rules and regulations that reform-minded veterinarians helped design, and then had to sit by and see their work to bring the state into the 21st century get dismembered by a legislative subcommittee. That's deeply troubling.

So is the passivity of those with the most at stake in Kentucky, the breeders of the Bluegrass.

Some time back, Arthur Hancock sent a letter to more than 100 of the bluest of the breeding bluebloods, asking for their support.

All but one responded by signing Hancock's letter of advocacy for new medication standards.

These are important men and women in Kentucky. Where were these titans of the turf last week when the veterinarians' lawyer was convincing the subcommittee not to approve the proposed rules that Hancock's correspondents had endorsed?

If their breeding products are being treated by veterinarians who oppose updated standards that are being accepted coast to coast, and are being trained by horsemen who applaud that stance, and are being contaminated by the permissiveness that has brought racing-press ridicule to Kentucky racing, then shame on the breeders for not speaking long and loudly.

The defeat of medication reform was not the only blow to Kentucky racing last week. A bill to allow a referendum on slots at the state's eight tracks was introduced, but is given as much chance of passage in this legislature as a 90-1 cheap claimer going against allowance horses.

Did anything bright happen in the deep blue grass? Happily, yes.

A bill was introduced by state Rep. Denver Butler, a Louisville Democrat, that would ban the practice of bloodstock agents representing both buyers and sellers, and force disclosure of those conflicts of interest, as well as disclosure of commissions.

One man applauding, and hoping the legislation passes, is Satish Sanan of Padua Stables. His opinion of dual representation is unequivocal: "It makes you sick."

It was Sanan's efforts toward improved horse-sale ethics that led to formation of a Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association task force, which released a self-regulation code two years ago, calling dual representation "infrequent, but abhorrent."

We'll buy abhorrent, but not infrequent. Besides, what odds are you laying that something as wholesome and progressive as an anti-dual-representation bill can make it past Kentucky's administrative regulation review subcommittee?

We'll take a little of that action.