03/12/2002 1:00AM

Drug task force leader quits


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The leader of the task force set up by the industry to wrestle with the thorny issue of drugs in racing has resigned.

Jim Gallagher, who has led the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Task Force on Racing Integrity and Drug Testing since its formation in 1999, will leave that position March 28. He will become vice-president of parimutuel operations at the New York Racing Association's tracks.

Dr. Scot Waterman, a veterinarian who currently is the task force's director of procedures and methods, will succeed Gallagher as the task force's executive director.

Gallagher's departure comes as momentum has been building in the industry to address contentious medication issues, including establishment of uniform regulations for all racing states.

He also is leaving at a time when short-term fund-raising is critical to the task force. The group, which Gallagher said initially had a budget of about $600,000 - money given by the now-defunct National Thoroughbred Association and other industry entities - currently has only about $150,000.

"That's a critical next step: coming up with short-term or bridge financing," Gallagher said.

Gallagher, a former regulator from the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said he believes the task force will benefit from having a scientist, rather than a regulator, in its executive directorship.

"We're getting to the point where this is going to be a more scientific-oriented position," he said, adding that the group's focus has shifted from identifying what he called "voids in testing" to examining various proposals that horsemen's and veterinary organizations have made for drug classification and testing.

Of his decision to leave, Gallagher added, "This move gives me a chance to return to my old haunts. New York racing is really where my heart is."

When the NTRA brought Gallagher on board in 1999, medication-reform proponents hailed the move as a promising step toward uniform medication regulations and testing. But the NTRA's foray into medication issues also prompted criticism from some who felt the group was imappropriately maneuvering to dictate medication policy.

In his time at the task force, Gallagher headed implementation of the supertest program, which subjected more than 1,200 postrace samples to around 40 tests at labs at Cornell University and University of California at Davis, in 2000.

Gallagher identified that as his primary accomplishment.

"People suspected that there was broad variation between methodologies, rules, and applications at labs, and we were able to put the results into black and white for people in the report," he said.

The supertest program, whose results were presented at the 2001 Jockey Club Round Table at Saratoga, found that 22 samples, or about 1.7 percent of samples tested, contained Class 1, 2, or 3 drugs, and that nearly 75 percent of the positives were because of environmental contaminants or therapeutic overages. Among the detected drugs was dextromoramide bitartrate, a Class 1 drug previously undetected in the United States.

The report prompted the NTRA to call for a new organization to push for improvements in testing, more rigorous testing of post-race samples, and a quality assurance program for testing labs.