10/16/2007 12:00AM

Fancy footwork in Bluegrass

EmailTUCSON, Ariz. - Of all the intriguing places I visit, Kentucky is by far the most entrancing.

There is nothing like Lexington in the fall. Beautiful weather, superb horses, Keeneland and Lexington's downtown racetrack, The Red Mile, and, perhaps most fascinating of all, the Kentucky Racing Authority.

It is a work of wonder. And its latest performance, the Biancone Ballet, is a work of art.

Mr. Biancone's racing accomplishments around the world need no repetition here. He is an exceptional horse trainer. But Kentucky's delicate footwork in dancing around his latest exploits rivals Nureyev or Nijinsky at their best. The timing was exquisite. Credit for the production goes in large part to Frank Becker and Alan Foreman, two of Biancone's legal ballet-masters. If I ever get in trouble in Lexington, which is not too unlikely, I want Mr. Becker's phone number. I already have Alan's, for he is not only a personal friend but one of the best racing lawyers in the world, a man who gets things done.

The story of three sealed vials of alpha-cobratoxin in a red bag discovered in Biancone's refrigerator, labeled with the name of his veterinarian, Dr. Rodney Stewart, needs no repetition. Biancone was storing them for Dr. Stewart, we are told, and Dr. Stewart now is gone, banished for five years for possession of sealed vials of cobratoxin, carbidopa and levodopa, the last two Class A medications under the Kentucky Racing Authority's uniform drug and medication classification. His suspension - part of it for failing to cooperate in the racing authority's investigation of the Biancone matter - is under appeal.

On Oct. 5, I received a release from Kentucky.gov, the voice of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, announcing the suspension of trainer Patrick Biancone for one year "for numerous violations of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority's medication regulations."

The suspension was ordered, the release said, "following an investigation into items seized during a June 22, 2007, search of three of Biancone's barns at Keeneland Race Course."

Biancone, the release said, was suspended for a variety of violations relating to the possession of medications without proper labeling and possession of injectables. He received 30 days for each violation involving the injectables and 30 more for the labeling violations, to be served concurrently with the cobratoxin violation. The stewards also believed Biancone knew of Stewart's possession of the snake venom, one of the most potent painkillers in racing, and failed to report it, another violation of Kentucky rules. That calls for another one-year suspension, conveniently to be served concurrently with the first.

The suspension announcement included a strong statement from Lisa Underwood, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. "The Authority," she said, "is committed to ensuring the highest level of integrity for Kentucky's signature industry and sport. The stewards' ruling sends a clear message to all industry stakeholders and participants that violations of this nature will not be tolerated."

Clear and unequivocal, a powerful message for the triumph of good over evil.

On Oct. 6, the day after Kentucky.com's release, Biancone said he was "profoundly disappointed, but not surprised, by the stewards' ruling." He said he already had been tried and convicted in the press and was well aware of "pressures from certain elements of the industry to make an example out of me before all the facts were known and I had an opportunity to defend myself." His claim, certain to be the basis of his appeal, is that Dr. Stewart stored the cobra venom in Biancone's cooler the morning of the search, and arranged for injectables and medications for another client to be delivered to Biancone's barn.

On Oct. 9, Biancone appealed his suspension, and Alan Foreman announced his client had been granted a stay, saying he was being used "as a poster boy" for racing's attempts to crack down on medication violations.

The Kentucky Racing Authority's state steward, Hall of Fame trainer John Veitch, said the authority's hearing officer, Jim Robke, issued the ruling for a stay because Robke "did not believe that Mr. Biancone presented a clear and present danger to racing."

So when will a hearing on Biancone's appeal be heard? Veitch said it was not likely before Oct. 26. That date, not incidentally, is opening day of the Breeders' Cup, and Patrick Biancone has several Cup contenders.

Why Oct. 26? Attorney Frank Becker said, "We need to agree on a date to suit everybody, and so we have to sit down and look at our calendars."

Everyone knows how long that can take. Looking at calendars, like Lisa Underwood's statement, sends a clear message - but not quite the same - to all industry stakeholders and participants: Justice delayed is justice denied. It works both ways, for the offender and the offended.