By T. D. Thornton
Kentucky’s executive branch budget bill that is awaiting either passage or line-item vetoes from Gov. Andy Beshear contains a $1.5-million restricted funds transfer from the Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC) to the University of Kentucky (UK) to open a national equine drug testing laboratory.
The budget bill also includes a $500,000 allotment from the state’s general fund into the budget of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) to hire a safety steward and additional investigators who would be assigned to the state’s tracks.
A third general fund appropriation would give $100,000 to the UK’s Sports Medicine Research Institute (SMRI) to advance jockey concussion protocol research and other rider-related health improvements.
According to the Kentucky state website, there are three branch budget bills, one for each branch of government. Typically, the budget bills passed by each chamber of the General Assembly are different, and those differences must be worked out in a conference committee of senators and representatives.
Damon Thayer, the Kentucky Senate Majority Leader and a longtime member of the EDRC, told TDN he advocated for the inclusion of the three racing-related items in the executive branch budget bill. He added that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Osborne, “who is also a horse-industry supporter,” was supportive of the inclusions.
“It’s passed both the House and the Senate, and it’s on the governor’s desk,” Thayer explained. “He has 10 days [from Apr. 1 passage, not including Sundays] to line-item veto the budget bill. Then the legislature comes back Apr. 13-15 to consider overriding any of those vetoes.
Thayer said the proposed UK drug lab would handle the state’s testing and could have the capability to process tests from client jurisdictions outside of Kentucky.
“The EDRC has a statutory purpose to use the money generated from the pari-mutuel tax on equine drug testing,” Thayer said. “Right now, our testing lab is in California. Kentucky should have its own lab at UK. It’s a really big deal. They’ve raised some private money, and we were told that they needed $1.5 million to complete it.”
Thayer described the proposed drug testing lab as anchoring the “back end” of enforcement, while the $500,000 that would go toward the hiring of the KHRC safety steward and investigative staff as “front end” support.
“This is a direct response to the federal indictments a couple of weeks ago to increase the numbers of investigators that we have on the backstretches of our racetracks and training centers as well as to add a state safety steward to focus on safety and integrity issues,” Thayer said.
“It sends a direct message that we’re going to crack down on the cheaters by increasing the powers of the racing commission to keep these cheaters out of Kentucky and to make it a safer environment for horses and jockeys,” Thayer said.
Thayer said that last year he and the House Speaker toured the SMRI program to get an overview of the jockey-related research going on there, and that members of The Jockeys’ Guild were supportive of the work being done there.
“They showed us what they were working on for jockey concussion protocols and other jockey wellness issues, and the Speaker and I made a commitment then that we would help try to get some money into the budget to fund those initiatives.”
Kentucky’s state budgeting system usually covers two fiscal years at a time. But Thayer explained that “this is a one-year budget, passed in extraordinary times because of the coronavirus. Normally we do a two-year budget, but [this year’s budget] goes into effect July 1 if signed by the governor or vetoed and overridden by both the House and the Senate.”