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Kentucky horse racing panel to reevaluate ban on race-day drugs

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Kentucky's horse racing regulators were set to reconsider a proposal Wednesday to put the state that proclaims itself the "horse capital of the world" at the forefront of banning an anti-bleeding drug on race days.

The proposed regulation being presented to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would phase out race-day use of the drug furosemide in graded or listed stakes races in the Bluegrass state. It would apply to the Kentucky Derby starting in 2014.

A more sweeping proposed ban - aimed at completely phasing out use of furosemide on race days - failed on a 7-7 roll call vote at a tense commission meeting last month. The commission has since added a new member, Lexington horseman John Phillips.

Both versions would make Kentucky the first state to ban race-day use of furosemide, which is marketed under the brand names Lasix or Salix. The drug is used commonly to treat pulmonary hemorrhaging in racehorses.

The proposed ban remained divisive when it came up for discussion before the Equine Drug Research Council, an advisory group for the Horse Racing Commission. A motion to support the proposed regulation failed on a 3-4 roll call vote. The proposal was on the agenda for the Horse Racing Commission meeting later Wednesday.

The commission was not expected to vote on the new proposal Wednesday. A vote could come at its meeting next month, following an expected public hearing on the issue.

John T. Ward, the commission's executive director, said Lasix has become "the golden shot" administered when horses race or work out. But he said there's a growing public perception that racehorses are overly medicated.

Ward, a veteran thoroughbred trainer, said the racing industry would adjust to the race-day furosemide prohibition.

"We will develop other protocols that are as good or better for the animal," he said. "The only way you can force change is to restrict something. ... We have never looked for the substitute that gives us better coverage than Lasix does."

Furosemide is the only medication allowed to be given to horses on race day in the United States. Its use is banned in other countries because it enhances performance.

Opponents of the earlier proposal said the race-day ban would saddle Kentucky with a competitive disadvantage that would drive away trainers and horses. Kentucky racetracks already are struggling to keep up with competitors in other states where purse money is bolstered by slot machines and other forms of gambling. Kentucky lawmakers have refused to allow casino-style gambling at the state's racetracks.

Three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert told the AP in an interview that the proposed ban would hurt racing and the horses. He said he gives Lasix as a preventative against bleeding.

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"Once they bleed, they just keep bleeding and it's hard to really stop," he said.

Baffert said the horsemen who have problems with race-day use of Lasix could just stop administering the drug at those times.

But he said a ban on race-day use of the drug would put horses at a disadvantage if they bled.

"You don't know which ones are going to bleed," he said.

The new proposal being presented to the horse racing commission would gradually ban the use of furosemide within 24 hours of post time in any graded or stakes races in Kentucky. Those races draw top-notch horses because of the higher purse money offered.

The new version would begin on Jan. 1, 2013, when the ban would apply to 2-year-olds racing in any graded or stakes races in Kentucky. The prohibition would extend to 2- and 3-year-old horses competing in those races in 2014.

The Kentucky Derby, run the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, is for 3-year-old horses.

Then in 2015, the ban would apply to any horse entered to race in graded or listed stakes races in Kentucky.

The phase-in could reshuffle fields in some horse races in 2014, when the ban would apply to 3-year-olds but not to older horses.

Violations of the race-day drug ban would result in the horse being disqualified and forfeiture of their purse money.

"That is a heavy penalty to pay," Ward said. "The owner takes the hit for a lot of money."

Violating trainers or veterinarians would face license suspensions and fines growing in severity for repeat infractions in a year's time.

Notably missing from the new version was an out-clause that would have the commission review the impact of the race-day ban during the phase-in period. The initial proposal called for a commission review of the ban in 2013.