Gov. Steve Beshear must move quickly and decisively to undo the damage inflicted on Kentucky horse racing Monday by a committee of the legislature.
The committee rejected proposed regulations to restrict administration of anti-bleeding medications and limit other drugs on race days for horses.
The regulations had been adopted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission after they were recommended a year ago by the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council after extensive study, debate and public comment. They are part of national model rules that have been adopted by other states.
The rules were supposed to go into effect at the Turfway Park meet that begins next week.
The murky process that led the committee to take up this matter, which was not on the agenda, mirrors the very issues in racing that the regulations are trying to address.
"I think the reg got ambushed," said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, the only vote against the committee's action. Over the weekend, according to news reports, members of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association lobbied committee members against the regulations, even though the national office of the group supports them.
With no notice to proponents, the committee voted by an overwhelming 19 to 1 to find the regulations "deficient" (an ironic term in that the criticisms seem to be that they do too much, not too little.)
Beshear has the authority to implement them anyway. That's what he must do.
Horse racing in the United States has lost fans at a punishing rate in recent decades, in part because people question the integrity of a sport where drugs are administered to athletes who have no say in their care. Bettors can suffer the nagging feeling that they, too, are being ambushed when they're not quite sure what drugs are running through the bloodstreams of the horses.
The only way to finally address these problems is to place severe limits on drugs that can be administered to horses while racing, test effectively for banned substances and enforce serious punishment for offenders.
The regulations considered Monday addressed three primary areas:
Halving the amount of the pain and inflammation-relieving drug phenylbutazone, commonly called bute, that can be administered on race days.
Eliminating drugs called adjunct bleeder medications that are administered with anti-bleeding drugs on race days.
Requiring that only Racing Commission veterinarians be allowed to administer the bleeding medication furosemide, commonly known as Lasix or Salix, on race days.
The United States is not in the forefront of regulating medications in horse racing.
Speaking before the Racing Commission in November, Dr. J. David Richardson, a Louisville thoracic surgeon who is also a horse owner and chair of the American Graded Stakes Committee, noted our lonely status.
With Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru prohibiting the common anti-bleeding medication on race-day, "North American venues are now the only jurisdictions permitting furosemide."
Richardson went on to note that this has led international racing authorities to question whether U.S. horses that run with these drugs should be granted the "black type" in sales catalogs used to recognize wins in highly competitive stakes races. "The potential damage to our breeding industry in Kentucky would be catastrophic," he said.
Kentucky, calling itself the Horse Capital of the World, should not be playing catch-up in this critical area. Beshear must implement these regulations, important to racing's image and its economics, immediately.