Kentucky legislators have passed a one-year budget for the upcoming fiscal year with three initiatives intended to bolster the integrity of horse racing in the state and on a national level.
An $11.3 billion general fund budget is awaiting approval by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. Three horse racing-specific items represent $2.1 million of that total for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.
If the budget is approved and the horse racing initiatives survive the governor’s line-item veto power, the state will add a safety steward and additional investigators to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, help fund a national medication testing laboratory and pay for a research project to study jockey injury and concussion protocols.
“We’re in a really tough budgetary time, but it was good news for racing,” Damon Thayer, Senate Majority Floor Leader, said Tuesday. “We received significant support from our legislative colleagues to do the right thing.”
The House approved the budget last Thursday in an 80-10 vote following the Senate’s 34-0 vote on the general fund budget for the fiscal year. The legislature was tasked with presenting a one-year budget rather than a typical two-year budget, because of uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s no way to forecast what the revenue will be in year two of the budget,” Thayer said.
Earmarked to be transferred from the Equine Drug Research Council to the University of Kentucky is $1.5 million to fund a national medication testing laboratory for racehorses. In light of recent indictments of prominent trainers, including Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro, on allegations of a far-reaching horse doping scheme, the lab would be used to test the effects of drugs on equine athletes.
“There’s been a goal for a couple of years for Kentucky to have a national testing lab, not only for racing in Kentucky but for other states,” Thayer said. “The timing was right with the news of the indictments last month to try to tackle the problem of illegal medications in racing on the front end and the back end.”
The medication testing lab would work with the bolstered investigative arm of the KHRC. Another item in the budget was to add a position in the KHRC as well as additional investigators tasked with making sure all Kentucky medication rules are adhered to on the backside of the state’s race tracks.
“On the front end, we put $500,000 in General Fund money in to create a safety steward and more investigators so we can catch the cheaters and have more of an enforcement division at the KHRC,” Thayer said. Kentucky House Speaker “David Osborne and I worked together on this, and we found a lot of support among our legislative colleagues because they understand how important the racing industry is to Kentucky and how important it is for Kentucky to lead.
"They were obviously and unfortunately familiar with the story of the indictments and want to make sure that we can be the leaders to crack down on this situation.”
The third horse racing-related item in the budget was $100,000 to be allocated to the University of Kentucky’s Sports Medicine Research Institute for the study of concussions and other health concerns for jockeys.
“A year ago, Speaker Osborne and I visited the SMRI facility with Javier Castellano, Julian Leparoux, Sophie Doyle, John Velazquez -- they were all in to ride at Keeneland, so they came over on a dark day to look at the facility,” Thayer said. “We are really impressed with what they are doing to study jockey concussion protocols and other wellness issues. We made a commitment to them then that we would try to get some money in the budget to fund that initiative.”
Beshear has the power to approve the budget as a whole or employ line-item vetoes. He has 10 business days from the time the bill gets to his desk to make his decisions. Kentucky’s legislature is on a break until April 13. The legislators have veto override powers should they wish to contest any part of the budget the governor deems unnecessary.