By T. D. Thornton
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) advanced a proposal Dec. 8 that will create a set of new regulations designed to curb clenbuterol's off-label abuse as a lean muscle mass builder.
The move is part of a trend this year among North American racing jurisdictions aiming to eliminate clenbuterol's misuse as a performance enhancer while putting in place restrictions that will still allow the drug to be prescribed for its intended purpose as a bronchodilator to treat airway disease.
The new Kentucky rules on clenbuterol will require 1) A specific diagnosis for its prescription that must be filed with the KHRC within 24 hours of dispensing the drug; 2) The horse to be placed of the veterinarian's restricted list for 21 days; 3) Proof via blood and urine testing that the horse's system is clear of clenbuterol prior to being removed from the list and allowed to compete.
The regulatory switch will align Kentucky with a clenbuterol model rule enacted by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium on Aug. 24. The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC), which serves as an advisory board to the KHRC, advanced its approval of these new clenbuterol guidelines at a Dec. 1 meeting.
The existing clenbuterol standard in Kentucky is a withdrawal time of 14 days.
One commissioner argued to no avail against advancing the new set of clenbuterol rules prior to the remaining KHRC members passing the initiative by a voice vote.
That lone dissenter was Alan Leavitt, a decades-long Standardbred owner and breeder and member of the Harness Racing Museum Hall of Fame.
“This is a case of punishing harness racing for the sins of the Quarter Horse people and the Thoroughbred people,” Leavitt said prior to the vote. He lamented the practice of trainers of those breeds “hammering a horse with clenbuterol” to gain muscle-building akin to steroids that give a horse a performance advantage and claimed that it has been “documented in harness racing with no incidences of abusing it.”
Leavitt echoed an argument voiced last week by Andy Roberts, DVM, who represents Standardbred interests on the EDRC, that harness horses should be treated differently than Thoroughbreds when it comes to clenbuterol because of the near-weekly frequently that Standardbreds generally race.
“I'm opposed to this, and I wish the do-gooders would just leave us alone because we don't abuse clenbuterol, and it's very helpful to keep our horses very safe,” Leavitt said.
Commissioner Foster Northrop, DVM, whose practice primarily focuses on Thoroughbreds, disagreed with Leavitt's logic while urging passage of the new regulations.
“Any drug out there that has an ability to be misused and overused and to give a benefit that the drug wasn't originally meant for needs stricter guidance than what we have now presently on clenbuterol,” Northrop said.
“The Quarter Horse crowd showed how easily it could be abused. And I know in the sales rings it's being abused and in racing it's being abused,” Northrop continued. “I can't speak on the Standardbred side of it, but any drug like this…certain factions of people will find a way to abuse it.”
“We typically use it for horses that bleed,” Northrop said. “Horses that bleed automatically need a minimum of 21 days off. And this is when this product is very effective. We're not putting the trainers in jail for using it the way it was meant to be used…. Everybody wants a level playing field. I think this rule is going to move us closer to having a more level field for all participants, and I'm [on the backstretch] every day of my life.
Commissioner Kenneth Jackson, an attorney specializing in equine law who represents harness racing interests in connection with the Kentucky Standardbred Development Fund and Kentucky Standardbred Breeders' Incentive Fund, also urged for the KHRC to pass the new regulations.
“We've got to try to clean up what's out there. We've got to try to get some consistency in the way we look at these animals. And I believe that this is not an issue that impacts the masses that would detrimentally affect the Standardbreds,” Jackson said.
Within the past year, a number of racing jurisdictions have tightened clenbuterol restrictions based on evidence showing the medication has been widely abused for its repartitioning effect that promotes lean muscle mass.
On Jan. 1, the California Horse Racing Board enacted a clenbuterol rule that requires a prescription for appropriate usage plus a stint on the vet's list until the drug clears.
On May 1, the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency started banning clenbuterol 28 days out from race day at tracks country-wide. On Oct. 22, the Maryland Racing Commission advanced a rule proposal similar to California's, and the New York State Gaming Commission did the same Nov. 30.
In addition, more restrictive clenbuterol “house rules” are in effect at Gulfstream Park and soon will be during the Oaklawn Park race meet.
New Schedule at Turfway
A Friday-through-Sunday schedule is out at Turfway Park for the winter/spring 2021 meet that runs from January through March, replaced by a new Thursday-through-Saturday weekly slate.
The KHRC unanimously approved the calendar amendment during Tuesday's meeting, which does not change the initially granted number of 39 dates. In the KHRC meeting packet for this agenda item, the reason Turfway cited for the change was “a temporary hold on its 2021 construction schedule.”
Churchill Downs, Inc., the gaming corporation that owns Turfway, had announced back on Oct. 29 that it was stopping construction on Turfway's planned new grandstand and historical horse racing (HHR) gaming facility until the state of Kentucky clears up the ambiguity surrounding the apparent illegality of HHR, which contributes tens of millions of dollars annually to purses in the state.
The old grandstand has already been torn down and Turfway will be conducting a no-spectator meet with temporary structures for racing officials. No Turfway executives elaborated on the stalled construction during Tuesday's meeting, nor did any commissioners address that topic.
Post time will be 6:15 p.m. nightly. A Wednesday, Jan. 6, program is an exception to the new calendar, and Turfway retains the right to run “optional” dates on other Wednesdays (it had previously been granted optional Thursdays).