02/18/2005 12:00AM

Keeneland joins tracks testing for milkshakes

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland Racecourse plans to test horses for alkalizing agents such as those found in milkshakes during its upcoming spring meeting, the president of the track told the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council at a meeting on Friday.

Nick Nicholson, Keeneland's president, told the council that Keeneland plans to test every horse that races at the track for the substances, which can be administered through nasal-gastric tubes, in feed substances and pastes, and by injection. Keeneland's spring meet begins on April 7 and runs for three weeks.

Separately, the drug council approved a recommendation that the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority craft and adopt a rule that would allow for the testing of blood for total carbon dioxide, based on a threshold of 37 millimoles per liter of blood plasma. Testing blood for total carbon dioxide levels is considered the best way to determine if alkalizing agents have been administered to a horse.

Alkalizing agents are thought to stave off fatigue by inhibiting the build-up of lactic acid in muscles. Although alkalizing agents have been the source of frequent rumors at Thoroughbred tracks for more than five years, most racing states have only just begun crafting rules to detect the agents. Prompting these rules were the results of tests last year in California and an indictment in New York this January that alleged a horse had been administered an alkalizing agent.

"This is just another example of our folly when we ignore a problem and we stick our heads in the sand," Nicholson said, referring to the rumors and the recent crackdown.

Keeneland's program has been crafted along the lines of the testing protocols in place at Santa Anita Park in California, where three trainers in the past two weeks have had horses test positive for excessive levels of total carbon dioxide. Nicholson said that details of the program have yet to be finalized, but said that Keeneland expects to conduct both prerace and post-race tests on every horse in hopes of deterring potential cheaters and creating a research database for the industry.

The penalty for a first positive will be "earned surveillance," a term the industry has adopted to refer to the practice of forcing a trainer to send any entered horse to a detention barn a day before it races. After a second positive, a trainer would be prohibited from entering any horse for the rest of the meet, and if a trainer should test positive a third time at Keeneland's fall meet, he would be prohibited from entering a horse at Keeneland for a year.

The rule approved by the drug council had even less detail than the Keeneland proposal, but the council's sole role is to recommend policy to the larger Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. The rule called for the 37 millimole limit; that testing be performed both before and after races; and that rules that require post-race samples to be split for the purposes of confirmation from a second laboratory be waived for total carbon-dioxide testing.

The motion was passed unanimously by the six members present: Connie Whitfield, the chairwoman; Fairfield Bain, a veterinarian; Susan Bunning, a representative of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association; Bill Napier and Alan Leavitt, two harness racing representatives; and Alice Chandler, owner of Mill Ridge Farm.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which meets on Tuesday, could adopt an emergency rule to establish testing for alkalizing agents that would take effect 60 days after adoption, according to Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the authority. A permanent rule would take approximately five months to take effect, Gallagher said.