08/22/2005 12:00AM

Jockey Club looks to fund new drug-test lab


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Jockey Club will attempt to raise $3 million over the next six months to start a laboratory that would develop new tests for banned drugs, officials said Sunday at the annual Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing in Saratoga Springs. The tests would then be used by other laboratories across the country.

The laboratory, which will be developed in consultation with Dr. Don Catlin, the founder of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, is intended to plug gaps in racing's current mechanism for developing new tests, the officials said. Those gaps have been identified as one of the sport's most pressing problems by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industrywide group that has developed model race-day medication rules.

The laboratory would seek to address a longstanding problem in human and equine sports by rapidly developing tests for drugs that are increasingly being designed to escape detection, such as THG, the designer steroid developed and distributed by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative that was ultimately detected by Catlin's UCLA lab.

"It is still imperative that we present a clean sport where the success of our equine athletes depends solely on their ability and determination, not on drugs or illegal medication," said Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, the chairman of The Jockey Club, in his closing remarks. "We have talked enough about medication. The time has come to take action once and for all."

In an interview after the Round Table, Catlin said that the laboratory, to be called the Equine Drug Institute, would develop the new tests and then send the findings to the 38 drug-testing laboratories currently used by racing jurisdictions to detect banned drugs. Each laboratory would be responsible for acquiring any equipment to conduct the testing. Such sophisticated equipment can sometimes costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

During his presentation at the Round Table, Catlin said that racing faces many of the same drug-testing challenges as other sports. Catlin said that racing devotes little money to research and development, and he reiterated a longstanding criticism that the industry's myriad laboratories do not cooperate well with each other. The solution developed by other sports, Catlin said, is to centralize the structure.

"The work is so expensive, the equipment is so unique, you have to concentrate high-level people in one place," Catlin said. "Industries just cannot afford multiple labs."

Nick Nicholson, the president of the Keeneland Association, said that Keeneland first approached Catlin two years ago about setting up the laboratory. The initiative gained momentum earlier this year, Nicholson said, when Keeneland invited representatives of several industry organizations and several high-profile owners and trainers to gauge whether they would support the effort. Nicholson declined to identify the individuals.

"When they all said yes, we decided we needed to keep going forward," Nicholson said.

William S. Farish - the vice chairman of The Jockey Club, the owner of Lane's End Farm in Lexington, Ky., and the former U.S. ambassador to England - has been appointed to a committee to raise the funds. Farish said that funds will be sought from individuals and racing organizations, with the intent of launching the laboratory within "six to eight months."

"We've just started talking to people about it," Farish said. "We've had a terrific reception to it so far, and I'm certain we are going to build a tremendous amount of support."

Farish said the $3 million target was for start-up funds, and that the laboratory would need additional funding to operate. He said that, so far, supporters have not determined how to raise those operating funds.

The laboratory project was the most significant announcement at the two-hour Round Table, which included updates about racing's lobbying efforts in Washington, a new strategic plan for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the work so far by the medication consortium.

Alan Foreman, the chief executive of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and a member of the consortium's board, said that to date, 26 states have adopted or are in the process of adopting the model medication rules, calling the progress "remarkable." Foreman said that horsemen at 11 tracks - Belmont, Aqueduct, Saratoga, Monmouth, The Meadowlands, Arlington Park, Pimlico, Laurel, Delaware, Timonium, and Hawthorne - had agreed to contribute a fee of $5 per start to help fund the medication consortium's efforts, which include research on various drugs and their effects.

"We want to be able to limit drugs at the racetrack to those drugs recognized for their therapeutic benefits and get rid of all others," Foreman said.