09/07/2005 12:00AM

Turfway entries remain thin


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - An often tense and heated two-hour meeting Wednesday at Churchill Downs between officials from the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority and about 100 horsemen and veterinarians failed to break the stalemate regarding new race-day medication rules in Kentucky, resulting in two more programs at Turfway Park noticeably lacking in quality and depth.

The 10-race Thursday card at Turfway drew 64 entries and an eight-race Friday card drew a mere 54. Turfway's opening 10-race program Wednesday drew 75 horses. Only a few horses on the Thursday and Friday programs are from stables based at Churchill or Louisville Trackside, which typically combine to produce at least one-fourth of the fields at Turfway, which is in Florence, about 90 miles away. No horses based in Louisville were entered for Wednesday.

The dispute focuses on whether horsemen and veterinarians can, as they repeatedly said at the Churchill meeting, "live with" the new rules. Despite repeated assurances by Jim Gallagher, executive director of the authority, that he would do everything in his power to improve communications and further involve horsemen in future meetings and legal proceedings, most of the Louisville horsemen responded Wednesday afternoon by once again withholding their horses from the Turfway entry box, which was kept open an extra day for Thursday's races.

As the meeting wound down, Gallagher said he and the authority were amenable to revisions in the rules - which took effect Wednesday as an emergency measure implemented by Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher - before they pass through the normal 60-day public comment period and go before the Legislative Research Council for formal approval. An Oct. 24 meeting before the Legislative Research Council in Frankfort will be the first opportunity to begin making any changes. Meanwhile, a committee of horsemen and veterinarians will draft suggested changes, input that Gallagher said he welcomes.

On Tuesday in Lexington, the authority voted to issue warnings, rather than fines or suspensions, to trainers whose horses test positive for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents over the next 60 days.

"I thought the action the authority took would give horsemen a comfort level that they wouldn't be the victim of unintended consequences," said Turfway president Bob Elliston. "Obviously we would all be very disappointed to see this situation continue much longer into our meet. Hopefully everyone will continue with the constructive dialogue and a resolution can be reached."

Several Churchill-based horsemen are represented by Friday starters at Turfway, including Tom Amoss, Frank Brothers, Steve Flint, Donnie Habeeb, and Paul McGee, but the number of Churchill shippers is well short of normal.

Gallagher, accompanied by authority chairman Bill Street, began the Wednesday meeting by saying he was present to "dispel rumors and allay fears" about how the new rules will be interpreted. He stressed that the new and far stricter rules will be subject to interpretation and discretion, with "mitigating and aggravating circumstances" being perhaps the most important factor in the case of a positive test.

"Keep treating your horses as you have been, and you will be fine, I assure you," said Gallagher, who at one point said he would take a "blood oath" to assure that innocent horsemen will be protected.

"Our mission is not to entrap horsemen," said Gallagher. "My word is more important than a piece of paper."

But horsemen insisted that the letter of the law could mean dire consequences in the case of a positive test for any of hundreds of medications, most of which carry no performance-enhancing effects. Trainers such as Dale Romans emphasized that they want their concerns addressed legally.

"If I get a positive and go before the commission, do I just say, 'Jim told me it's okay?' " said Romans. "I don't think it works that way."

Perhaps the most impassioned pleas were articulated by veteran trainer Bernie Flint, who spoke for nearly 10 minutes, and veterinarian Rick Costelle.

Flint, a former New Orleans policeman, said the problem is not the elimination of most race-day medications, but "nanograms" involved in trace-level positives for innocuous medications and the threat of severe penalties that the new rules mandate.

"Let's catch the cheaters," Flint urged. "Let's face it - that's what this is all about, isn't it? I mean, let's be fair about this. This isn't Nazi Germany. These people here are not the ones you're looking for."

Costelle, who earlier this year was exonerated in a medication-violation case that spanned several years, said, "Until there is verbiage or meaningful discussions to address these issues, I cannot in any way advise my clients with any confidence whatsoever," he said.

Steve Asmussen, who runs horses in many different racing jurisdictions and last year set a North American record with 555 wins, repeatedly asked Gallagher for guidelines concerning withdrawal times for treatment. Other trainers cited examples of states and entities, such as Illinois and Breeders' Cup Ltd., that provide such guidelines.

"Tying withdrawal times to threshold levels would be the ideal in a perfect world," said Gallagher. "But a lot of that work hasn't been done yet, to be honest."

The new regulations were intended to put Kentucky in accordance with the recommendations of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry-wide group that has developed model race-day medication rules. The new regulations allow the race-day administration of Lasix and two of four other medications to treat bleeding. One nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent from a list of three - phenylbutazone, flunixin, and ketoprofen - can be administered as close as 24 hours prior to post time. The old policy was far more liberal. Besides Lasix and adjunct bleeder medications, it permitted the race-day administration of phenylbutazone and one of three other anti-inflammatories, as well as corticosteroids.

The reduction in the allowable usage of bleeder and anti-inflammatory medications is not what is keeping horsemen from entering at Turfway, said Flint.

"Getting rid of all these race-day medications, I'm way past that," said Flint. "We're all trying to clean up racing, right? Well, let's start catching the criminals and the thieves, not the jaywalkers."

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty