Much can be said – none of it good – about Monday's shocking vote by the Kentucky legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations meeting, when new medication rules recently adopted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission were rejected.
I doubt legislators had any idea the ramifications their vote would have and were led astray by the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Democratic Rep. Larry “HBPA Man of the Year” Clark.
The vote to reject the new rules was a landslide 19-1, with Republican Sen. Damon Thayer the only one with the foresight to support them.
The rejection of the proposed rules – which have been a year in development in a very public and transparent process – was not just a blow to the horses who race in Kentucky, but against a national movement to reform medication rules on a state-by-state basis. This movement has had widespread support from horseman's organizations, veterinarians, and other industry groups. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear can and should override the vote with an executive order, but the legislature has the opportunity take another vote next year.
This was NOT about whether Lasix, the drug used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, should be banned. It was a vote to support national model rules developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium that would 1) require third-party administration of Lasix on race-day; 2) eliminate the use of adjunct bleeder medication on race-day; and 3) reduce the permitted levels of the phenylbutazone, or Bute, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
The RMTC's membership includes the American Association of Equine Practitioners, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, National HBPA, Racing Commissioners International, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, among others.
Why did RMTC adopt these three specific model rules?
First, from a security standpoint, keeping private equine practitioners out of a horse's stall on race-day eliminates the temptation or opportunity to administer drugs that are not permitted.
Second, adjunct bleeder medications do not reduce or prevent bleeding (and have potential negative impact on horses), according to a peer-reviewed scientific study funded by the AAEP and conducted by researchers at Kansas State University and published in Cambridge University Press.
Third, reducing the permitted levels of Bute lowers the chances that a lame or unsound horse will pass the pre-race physical inspection conducted by a commission veterinarian.
Why, then, did HBPA oppose the measures that many other racing states already have adopted? Based on the comments of Rick Hiles, the Kentucky HBPA's president, this was a shot across the bow in retaliation for the recent vote by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to phase out the race-day use of Lasix in stakes, beginning in 2014 with 2-year-olds.
“I don't think they're going to get it to go anywhere,” Hiles told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “If we got this stopped today, the Lasix issue ban is probably dead.”
Well done, Mr. President. You have shown great leadership in sending out signals to the public that Kentucky wants to continue permitting private veterinarians into the stalls of horses on raceday, allowing them to give adjunct bleeder medications (and who knows what else) that do not reduce bleeding, and extend the practice of potentially masking lameness with higher than needed levels of an anti-inflammatory drug.
Owners in Kentucky who support medication reform have no one to blame but themselves. They have sat back and allowed the leadership of their horsemen's representative organization to hijack the medication issue and take it in the wrong direction.
UPDATE: Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky HBPA, emailed the following statement.
“The vote taken August 27th by the Kentucky Licensing and Occupation Committee was neither about clean racing or dirty racing, but instead was about the health and welfare of our horses. Kentucky's medication policies are set by scientific studies, veterinarian reports, research scientists, and pharmacological studies. To change them because a small group of people thinks its right, who in most cases don't even own a horse, doesn't make any more sense than if we tried to change human medicine practices set by doctors. I don't think the public is crying out to stop the use of adjunct bleeder medication in hospitals on patients that are hemorrhaging and for 1 member of a by-partisan 24 member committee to think he is right and the other 23 are wrong, well maybe he needs to educate himself on what he is talking about.”
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