09/28/2004 11:00PM

First the good news. Or is it?


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is a concept known as the "news fast," recommended for those of us who tend to consume potentially toxic levels of current events. Symptoms of "news poisoning" include CNN-induced stomach cramps, the news radio cold sweats, and a tendency to argue foreign policy with inanimate objects.

As it turns out, a week or so in strict avoidance of breaking news - terror alerts, presidential polls, anything with the name "Schwarzenegger" attached - can have a soothing effect. The spirit can be renewed. You will stop scaring the pets.

Still, there must be something to fill the void during the fast. An idle mind is the devil's PlayStation, or whatever. Luckily, racing fans have a bounty of entertaining sources from which to pick and choose. And, since racing has been scientifically proven to be 100 percent removed from "the real world," there is little risk of interrupting a diligent news fast in progress.

At least, that's what I thought.

It started out well enough, with a headline that read "Gallagher to Speak at Kentucky Media Forum." What better way to celebrate the role of the press than with a first-class display of goofy prop humor? The first five rows covered in plastic sheeting. Fruit and vegetables exploding onstage and spewing into the audience. Bad puns, stale jokes . . . maybe even a walk-on from Carrot Top!

Alas, I was mistaken. This Gallagher is Jim Gallagher, the newly appointed executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, who will be appearing at the annual breakfast forum of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Media at Keeneland Racecourse on Oct. 5. While Gallagher is an extremely talented guy with a solid record of accomplishment and integrity, and Kentucky is lucky to get him, he has never attacked a 10-pound watermelon with a sledge hammer. At least not in public.

Racing news from abroad is always good for diversion. Last week, the British Horseracing Board revealed it was considering a mandatory day off for all jockeys in hopes of preventing "burn out."

The idea would be to require a rider to sit down one day after every eight days of competition. But what would a jockey do with a day off between riding assignments? Start a novel, perhaps, or work on a tan. They could sleep, eat, golf, fly fish, or do chores around the house (see "Jerry Bailey, ladder safety"). The imagination soars.

"I fear that there is an accident waiting to happen," said the BHB's chairman, Martin Broughton. "It could be an accident in racing, or a traffic accident as a jockey is traveling from one meeting to another."

Broughton and his fellow regulators should be commended for taking the initiative in seeking preemptive safety solutions. A mandatory day off might be a good idea, but only if more dire concerns are addressed as well. British riders are faced with the same workplace issues confronting American jockeys, including the dangers of unhealthy reducing, unsafe and inconsistent course conditions, and unpredictable emergency injury procedures. Giving them a day off to think about it won't solve the problems.

By now, I was badly in need of a story with a better punch line. How about this? Five California racetracks have filed suit against the state of California and its governor (you know who) in an attempt to nullify casino deals cut with five Native American tribes. That would be one tribe per racetrack.

This is a noble effort, for which the families and financial advisers of many qualified attorneys will be everlastingly grateful. No doubt the cause of the tracks will be helped by the fact that one of them is owned by a corporation based in Kentucky and three are operated by a Canadian conglomerate.

Then there was the harness racing story about the man in Delaware - his name is Robert Kinsey Sr. - who hit his horse in the head with a manure shovel after a race. Six times. No kidding. It's on tape, just as clear as Rodney King, except the horse was cross-tied in a stall.

I was not aware of the tradition of hitting a Standardbred in the face with a shovel as a method of postrace caretaking. In the Thoroughbred sport, trainers have been known to weep openly in the presence of a losing animal, in hopes of shaming the creature into a better performance next time. So far, the shovel option has not caught on.

Kinsey, formerly on the board of directors of the Delaware Standardbred Owners Association and current association field rep, was charged with animal cruelty and pled not guilty. He said the horse kicked his wife (who said chivalry was dead?). Kinsey's son, Robert Kinsey Jr., was similarly charged for hitting the horse with his fist and fined $50.

But don't think for a second these guys are getting off scot-free. The Delaware Harness Racing Commission fined the elder Kinsey $500 and suspended him for 10 days from all racing and breeding activities.

Enough. The message is clear. Racing news provides no sanctuary from the harsh climate outside the stable gates. So it's back to the breaking Fox News bulletins and nerve-wracking headlines in the Times. They can't be any worse than reading about discipline by shovel. One thought lingers, however: How many days do you get in Delaware if you use an ax?