02/22/2005 1:00AM

Stricter medication rules approved

Four-Footed Fotos
The rules are expected to be in place by late March, before the state's marquee spring meetings at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority unanimously approved rules on Tuesday that would significantly limit the number of legal race-day medications, rolling back a liberal policy that has long been supported by many of the state's trainers and veterinarians.

The rules would allow for the race-day administration of only Lasix and Amicar, both used to treat bleeding, and would prohibit the race-day administration of any painkillers or anti-inflammatories. In a separate action, the authority approved rules establishing tests to detect alkalizing agents such as milkshakes.

All of the new rules are expected to be in place by the end of March - prior to the state's marquee spring meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.

Jim Gallagher, the authority's executive director, said his staff would begin writing the new regulations immediately in the hopes of presenting the rules for approval at the authority's March meeting. He said the authority expected to adopt the rules on an emergency basis, making them effective right away, because the state's current policies were never officially adopted.

"There's an urgency here because the current rules don't reflect what the statutes say," Gallagher said.

The authority's approval of both sets of rules followed the recommendations of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council, which recommends policy on medication and drug-testing to the authority. The council was reconstituted late last year by Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who had also given his support to a more conservative policy on race-day medications.

Tuesday's standing-room-only meeting at the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington drew about 120 people, at least four times the usual attendance. The vast majority had been asked to come to the meeting by the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to express opposition to any changes in the race-day medication rule.

The KHBPA presented two speakers to urge the authority to vote against the adoption of a new rule. Bob DeSensi, a trainer, said in his comments that the new policy had no scientific basis and was being forced upon trainers and veterinarians in the state at the behest of "do-gooders who have turned their backs on the real problems of this industry to look for ways to distort the truth and give false impressions that they are the salvation."

John Piehowicz, a veterinarian based at Turfway Park, said that the medications that were legal to administer in Kentucky, including painkillers and anti-inflammatories, were necessary to allow horses to run to their full potential, comparing the drugs to medications that humans take to be "fully functioning members of society."

John Ward, a trainer who is a Kentucky native and a member of the drug council, countered the KHBPA's arguments by saying that the rules would bring Kentucky more in line with other racing states and allow horsemen to make better decisions about the health of their horses. Other authority members challenged the KHBPA's position that regulators had not involved horsemen in their decisions, and others said that the new rules would benefit gamblers who have become suspicious of Kentucky racing because of its liberal drug policies.

On race days, Kentucky currently allows the unregulated administration of Lasix, a diuretic; two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as phenylbutazone and flunixin, or Banamine; and a corticosteroid, which are a class of powerful anti-inflammatories. The state also allows the use of Amicar, a blood-clotting drug, as an adjunct to Lasix for the treatment of bleeding in the lungs.

Following the emergency adoption, the new rules can be permanently adopted after they are forwarded to the state's Legislative Research Commission and posted for a public comment period, according to Mark York, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Public Protection. The Authority's Gallagher said the official adoption of the rules would take anywhere from "two to five months."

Supporters of the rollback reacted enthusiastically to the vote. Ned Bonnie, a Lexington lawyer who has called for the state to adopt more conservative rules, said after the meeting that he felt an enormous sense of relief after the vote.

"This is really a threshold event for Kentucky," Bonnie said.