Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear on Thursday wielded his executive authority to implement regulations that would allow only government veterinarians to administer a race-day drug to horses and would lower allowable amounts of another medication given within days of races.
His action came days after the proposals appeared stymied because of objections from a group of state lawmakers.
In a letter explaining his decision, Beshear said it’s in the horse-racing industry’s interests to allow ”these well-developed and fully vetted regulations” to take effect. He said the regulations are ”at the heart” of efforts by state horse racing regulators to ”protect the integrity of racing and the safety of all participants in racing, including the horses and the jockeys who ride them.”
These changes would apply only to races in Kentucky, such as at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Keeneland in Lexington and Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. States set their own rules for horse racing, but the debate over regulations governing drug use in the sport has recently reached Congress amid talk of whether federal oversight is needed.
The new Kentucky regulations technically go into effect on Friday. But the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will notify horse racing groups on Friday about when the changes will be implemented, according to commission spokesman Dick Brown.
The letter was sent to the state’s Legislative Research Committee along with some lawmakers and horse racing regulators.
The Democratic governor noted that the regulations are the result of more than a year of work by the Horse Racing Commission, which held nearly a dozen public meetings that included veterinarians, as well as horse trainers and owners.
The proposals had been found deficient earlier in the week by the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations. The committee’s 19-1 vote cast doubt about the future of the regulations.
Beshear’s action quickly drew praise from state Sen. Damon Thayer. The Georgetown Republican said Thursday that the regulations will solidify Kentucky’s ”role as a national leader when it comes to medication reform” in horse racing.
Thayer said the regulations will boost ”the integrity of the sport” in a state that bills itself as the horse capital of the world. He said it will send a message that Kentucky racing is ”becoming less reliant on these medications that have damaged the perception of the sport.”
Under one change, veterinarians employed by the Horse Racing Commission would be the only ones allowed to administer a drug to horses on days they are racing. The only race-drug that can be given to horses in Kentucky is furosemide, an anti-bleeding drug that’s marketed as Lasix and Salix.
The intent is to prevent horses from getting an unfair advantage in races by receiving performance-enhancement drugs.
Another change would be to set lower amounts of an anti-inflammatory drug that could be given to horses within days before they race.
Thayer said other states have implemented similar regulations.
Kentucky lawmakers could try to overturn the regulations, Thayer said, but he hopes that by then it won’t be an issue.
”It’s my hope that by next year’s legislative session, that those in opposition to this will see that it’s a very reasonable reform and that there’s no need to overturn the regulation by passing a law,” he said.
The disagreement could be a prelude to a review of another proposed horse-racing regulation that triggered an even more heated debate when it was approved by the horse racing commission earlier this year.
Lawmakers will review a regulation that would phase in a ban on the race-day use of furosemide in graded or listed stakes races.
Under the proposed regulation, the race-day ban on furosemide would begin with 2-year-old horses in 2014. It would apply to 2- and 3-year-old horses competing in those stakes races in 2015, meaning it would include that year’s Kentucky Derby.
In 2016, the ban would apply to any horse entered to race in graded or listed stakes races in Kentucky.
Graded or listed stakes races command the biggest prize money and attract the upper-echelon horses.