01/25/2005 12:00AM

Let federal enforcers go after racing's bad guys


TUCSON, Ariz. - With the wild horses loose, galloping roughshod over media coast to coast, New York has decided to close the barn door. It now will test for milkshakes.

There was a lot of nonsense printed after the revelation of milkshaking and worse at Aqueduct, none more nonsensical than the argument that it is difficult to test for milkshakes.

Harness racing has been doing it for years, Australia has been doing it regularly, California has been doing it since last year.

Best of all, milkshake testing survived a watershed court case in New Jersey several years ago, in which the test was upheld as sound.

The theoretical reason people give milkshakes is to prevent, by alkalization, the buildup of lactic acid in a horse's blood, thus reducing the onset of fatigue. But regardless of whether administering an alkalizing milkshake - usually sodium bicarbonate and sugar and whatever else the cook drops in the stew - into the stomach on race day is written into a state's racing rules, which it should be, tubing a horse with anything on race day has no place in the game, and any commission that allows it is lax.

New York's move against milkshakes was spurred by a mess that resulted in arrests and indictments on charges of illegal gambling and doping. But like the pick six score at the 2002 Breeders' Cup, some good may come from this.

The New York Racing Association, The Meadowlands, and Churchill Downs have announced that they no longer will send their signals to the secondary receivers used by the Aqueduct betting ring. Other racetracks across the land will begin to make an effort to find out exactly whom they are doing business with in providing their signals to secondary simulcasting outlets. Some do not know that now, and perhaps a few do not care.

There is a natural vehicle in racing that is the logical central source to do the investigating on that issue. It already has done more work in the field than anyone else, and knows more about the shady world of rebate shops, offshore or domestic, than anyone else.

It is the twin entity of the Thoroughbred Protective Racing Bureau and Standardbred Investigative Services, which covers both Thoroughbred and harness racing.

They can do the investigating, but they can't do the prosecution. Who should be responsible for punishing racing's bad guys?

The respected and successful Cot Campbell recently discussed the lack of enforcement power in the sport. Regarding a new auction code of ethics that lacked any provision for punishing violators, Campbell noted correctly that the racing industry has no central power for punishing anyone in respect to criminal issues. That power rests, helter skelter, with the states that regulate racing.

Campbell went on to say that, at least in the case of the auction code, the federal government should not be involved with racing enforcement.

I would have agreed with Campbell to keep the feds out of racing in almost any of the last five decades. Until now.

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion, particularly after the Aqueduct bust, that the only way racing can stop the bad guys who are trying to ruin it is through federal action. The feds play rough, as do the crooks, and they have the firepower to put them away, something racing commissions do not.

The commissions are even hesitant to use the most powerful weapon they do have: life suspension, if the perpetrators are licensed individuals. On the rare occasions when commissions do that, they often later relent, interpreting "life" as the life of the suspension, not the individual.

So I have come to believe that having the feds catch and put some high-profile chemists in the slammer for a decade or two, which they alone can do, would be the most effective deterrent the sport might have, more effective than detention barns and paddock cameras and slaps on the wrist or codes of ethics without teeth.

The guys we need to catch have no ethics, and no morality. Maybe the feds don't either, in some tricks they use, but that may be the only way to play the dirty game, and they may be the only players who can do it.