Kentucky Horse Racing Commission increases drug use penalty
All sports, without exception face a substance abuse problem. The only difference usually is the intensity of the problem and prevalence of substance abuse including the use of performance enhancing drugs. The determining factor is regulation.
Horse racing has lacked strict enough regulation. What that means is that not only is there no strong enough deterrent for use of performance enhancing substance in place but also that the extent of the problem is not accurately known. An unofficial study conducted found traces of illegal substances in almost 30 horses per 1000.
Horse racing is a physical sport that relies heavily on performance and physical attributes of the animal. A great deal of money is involved too. Horse racing authorities would like to think that they can rely on the integrity of owners and trainers but the fact is that it only takes a handful of racers, who have no respect for the rules or the sport, to ruin it for everyone.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is planning to introduce tougher new regulations to crack down on those exceptions that undermine the sport. The regulations being formulated would give Kentucky racing officials unprecedented authority to conduct drug tests. The new rules would allow drug tests at any time, outside racetrack grounds, even outside the state of Kentucky and for horses which have not entered any competitions. The racing commission is trying to get the rules in place before the Breeder’s Cup at Churchill Downs. The commission said that infrastructure and preparations, to conduct drug testing under the new policy would be complete by November.
The test would screen for the use of blood-doping agents, growth hormones or nerve blocking venoms. Horse owners would be required to make all their horses available for random testing even those who are not competing at the time. The rules would apply to all horse owners eligible to race in Kentucky. Similar rules are already in place in New York and Indiana, though Kentucky would be pushing the envelope.
The new regulation would also place severe penalties on owners and trainers found to be in violation of the commission’s drug testing policy. Depending on which substance a horse tests positive for, its handlers could face as many as ten years of suspension and $50,000 fine.
As expected, there are those who are unhappy with the penalties and requirements, considered too arbitrary by some, of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Among them is horse owner Tom Conway. “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. He added that considering the stakes it was absolutely imperative that the commission makes no mistakes in handling the drug tests.
Defending the severity of the new rules was Kentucky equine medical director, Mary Scollay. She believes that under the new policy more cheaters would be discovered who would have previously escaped scrutiny because their horses were not taking part in a competition at the time. Blood doping agents can only be detected within 48 to 72 hours of use. Unless out of competition horses are included in the new policy, the use of agents such as erythropoietin and darbepoetin would be extremely difficult to prevent.
However, she added that the severity of the punishment was the most important factor and could go a long way to make sure that no one tries to cheat. “One of the reasons the penalty is so Draconian is the deterrence factor is much more relevant than actually catching somebody", she said.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s drug panel has covered a lot of ground but there are still ways to go. There were some details that the committee was unable to form a consensus on. To resolve those issues the committee would meet again next month before the proposed rules can be approved or adopted.