04/14/2002 11:00PM

Uniform drug rules face Kentucky opposition

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NEW YORK - The coalition pushing to adopt a national medication policy in the United States is being splintered by opposition from Kentucky horsemen, racing regulators said Sunday and Monday.

The uniform-rules effort, initiated last December, began as an attempt to wed all racing states to one set of rules for the use of medication on race day. But the scope of the effort is being pared down by many organizations with the belief that the majority of Kentucky's horsemen will not participate in any meaningful manner, leading some states to look for solutions on their own or with neighboring states.

The opposition to the current effort is being led by the 6,000-member Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Leaders of that group have said that they support a national drug policy, but only if it mirrors the permissive regulations currently in place in the state. Regulators in many other states have said they are unwilling to consider Kentucky's rules as the model.

Although they say a national policy should still be the goal, regulators and racing officials in New Jersey and Maryland said recently that they are currently working on a regional policy. The states covered by the policy would include New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, officials said.

"I think you're going to see a structure there that, hopefully, other regions can look at and maybe grab on to," said Alan Foreman, the chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horsemen in the mid-Atlantic region, on Monday. "It makes infinite sense for us to do so, and just because the Kentucky horsemen aren't going along, doesn't mean we shouldn't have our own effort."

A group of 30 racing executives, horsemen's officials, veterinarians, and regulators reached an agreement in Tucson, Ariz., last December to push for national rules. The group has not met since then, although participants have talked on conference calls. A second meeting has been scheduled for May 1 in Louisville, Ky.

Although the Tucson meeting was hailed for bringing together a wide cross-section of the racing industry, it was almost immediately criticized by leaders of the KHBPA, who complained that their representatives were excluded. Since then, the KHBPA has declined to support the effort, and last week, it released a survey in which 91 percent of the respondents said they favored the state's current rules.

Without Kentucky on board, some regulators, including Norm Barron of the Ohio Racing Commission, said the rest of the industry should reach a consensus, agree to adopt a policy, and then hold states accountable if they do not fall in line.

Barron, speaking on a panel at the Association of Racing Comissioners International annual convention on Sunday in New York, said that a uniform policy "would never happen" without sanctioning states that refused to participate. The penalties could include prohibiting tracks in states that do not adopt the policy from holding the Breeders' Cup, Barron said.

"There has to be an effort to publicize and cajole, to say that these people are the outsiders," Barron said, without naming the Kentucky HBPA specifically.

Supporters of uniform medication policies believe the adoption of a national regulatory framework will create a level playing field for horses shipping from state to state and eliminate confusion about regulations. Supporters also believe that uniform rules would dampen suspicions of cheating.

Alex Waldrop, the president of Churchill Downs racetrack, said on Monday that the racetrack company supports the effort for uniform rules, but he declined to characterize the company's view compared to the Kentucky HBPA.

"I think virtually everyone agrees that a national policy is best, but no one has come up with a national policy that everyone agrees with," Waldrop said.

Unlike many states, Kentucky allows the use of several non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications on race day, along with several anti-bleeding medications. The state also does not regulate how much of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, a diuretic, is given to a horse on race day. Louisiana has similar rules.

Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith, the past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and a leader in the uniform-rules effort, acknowledged that the Kentucky HBPA position is damaging the national effort, but he said that he remains optimistic that a policy will be adopted.

"It's got to happen, is the way I look at it," McIlwraith said. "There's too much energy and commitment behind it."