11/28/2006 12:00AM

Delaware puts strength behind words

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TUCSON, Ariz. - In horse racing, as in all other activities, there are those who talk the talk and those who walk the walk.

There will be plenty of talkers here in Tucson next week, when the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program presents its annual non-stop talkfest, the Racing Symposium.

Meanwhile, in Delaware, brave regulators have walked the walk. In the boldest North American step yet against illegal medication, the Delaware Harness Racing Commission has banned not only the use of erythropoietin (EPO) and all of its derivatives and sister substances, but has made possession of them, when a horse is entered to race, subject to a $10,000 fine and/or a 10-year suspension. The commission's rationale is that the substances have no legitimate use in a racehorse.

The commission is chaired by Beth Steele and includes Robert L. Everett, Mary Ann Lambertson, George P. Staats, and Kenneth Williamson. They have the guidance of their administrator of racing, Hugh Gallagher, an implacable foe of illegal medication.

This is an unprecedented action, and a courageous one. It does not affect Delaware Park and Thoroughbreds racing in the state, but its impact ultimately will be felt far beyond.

Ten years ago, no one would have paid much attention to what happened in harness racing in Delaware. Its two harness tracks, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway, were tiny specks on the racing map in those days, offering purses of $10,000 to $15,000 a night.

Then slots came, and both tracks now pay $150,000 or more a night, and the sport's top horses and drivers and trainers visit Delaware to share those purses. Starting next year, the trainers will be putting their careers on the line if they are caught using or possessing the blood enhancers.

As the new Delaware harness rule is crafted, use or possession of EPO, darbepoietin, Aranesp, Oxyglobin, Hemopure, or any other substance that abnormally enhances oxygenation in a racehorse, can lead to a fine and/or expulsion.

The rule affects not only horses racing, but those entered to race, and it extends for two months after racing, clearly opening the way for out-of-competition testing. It also brings suspension of all horses under control of the trainer.

According to the rule, a horse may be tested for these substances as follows:

* Once a horse is entered to race.

* Any horse that was entered or raced, within 60 days of entry or race.

* Any horse showing the presence of EPO, DPO, or like antibodies.

* Any horse in the care, custody, and control of a trainer having a horse that tested positive for EPO, DPO, and like substances, through a screening test.

Horses that die also are subject to the test.

Hugh Gallagher, explaining this revolutionary new rule, says Delaware harness racing is fighting to stop blood doping, and he hopes to make the consequences for using these drugs so severe that they will be wiped out in the state.

Gallagher also says EPO and its sister substances "have no legitimate use in a racehorse," and he hopes the severity of the rule "will drive good owners away from bad trainers."

Gallagher said he and the commission are prepared to face the inevitable legal challenges, adding that the attorney general of Delaware vetted the rule before it was passed.

Horsemen at the recent Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg, Pa. - the world's largest - asked Judy Wilson, executive director of the Delaware Standardbred Breeders Fund and president of the U.S. Harness Writers Association, if it was true that Delaware was instituting such a draconian rule against blood doping.

Her answer: "Why don't you come down and try it, and see what happens?"

That's walking the walk.

Chester still a presence

When last we met, a listing of Pennsylvania tracks omitted Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack. It is very much there, with its stretch turn sitting on the Delaware River and horses racing over it nightly, and its brand new state-of-the-art presence will be far more visible when it begins its racino operation after the first of the new year. We regret the inadvertent omission and look forward to big doings in Chester in 2007 and beyond.