Proposed equine drug-testing rule questioned

Horse trainers, racing-industry officials and vets expressed concerns Wednesday with Kentucky's proposed out-of-competition drug-testing rule at a second public hearing at Keeneland.

At the public meeting Tuesday at Churchill Downs, attendees asked whether the rule somehow can be temporarily implemented to cover the Breeders' Cup in November and then be rewritten to more fully address concerns.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission wants to have an emergency regulation to allow testing virtually any time, anywhere for illegal blood-doping agents, growth hormones and nerve-blocking venoms.

But questions have been raised.

For instance, David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, asked: If a horse owner refuses to allow a horse to be tested, why would the trainer's license be suspended for a year but not the owner's?

KHRC attorney Tim West said that was a fair point. "There may need to be consequences for the owner, as well," he said.

In current drafts of the rule, if an owner refuses to allow testing, the horse is ineligible for racing in Kentucky (and presumably other racing jurisdictions) for a year.

Thoroughbred trainer John Ward, who is a member of the racing commission, said the rules are not leaving enough gray areas to account for the way responsibility for the horse changes hands from trainer to trainer.

West said those situations also need to be addressed. "It's not our intent to hold anyone responsible who isn't," he said.

The racing commission's rules committee and the Equine Drug Research Council will consider changes at a joint meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Standardbred owner Alan Leavitt, also a racing commission member, emphasized the need for keeping the penalties stiff.

New drafts of the proposed rule have a suspension of "up to" 10 years from racing if a horse tests positive; it had been an automatic 10-year suspension in an early draft.

"In harness racing, (blood-doping) is well on its way to destroying our business. We're losing big bettors," Leavitt said. He said that if the suspension is "up to" 10 years, then a high minimum needs to remain in place as a strong deterrent, because blood doping is so difficult to catch.

The state wants to implement out-of-competition testing because blood-doping agents can be detected only shortly after they are administered, but the potential effects could last for weeks.