With his pronounced Southern drawl and trademark cowboy hat, trainer and Kentucky native Larry Jones says he already takes his share of ribbing whenever he ventures into other racing jurisdictions.
Given the recent spate of miscues by state veterinarians employed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Jones and other horsemen fear the integrity and perception of the Bluegrass's signature industry is becoming a real target for ridicule.
Since a rule took effect Oct. 5 allowing only state veterinarians and not private vets to administer the anti-bleeder medication commonly known as Lasix to horses on race day, four mistakes have occurred that have caused increasing criticism on the backstretch.
The first two mixups took place at Keeneland. The Rusty Arnold-trained Exothermic was given a Lasix shot when he was not supposed to receive one on the meet's opening day — also the first day the new regulation was in place. Then, Infrattini, trained by Paul McGee, won the fourth race Oct. 24 despite not being given the Lasix shot requested by his connections.
The most recent — and most severe — blunders took place last week at Churchill Downs. Booby Prize had to be scratched last Sunday after receiving Lasix shots from two state vets. Outofsiteoutofmind was scratched from Wednesday's fourth race when one of the same state vets gave him two Lasix shots, the second one three hours before the horse was scheduled to race.
Lasix must be administered at least four hours before a race. Horses may receive a dose of no more than 10cc.
"This is exactly why we were fighting it," said Kentucky-based trainer Buff Bradley, who conditions Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll. "Every time it's happened, it's getting a little more severe and a little scarier. Right now, I don't feel comfortable with it.
"It gives us a bad name, and it should be giving (the commission) a bad name. I think a lot of trainers will be even more worried about what happened when they don't catch their mistake."
Although the vet who mistakenly treated Outof siteoutofmind twice is no longer employed by the commission, according to Kentucky equine medical director Dr. Mary Scollay, the lack of recourse for those affected by the mistakes — and the fact they keep happening — isn't instilling confidence among horsemen that this directive is the right path.
"It was basically, 'Too bad, we're sorry' is what they're telling me," said Phil Sims, trainer of Outofsiteoutofmind. "I'm kind of disappointed in how they're handling this. I had a stable employee try and stop (the vet) from giving the second Lasix shot, and she gave it anyway. When the private vets were giving the Lasix, this kind of stuff didn't happen, or it happened very rarely."
Said trainer Ken McPeek of the new rule, "I'm not sure they should have even done it. Don't they trust us and our vets? Is it that bad?"
When Gov. Steve Beshear issued the regulation, a statement on his behalf said it was done "to protect the integrity of horse racing ... in the commonwealth." According to Scollay, there reportedly were seven horses scratched at Turfway in September that were not treated by private vets by the proper deadline.
Although Scollay has asked for patience as the new system is implemented, she recognizes that horsemen who think the system wasn't broken won't tolerate a learning curve at their expense.
"We certainly understand the horsemen are angry, and that is not at all how we anticipated things working," said Scollay, who noted that the commission typically has six vets on site on a given day, three giving the Lasix shots. "Obviously, the occurrences of error have been unacceptable. There really is no acceptable occurrence of error."
New protocols have been put in place since the recent snafus, Scollay said.
Lasix treatments now are being reported to the test barn coordinator before they occur so there is a chance to intervene and avoid a redundant treatment.
Also, colored tags are being placed on the stalls of horses that have been treated, a procedure similar to that used in New York, where state vets administer Lasix.
For some horsemen, the corrections don't make up for the damage inflicted.
"It all falls on" Scollay, leading trainer Dale Romans said. "This is her policy; she promised it would work, and none of it worked. Any self-respecting person would have walked in and resigned.
"It's a joke," added Jones. "If we did something like that, if we were that incompetent, the owners would fire us and we'd have so many fines over here. People from New York make fun of me when I come up from Kentucky anyway. What are they going to do next time I go up there? It's embarrassing."