By: Matt Hegarty
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday placed three drugs on its prohibited substances list following positive findings for two of the substances in horses that raced in the state this fall.
The two positives were both reported to commission staff in September by the commission’s testing laboratory, one for cannabidiol, which is widely available and marketed as a pain reliever to humans, and the other for cardarine, a drug that was developed to prevent tumors but has now been repurposed among internet pharmacies as a purported stamina builder.
Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the commission, declined to provide details about the positives after the commission meeting on Tuesday because the findings are still being adjudicated, she said. Part of that adjudication process, Scollay told the commission, was to get the approvals to add the substances to the prohibited list in order to determine possible penalties.
Cannabidiol, which is commonly referred to and sold as hemp oil, was placed in the B category for penalties, while cardarine was placed in the A category. The A category requires the strictest penalties that stewards can apply.
The commission also approved a proposal to add tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, to the A category. No racing jurisdictions have called positives for THC in the past, Scollay said, despite its common use in U.S. society.
The findings of the two drugs set off a scramble among U.S. racing authorities to get the drugs added to lists that are used as models for racing commissions, Scollay said, with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium meeting in late September to gather information on the drugs and issue a recommendation through its Scientific Advisory Committee. The Association of Racing Commissioners International took up the recommendations at its meeting in early December and approved the classifications adopted by the KRHC, Scollay said.
Also at the meeting, the KHRC voted to approve $40,000 in funding to develop a racetrack harrow that will be fitted with moisture sensors so that racetrack superintendents might be able to collect comprehensive moisture data on dirt racing surfaces throughout a card. The leader of the project is Mick Peterson, a racing-surface expert who recently took a job at the University of Kentucky.
According to Scollay, the readings of the moisture sensors could be combined with other data currently collected by racing superintendents and could lead to significant improvements in racing-surface care. Moisture is one of the primary variables that superintendents try to control, but currently, collection of the data is limited to the hours prior to a racing card, and the readings are taken only at specific spots on the track, Scollay said.
“This has the potential to become the industry gold standard for surface management,” Scollay told the commission.
Scollay noted, however, that the planners of the project do not yet know if the apparatus can withstand the pressures that will be placed on the moisture sensors as they are dragged through the surface during harrowing between races.
Later at the meeting, Chip Bach, the general manager of Turfway Park, told the commission that Turfway plans to install 350 historical horseracing machines in the first floor of its grandstand by this summer. While the commission and the state’s horsemen have been urging Turfway to install the machines for years, the announcement set off a torrent of criticism from some commissioners, who criticized the project as being too small-scale and well below the commission’s expectations for the track.
Turfway Park, which is located just south of the Ohio River in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, is owned by Jack Entertainment, which also owns and operates a casino in downtown Cincinnati. Horsemen and commissioners have speculated for years that Jack Entertainment has refused to install the devices at Turfway in order to protect its Cincinnati casino.
The devices, which are similar to slot machines, have been installed by every other Thoroughbred track operator in the state since they were authorized in 2010, though Churchill Downs opened its own parlor only earlier this year. The commission has embraced the devices, citing their contributions to purses on the state’s racing circuit.
Some commissioners threatened to rescind the commission’s earlier decision to approve 250 machines at Turfway unless the company addressed their concerns, but it was unclear how the commission could justify that decision on legal grounds when it has not made similar demands on other licensees in the past.
The commission’s vice chairman, Mark Simendinger – a former general manager of Turfway – lashed out at the proposal and said that he would prefer that Jack Entertainment find a buyer for the track if the company was not committed to a large-scale operation and renovations of the facility.
“They have to make a decision,” Simendinger said, referring to Jack management. “They are either in or out for Kentucky racing.”