Updated on 08/28/2012 6:14PM

New Kentucky drug rules stopped by committee

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Regulations set to take effect in Kentucky on Sept. 6 that would have banned all raceday medications other than furosemide and lowered the threshold level for the allowable amount of the painkiller phenylbutazone in postrace tests were struck down on Tuesday by a state legislative committee.

The committee voted 19-1 to find the regulations “deficient” after representatives of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association took issue with the new requirements in testimony in front of the committee. With the vote, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will be unable to enforce the regulations without action by Gov. Steve Beshear to overrule the committee’s action.

“We will have some conversations with the horse racing commission and others before deciding how we will move forward,” Gov. Beshear said in an e-mailed response forwarded by his communications staff. Kerri Richardson, Beshear’s communications director, said that it was not clear whether Beshear would decide on a course of action before Sept. 6, when the regulations were set to go into effect.

The regulations, passed last year by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission over the objections of the state’s Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, would have banned the raceday use of so-called “adjunct bleeder medications” – carbazochrome, transexamic acid, and aminocaproic acid. The regulations would also lower the threshold level for phenylbutazone, commonly called Bute, to 2 micrograms from 5 micrograms and restrict raceday administrations of furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication commonly known as Lasix, to state veterinarians.

All three provisions have been endorsed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an organization that includes the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association on its board, and many major racing states have adopted the rules over the past 12 months as part of a larger effort to address public-perception concerns about the sport’s medication policies.

Damon Thayer, a state senator who is a member of the Kentucky Racing Commission’s Equine Drug Research Council, an advisory group on medication policy, called the opposition by the Kentucky horsemen’s group an “ambush.” He accused the organization of lobbying against the rules because of its frustration over a regulation passed this year phasing out the raceday use of furosemide in 2-year-old stakes races beginning in 2014.

The rule phasing out furosemide has not yet been submitted to the legislature for approval, but horsemen have vowed to fight it as it winds its way through the legislative approval process. Horsemen contend that furosemide is effective in mitigating bleeding from the lungs.

“This was not about yesterday’s regulations,” said Thayer, who was the only legislator to vote for the regulations on Monday. “This was about muddying the waters on the new Lasix phase-out, which is next in the hopper.”

Marty Maline, the executive director of the Kentucky horsemen’s association, said horsemen objected to the three new rules on their merits. He did not, however, deny that the opposition had a political component, claiming that the commission went back on a promise to protect raceday furosemide use when it passed the phase-out earlier this year.

“Right as these regulations started going forward this year, they dropped the Lasix bomb on us,” Maline said. “When they didn’t keep their promise, all bets were off, and it allowed us to re-emphasize our concerns to these issues.”

According to Maline, horsemen objected to the rule restricting the administration of raceday furosemide to state veterinarians because it would have created problems with the “trainer responsibility rule,” which holds the trainer accountable for any postrace positives regardless of circumstances. Supporters of the restriction have said that it protects bettors by restricting raceday access to state vets.

Maline said the horsemen objected to the rule lowering the threshold level for phenylbutazone because the existing threshold level is adequate in enforcing a 24-hour ban on the drug before post. Supporters of the rule have said that the new 2-microgram threshold level ensures that the horse is not feeling any effects of the drug when being checked for soundness during prerace veterinary exams.

As for the rule prohibiting adjunct bleeder medications, Maline said horsemen believed the drugs were effective in combating bleeding. Supporters of a ban have said that there is no scientific proof to support the drugs’ efficacy. Adjuncts were previously legal in only a few states, and most have banned them over the past several years.

The conflict over raceday medications – specifically furosemide – has pitted horsemen’s groups against prominent owner-breeder organizations such as the Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which released a joint statement Tuesday that was critical of the Kentucky HBPA’s lobbying for the three regulations to be struck down.

“We found it disappointing that individual members of the Kentucky HBPA and racetrack veterinarians, fearful of any changes in the use of the race-day drug Lasix, are attempting to hold hostage new Kentucky racing rules designed to promote the health, welfare, and safety of the Thoroughbred racehorse,” the statement said.