Larry Dale Keeling: Ky. puts Thoroughbred tracks out on limb with drug ban

Industry already hurt by Frankfort letdown on casinos

Herald-leader columnistJune 17, 2012 

Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — This and that as the wait for the next Triple Crown winner resumes:

I haven't noticed any improved performance since I started taking furosemide as part of my blood pressure regimen several years ago. Quite the contrary.

But I'm not a horse (even if some folks think I resemble part of a horse's anatomy). And the rapid decline in my golf game and other physical skills may be due to the rest of my meds or the simple fact I'm now a certified old fogy with the Medicare card to prove it.

So, I'll leave the debate about furosemide's effect on horses to the horse experts. There seem to be a number of them on both sides of the issue.

However, one aspect of the issue strikes me as being non-debatable: This state's Thoroughbred racing industry cannot afford to go it alone in banning race-day use of the drug commonly known as Lasix.

Kentucky already trails most of the North American racing field in purses and breeding incentives, thanks largely to the infinite lack of wisdom, leadership and intestinal fortitude in the Republican-led state Senate, which would rather pull the plug on one of Kentucky's signature industries than give it the expanded gambling it needs to compete with its counterparts in "racino" states. Strangely enough, the Republicans' victim in this case of involuntary assisted suicide is — or at least was — as "red" an industry as you could find in the commonwealth.

With friends like these, well, you don't need me to complete the cliché.

Lest I give Senate Republicans too much blame for Kentucky racing's continuing plight, I must acknowledge the contributions of Gov. Steve Beshear and House Democrats.

Beshear, because he refuses to do the grunt work necessary to win public and legislative support for expanded gambling and because he's prone to doing some politically weird stuff at the most inopportune moments.

House Democrats, because they're scared spitless of having a controversial constitutional amendment on the ballot in a legislative election year (even though no amendment could bring out the rightest of the right like having President Barack Obama at the top of their ticket will this year) and because some of their leaders' own political ambitions at times have stood in the way of giving any sitting governor a little extra revenue to use to improve his re-election chances or to give his chosen successor a boost.

Parcel out the blame however you wish, the consequence of our political leaders' collective failures comes down to this: Aside from Derby week at Churchill Downs and Keeneland's boutique spring and fall meets, Kentucky's once healthy year-round racing circuit now resembles a claimer in a graded stakes world. More money can be made elsewhere, and horses are leaving this state in increasing numbers to chase the money.

So, even though banning race-day use of Lasix may well be the right thing to do, becoming an island of right in a sea of wrong when you're already at a competitive disadvantage doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Good thing for Beshear he's a lame duck. Thumbing his nose at two-thirds of the Eastern Kentucky coal counties by excluding them from a scholarship program funded with coal severance taxes isn't the kind of action someone with future political ambitions ought to take.

Approval of a limited proposal crafted by former governor and current University of Pikeville President Paul Patton instead of a more inclusive plan makes it clear this is more about funneling public money into the private UPike than it is about improving educational opportunities for Eastern Kentucky students.

It's not unusual for ambitious wannabes to start thinking about the next gubernatorial race as soon as the last one ends. At the moment, though, there seems to be more interest in becoming the next attorney general than in becoming the next governor.

I suspect this says something about the relative attractiveness of the two offices when legislative power is divided and budgetary times are tough. As recent occupants of the Capitol's big first-floor office have discovered, being governor under these conditions may not be all it's cracked up to be. And certainly not what it used to be when legislators knew their place and did what they were told.

Such musings aside, with Robyn Williams now expressing an interest in being attorney general, surely I'm not the only one thinking how ironic it would be if she won a statewide election after her husband, Senate President David Williams, couldn't.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.

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