11/30/2001 1:00AM

Ecstasy drug on banned list


The Drug-Testing Standards and Practices Committee of the Association of Racing Commissioners International has voted to recommend that benzylpiperazine, a drug similar to ecstasy that was recently detected in four horses in New England, be categorized as a Class 1 drug. Lonny Powell, president of the RCI, announced the decision on Friday.

The RCI committee also voted to recommend that the association adopt a rule making the use of EPO - the blood-enhancing agent that has been the source of numerous scandals in professional bicycling over the past several years - a "prohibited practice," Powell said. EPO is currently a Class 2 drug, but current testing practices are unable to detect the drug.

"Until we can get a test in place, we want to call it a prohibited practice so that we can put some teeth into a rule where it would be considered illegal to administer or possess EPO on the racetrack," Powell said.

The recommendations will be voted on by the full RCI board at a meeting on Dec. 6 in Tucson, Ariz., Powell said. The board is expected to approve the rules.

Benzylpiperazine, which has been compared to stimulants and amphetamines that are popular with teenagers and the club scene, was not previously classified by the RCI, complicating the effort to penalize a trainer who recently had four horses test positive for the drug. Before those positives, benzylpiperazine had not been found in horse racing.

Class 1 drugs are defined as having strong performance-enhancing potential and no therapeutic value. The recommended penalty for a Class 1 violation is a one-to-five-year suspension with a $5,000 fine and loss of purse.

Trainer Tammi Piermarini has had four horses test positive for benzylpiperazine in the past two months in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and she has already been suspended by Suffolk Downs stewards until Jan. 10, the maximum penalty the stewards could hand down.