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Drug lab for horse racing considered

Kentucky is exploring the possibility of establishing a top-quality drug-testing lab to help ensure the integrity of the state's horse racing industry.

An in-state lab could mean faster results and quicker changes to testing. It isn't clear whether the state would build its own lab or lure an existing one, possibly with economic incentives.

The state has been contacted by one of country's top labs "and they would like to relocate in Kentucky," said Tracy Farmer, chairman of the Governor's Task Force on the Future of Horse Racing. Farmer would not name the facility.

The task force met for the first time on Wednesday in Lexington at Fasig-Tipton; it will meet next at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23. Recommendations to Gov. Steve Beshear are due Dec. 1.

The lab could fill a role with other states and racing organizations, as well as other equine and human drug testing needs. "Kentucky's the logical place for a super lab for other athletic endeavors," Farmer said.

The Jockey Club, at its recent annual roundtable, announced it is evaluating the country's testing infrastructure and the need for a central testing facility.

Task force member Edward "Ned" Bonnie said the U.S. Equestrian Federation is also looking at relocating its testing program from Ithaca, N.Y., to Kentucky, where it is headquartered. USEF performs testing for American Quarter Horse Association shows.

Bob Beck Jr., who heads the subcommittee looking at labs, said preliminary estimates had put the cost of building and staffing a 16,000-square-foot facility at $10 million to $15 million, with an annual budget of more than $4.5 million.

In 2007, Kentucky sent about 5,000 blood samples and about 4,700 urine samples for testing.

Kentucky will be testing more horses for steroids because of a ban passed last month. But Kentucky could supply only about half the samples needed to make such a facility financially viable, Beck said. "Additional revenue streams are being explored," Beck said.

That's where testing of human athletes or for other states could come in.

One possibility: Combine the lab with an updated University of Kentucky diagnostic facility, perhaps at UK's Coldstream research campus on Newtown Pike.

The advantages to having an in-state lab include shortening the turnaround time for getting back racehorse test results. Currently, Kentucky has a contract with Iowa State University and results take about two weeks, which could be problematic with steroid test results from claiming or "selling" races, where horses can change hands. A positive test result would allow the buyer to void the sale and return the horse.

Another advantage, Beck said, could be increased cooperation and contact between regulators, university researchers and the lab. "Quality and efficiency are directly related to integrity," said Beck, who is also the chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Other considerations include the costs of accreditation, lab equipment and support equipment such as computers; environmental control issues; EPA and waste management requirements; site availability; and security requirements.

The task force also discussed:

■ The financial state of the racing and breeding industries.

■ Racing commission staffing and funding needs.

■ The integrity of racing and wagering.

Ellen Hesen, general counsel for the governor's office, said the racing commission needs to add 36 employees to the 32 it has now to adequately meet licensing and regulatory requirements. She said there is almost no chance that the commission will get more money from the state's general fund.

Bonnie said the commission needs to be able to fill the long-vacant position of head of pari-mutuel security.

"The ability to track abnormal betting patterns is extremely important, but who is going to look at those figures and pay attention?" Bonnie asked.

He also said that a better permanent funding mechanism for drug testing is imperative. At present, racetracks pay for drug testing. "What we're doing now isn't working," Bonnie said.

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