Racing commission OKs out-of-competition drug testing

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky horse racing officials have expanded the state's power to test horses for drugs, passing a measure Tuesday that will allow them to test any horse eligible to race in the Bluegrass anywhere at any time.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved an aggressive random testing measure Tuesday in hopes of further curbing blood doping and drug use in the sport.

"This is the best way to attack the most serious problem in racing," said Ned Bonnie, chairman of the racing commission's rules committee.

The policy has been tabbed as an emergency regulation by the KHRC, speeding up the ratification process. It will go into effect once signed by Gov. Steve Beshear and filed with the Legislative Research Commission, which should happen well before the Breeders' Cup championships at Churchill Downs in early November.

The new rules will complement the race-day testing already in place. The new tests are designed to detect blood-doping agents that are difficult to discover in post-race tests.

The policy gives officials the power to test any horse eligible to race in the state for a series of banned substances, regardless of location. Similar rules are already in place in New York, New Jersey and Indiana.

"I think our list of prohibitive substances is a little bit more expansive than it is in the other states," said KHRC attorney Tim West.

Under the rules, an owner or trainer would have no more than six hours to make a horse available for testing once notified.

Refusal to submit for testing in a timely manner makes the horse ineligible to race in Kentucky for six months, and it's likely other states would honor that suspension. If a horse tests positive for some of the worst drug violations, the penalties for its handlers are stiff — a minimum five-year suspension and up to $50,000 in fines.

An owner or trainer would receive a lifetime ban for a second violation.

While applauding the move, standardbred owner and breeder Alan Leavitt said the penalties are not in line with regulations in other states. Leavitt was hoping for an automatic 10-year suspension for a first offense.

"I think it is a bad image for Kentucky to be giving to the racing world," Leavitt said.

The approved suspension period of five to 10 years is considerably higher than the original proposed ban of one to three years. Thoroughbred owner and commission member Tom Conway, who saddled 2010 Blue Grass Stakes winner Stately Victor, said the penalty was made flexible to fend off any potential legal challenges.

"There was a group that thought it ought to be just a flat 10 years," Conway said. "But that's tantamount to a life sentence for most people in racing."

Conway added he couldn't imagine a mitigating circumstance in a blood-doping case but wanted to give officials some wiggle room in handing out suspensions.

Finding violators can be difficult given the small window in which most blood-doping agents are detectable, West said, but the severe penalties are in place to act as a deterrent.

"I would say that if we never catch anybody then the rule has been effective," West said. "As long as we're testing people and not catching people, then the rule has done its job."