Random drug tests possible for racehorses - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Random drug tests possible for racehorses

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Racing officials in Kentucky are preparing new rules that would allow them to randomly test racehorses at virtually any time, even those stabled out of state.

Jerry Yon, chairman of the equine drug panel of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, says he expects the out of competition testing procedures to be in place by November, when Churchill Downs hosts the Breeders' Cup.

The drug panel had a lively discussion Tuesday on the concept, which is modeled heavily after similar programs in New York and Indiana. The committee was unable to agree on some of the details, so it will take at least one more meeting next month before the full commission can approve it.

A draft of the Kentucky proposal requires owners of any horse eligible to race in Kentucky -- even those not technically entered in a race -- to make their animals available for random testing for a variety of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Refusal to submit for testing in a timely manner makes the horse ineligible to race in Kentucky for six months, and Yon said most other states would likely honor that suspension. If a horse tests positive for some of the worst drug violations, the penalties for its handlers are stiff -- a 10-year suspension and $50,000 fine.

Tom Conway, a member of the drug panel who co-owns Blue Grass Stakes winner Stately Victor, said the penalties are too harsh and the requirements too arbitrary. "When you're waving a $50,000 fine and 10 years out of the game at a guy my age ... this is capital punishment," Conway said.  "Let's make sure we get it right."

Kentucky equine medical director Mary Scollay said she expects the out of competition testing to uncover few cheaters based on the randomness of it, but she said the penalties need to be strict to make sure nobody tries. "One of the reasons the penalty is so Draconian is the deterrence factor is much more relevant than actually catching somebody," she said.

Ned Bonnie, chairman of the racing commission's rules committee, said he is bracing for possible lawsuits when the rules are put into effect. Out of competition testing has stirred controversy in Indiana and New York, he said.

However, Bonnie maintains something need to be done to make sure trainers can't just stable their horses off a racetrack grounds to avoid drug testing. "We're plowing new ground here," he said. "We need to proceed slowly."

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