07/09/2008 12:00AM

Revamped Ky. panel intends to work quickly


LEXINGTON. Ky. - The chairman of the newly renamed Kentucky Horse Racing Commission vowed on Wednesday to make rapid progress on medication issues in the wake of a recent shake-up on the commission.

"We've got a lot of work to do, and we're going to get started very quickly," chairman Robert M. Beck Jr. said. "I don't want any grass growing under our feet."

Last Friday, Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, replaced six of the 15 members of the commission, including vice chair Connie Whitfield-Harriman, the wife of U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican. Whitfield-Harriman was also the chair of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, an offshoot of the racing commission that is charged with recommending drug rules. The council is currently considering a recommendation on the regulation of the administration of anabolic steroids.

The six new members were sworn in Wednesday at the meeting. They are vice chair Tracy Farmer, a horse owner and breeder who is also a major fundraiser for the Democratic Party; Francis Thomas Conway, a Louisville trial attorney; Frank L. Jones, the owner of a Louisville business and a former commission member; Burr James Travis III, a Fort Mitchell attorney and horse owner; Michael Anthony Pitino, the son of University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and a horse owner; and Wade Houston, a former University of Louisville assistant coach and the father of NBA star Allan Houston.

Under Kentucky rules, the chair of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council must also be a member of the commission. Beck said that he will forward a list of three nominees to Beshear by the end of the week to replace Whitfield-Harriman, in the hope of having a new chair in place by the council's next meeting on Wednesday.

Whitfield-Harriman's role on the drug council had become controversial in Kentucky because of her support for federal regulation of drugs in racing and her husband's advocacy of federal oversight of the sport. Most racing officials oppose federal regulation of racing.

Most racing jurisdictions in the United States are in the process of adopting a regulation that would prohibit the administration of all but four anabolic steroids that could only be administered more than 30 days before a race. Several national racing groups, citing pressure from Congress and the public, are pushing states to adopt the rule by the end of the year. Eleven states have already adopted the rule.

Kentucky's ability to adopt a rule by the end of the year is in question. The state's horsemen's group has cast doubt on testing procedures for the drugs, and has said it wants the racing commission to exercise restraint on adopting a rule until September, when research on testing for steroids in blood plasma is complete.

Lisa Underwood, the executive director of the commission, said she is hopeful that the council will produce a recommendation on the steroid rule by the end of August. On that timeframe, the rule could be reviewed by state regulatory bodies and approved by the legislature by the end of the year, Underwood said.

John Ward, the Kentucky-based trainer who is a member of the commission and the drug council, said after the Wednesday meeting that he believed that the council and the commission would face little delays from the recent shake-up.

"Personally, I think it's going to be a seamless transition," Ward said. "It's not going to hold anything up. Chairman Beck is very well-organized and we know what we need to do."

In addition to the pending council meeting, the full racing commission will meet on Monday in order to address new licensing rules.

Underwood declined to describe the changes to the state's licensing rules, saying that the rules were in need of an "update" and were "still a work in progress."

Earlier this month, Kentucky's chief state steward, John Veitch, said that the licensing rules were being reviewed in order to require the licensing of both the owner of a horse and any leaseholder before a horse would be eligible to run in the state. A similar rule exists in several other racing jurisdictions.

The issue came to light after the racing commission issued a license earlier this year to the leaseholder of the minority ownership interest in Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year. The minority owner, Midnight Cry Stable, is owned by William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., two Lexington lawyers who are currently in jail as they await a second trial on charges of defrauding their clients in the 2002 settlement of a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the diet-drug combination fen-phen.