08/20/2006 12:00AM

Equine Drug Research Institute established

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - A drug-testing laboratory funded by the racing industry at the University of California-Los Angeles is up and running, racing officials said at the Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing on Sunday in Saratoga Springs.

The laboratory, which is called the Equine Drug Research Institute, has been fully equipped and staffed, said Rogers Beasley, the director of racing at Keeneland, which is leading the fund-raising effort to administer the laboratory. In addition, the lab has begun researching tests designed to detect substances that have been very difficult to find in post-race urine and blood samples, including the blood-doping drug erythropoietin and darbepoietin, Beasley said.

The establishment of the laboratory, which is expected to develop tests that would be provided free-of-charge to the vast array of testing laboratories in the U.S. currently performing post-race tests, was announced at last year's Round Table. Racing officials said then that they would seek $3 million over the next three years to fund the laboratory. Beasley said on Sunday that the fund-raising efforts "were very close to our goal."

Beasley said he expected the laboratory to produce measurable results by the end of this year.

The Round Table is held annually in Saratoga Springs, and topics at the gathering typically reflect the racing industry's more pressing issues. At this year's Round Table, in addition to drug-testing and medication issues, topics included efforts by the racing industry to develop technologies that monitor betting pools for fraud, the growing use of synthetic racing surfaces, and the future of racing in New York.

Also on the topic of drug-testing, Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said that his group is facing a budget gap for next year that will inhibit the group's ability to fund research projects and continue working on model rules and penalties.

"Frankly, the financial support generated so far is not enough to maintain our current level of spending in 2007," Waterman said.

After the Round Table, Waterman said that the RMTC derives 40 percent of its funding from a permanent fee mechanism from some industry groups. The other 60 percent, Waterman said, must be raised on a year-to-year basis.

On the topic of wagering security, Frank Fabian, the president and treasurer of the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau, an investigative organization owned by racetracks, said that the TRPB has contracted with InCompass, a company owned by the Jockey Club, to develop hardware and software that will monitor betting pools for suspicious wagers and provide data for investigations into betting fraud and fixed races. Fabian said that the system is expected to be operational later this year.

The system will likely be the second implemented in racing to provide monitoring services for wagers, an issue that became a concern for the racing industry following the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal in 2002. A similar system is expected to be marketed to racetracks later this year by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for state-funded racing regulatory bodies, that will perform nearly the same functions.

Presentations on the use of synthetic surfaces in racing were led by Nick Nicholson, the president of Keeneland, and Bob Elliston, the president of Turfway Park, which is half-owned by Keeneland. Keeneland installed a synthetic surface on its training track in 2004, and is in the midst of installing the surface on its main track for use at the track's next meet in October. Turfway was the first major racetrack in the U.S. to install a synthetic surface, in time for the track's winter and spring meeting that began late in 2005.

Elliston said that installing the surface, which is called Polytrack and owned in part by Keeneland, was "the best decision Turfway Park has ever made," citing handle gains at the track's meet and dramatic reductions in the number of fatal breakdowns at the track and the number of racing and training days lost to bad weather.

The two-hour Round Table concluded with presentations by Charles Hayward, the president of the New York Racing Association, and J. Patrick Barrett, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, which earlier this summer issued a request for proposals to gain the franchise held by NYRA.

Hayward used his presentation to outline changes NYRA has made since it reached a deferred prosecution agreement with federal regulators in 2003. Hayward also reiterated remarks he and other NYRA officials have made elsewhere about the value of operating NYRA's three tracks under a not-for-profit structure, in contrast to other expected bidders.

Hayward also said during his presentation that NYRA intended to include a project in its bid to replace "at least two of our dirt surfaces" with synthetic surfaces, though he did not specify which two. Bill Nader, the senior vice president of NYRA, said after the presentation that NYRA has not decided which surfaces would be replaced, though at least one of the surfaces will be one of NYRA's training tracks.