The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted on Monday to ban anabolic steroids in racing. The new rule could take effect as soon as Gov. Steve Beshear signs an emergency regulation, perhaps as early as next week.
"I fully support the action taken today by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to ban anabolic steroids in Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing," Beshear said in a statement. "The vote reflects our shared commitment to strengthening horse racing in the commonwealth. As a result, I will deem this issue an emergency so that the regulation can go in effect as quickly as possible. I appreciate the commission's quick and aggressive action that will help preserve the integrity of Kentucky's signature industry."
The rule applies to both Thoroughbred and harness racehorses. Trainers will get a 90-day grace period as the rule goes into effect, although positive test results in the last 30 days of the grace period could count toward increased penalties in the future.
"We're doing away with anabolic steroids for the racing industry in Kentucky," said Robert M. Beck Jr., racing commission chairman. "I think it's very good news for the state."
The move comes as pressure has increased this summer across the country for greater action to ensure safety in horse racing, particularly following this year's controversial Kentucky Derby. Winner Big Brown apparently raced legally on steroids.
Several Thoroughbred racing industry groups have moved to ban steroids. The Breeders' Cup, Thoroughbred racing's championships, announced that beginning with this year's races in California, where a steroid ban has just taken effect, trainers could face a year's suspension for steroid use.
And the Breeders' Cup said it will not provide purse money for affiliated races in states or at tracks that don't ban steroids. The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association also announced a sweeping mandate against steroids in all graded stakes races.
"Anabolic steroids should not be present in a horse that is racing," said Lisa Underwood, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission executive director. "The betting public, the other trainers and owners should be confident that the race is being run on a level playing field. This rule will go a long way toward eliminating anabolic steroids from the sport."
The rule adopted Monday differs slightly from the version recommended Aug. 14 by the Equine Drug Research Council. The advisory panel had recommended making the use of anabolic steroids a Class A violation, which could merit up to a three-year license suspense on first offense.
But the KHRC amended the rule to match a model put forth by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, making it more likely to match other states as well.
The new rule makes use of steroids within 60 days of racing a Class B violation, punishable by up to a 60-day suspension on first offense. It had been considered a Class C violation, with a penalty of up to 10 days.
"I would say that's a very strict rule," Beck said of the new one.
The new rule also addressed concerns about horses shipping into Kentucky from out of state, where their present trainers might not have been aware of steroid administration.
Trainers will be required to notify racing authorities of steroid use and provide a clean test result from an approved lab, or to certify that the horse had not received steroids, or, if they can't certify that, accept responsibility regardless for a positive result.
Beck said he anticipated trainers who couldn't certify lack of steroid use would test horses themselves before racing them.
Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Ward, a commission member, spoke out in favor of the new rule, pointing out it had widespread support in the industry. "For once, Kentucky is in the lead on this issue," Ward said.
Horses can still be given three anabolic steroids — boldenone, nandrolone or testosterone — for therapeutic reasons, but they couldn't race for at least 60 days afterwards.
The steroid Winstrol that Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, used is no longer being manufactured legally.
The rule establishes limits for levels of the three legal steroids in a horse's system based on sex because intact male horses have naturally occurring levels of testosterone.
The new rule will create a need for greater testing. In claiming or selling races, in which horses can change hands, potential buyers will have to pay for the tests, which cost $125 apiece. Because the results will take at least two weeks, horses that test positive can be returned, at the buyer's discretion.