The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a two-year drug testing contract that will bring a world-class laboratory to the Bluegrass.
The contract begins in January, giving HFL Sport Sciences, based in Newmarket, England, less than a year to get a major new equine testing and research facility up and running.
"We've received assurances it can be done," said racing commission chairman Bob Beck Jr. He said representatives from the lab will be looking at existing space in Lexington again soon. "I'm not sure they have a location yet," he said.
The contract was the culmination of more than a year of work by Beck and others with the commission after the Governor's Task Force on the Future of Racing in December 2008 identified recruitment of a top-level facility as a goal.
In December 2009, HFL got approval for a $425,000 forgivable loan and $800,000 in tax breaks from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority. HFL said in its application that it plans to invest $4.2 million, including the state incentives, in the lab.
HFL plans to lease at least 5,000 square feet of space, expanding up to 15,000 square feet, and initially bring 24 jobs to the state, with a target of 48 jobs in 10 years.
The commission chose HFL over a competing bid from the U.S. Equestrian Federation, which is moving its lab facilities from Ithaca, N.Y., to Lexington later this year. John Long, USEF's CEO, said his group expects to have a 7,500-square-foot lab at the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research Campus. Long said the USEF lab also has applied for KEDFA incentives.
"The (HFL) lab will bring so much more to the table than traditional equine drug-testing labs," said Lisa Underwood, the racing commission's executive director. "HFL has an extensive background in equine drug testing and research, and Kentucky stands to benefit from the addition of a great deal of knowledge into the therapeutic uses of medications in race horses. I am very pleased we have reached this agreement and I am very excited about the job and economic growth that will result."
The deal has some economically advantageous perks:
■ The contract will result in 20 percent savings for Kentucky's racetracks, which pay for equine drug testing, without any reduction in the scope of testing, according to the commission statement.
■ If HFL negotiates a better contract with another racing jurisdiction, then Kentucky will get a matching deal.
■ Kentucky will get 5 percent of HFL's profits from drug testing done for other racing jurisdictions. The money will go into equine drug-testing research, which will be conducted through a competitive bidding process.
This is the first U.S. investment by HFL, a division of Quotient Bioresearch, which provides developmental drug research and clinical trials for pharmaceutical, biotech and medical companies worldwide. Quotient is based in the United Kingdom; HFL provides drug testing for 45 animal sports authorities, including the British Horse Racing Authority.
It also provides testing for non-racing horse sports and the Federation Equestre Internationale, which is bringing the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games to Lexington this fall.
Also on Tuesday, the racing commission approved an extension of the current drug-testing contract with the University of Florida through Jan. 31, when the HFL lab contract goes into effect.
The HFL lab is required to obtain the highest level of international testing accreditation. Beck said the accreditation process could take six to 12 months.
"From a science standpoint, HFL provides a great deal of credibility. This company is solid," said Dr. Jerry Yon, chairman of the Equine Drug Research Council, which recommended HFL. "It was felt that HFL offered a chance for a world-class lab with tremendous interest in research that would bring professional jobs to this area, and we'd have control over the quality of the lab work that was done."
In other business, the racing commission unanimously approved a new group to conduct inspection of walking horses at events eligible for the state breeders' incentive fund. The International Walking Horse Association will take over inspection of padded horses.
"We're convinced that group, with its approach to the incentive fund program, would best fill the spot vacated by" the Horse Protection Commission, said commissioner Ned Bonnie. IWHA's inspectors, Bonnie said, are prepared "to enforce the (federal) Horse Protection Act and all the ramifications."