12/08/2008 1:00AM

Florida set to implement tighter steroid rules


MIAMI - Florida is on the verge of implementing new rules to regulate the administration of anabolic steroids, according to Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Stirling expects the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to release a hard copy of the new rule by Dec. 15, and to have it take effect at all three of the state's Thoroughbred racetracks - Calder, Gulfstream Park, and Tampa Bay Downs - on Dec. 30.

"Most of the legal anabolic steroids, such as Winstrol, Equipoise, and Testosterone, will be reclassified from Class 4 to Class 3 drugs with the penalties to increase accordingly," said Stirling, a former trainer. "While the exact nature of the penalties is still unclear, they will result in a loss of purse and license suspension for some period."

Stirling also said there is no reason for trainers currently using anabolic steroids to panic over the new rule.

"Withdrawal times for the legal anabolic steroids differ, and we fought for a 90-day phase-in period for those horsemen who just treated horses with one of those drugs," Stirling said. "If a horse tests in excess of the legal limits during that period, trainers will be issued a warning but receive no penalties."

Stirling, for one, is happy to see Florida join the rest of the country in banning the use of steroids.

"I used anabolic steroids when I trained, but some people are abusing them right now," Stirling said. "They are illegal everywhere else in the world, and this is about the first thing we've actually had uniform in racing throughout the country."

Lopez has suspension cut in half

Jockey Paco Lopez, who was barred by track officials from riding out the remainder of the Calder meeting last month after receiving a series of suspensions totaling 65 days, will return to the saddle at Tampa Bay Downs when the 2008-09 meet opens Saturday. Lopez easily won the Calder riding title and held a comfortable advantage in the standings during the Tropical at Calder session at the time he was barred. Lopez is a leading contender for an Eclipse Award as the top apprentice rider in 2008.

According to an order handed down last week by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Lopez must serve 27 of the 65 days he was suspended. A 30-day suspension for his ride aboard Awesome Alexandra in the Ema Bovary Stakes on Aug. 3 and another five-day suspension were vacated "due to the inadvertent unavailability of audio recordings for review of oral testimony presented at the hearings," according to the division order. An additional three days were waived "in recognition of the petitioner's acknowledgement of the serious nature of the riding infractions."

Lopez has already served the first 20 days of his 27-day suspension. According to the order, he must serve the final seven days when the Gulfstream meet opens Jan. 3.

"We're just happy to have come to some agreement, and Paco is eager to get back riding again," said his agent, Corey Moran. "Since he cannot ride here, we considered going to New York, but they'll only be open another week before taking off for the holidays, so he'll ride at Tampa for the remainder of the month before returning to Gulfstream when his days are up there on Jan. 14."

* Pedro Sarabia and Aaron Rivera both saddled the first winners of their training careers here earlier this week. Sarabia sent out Aqua Azul to a wire-to-wire victory in Sunday's second race, while Rivera achieved his milestone with Illustrater in Monday's opener.