05/02/2005 12:00AM

Mixed reactions on security barn


The introduction of a race-day security barn by the New York Racing Association has elicited mixed emotions from horsemen who will be subjected to increased scrutiny, inconveniences, and possibly added expenses to run their horses at Belmont Park, Saratoga, and Aqueduct.

Beginning with Wednesday's opening-day card at Belmont, horses that participate at a NYRA track must report to a security barn a minimum of six hours prior to their races. Only the trainer and his stable employees will be allowed to be with the horses while at the barn. Private veterinarians will not be permitted to tend to the horses, and only a NYRA vet can administer the anti-bleeding medication Lasix.

It is the most aggressive measure taken by a North American racetrack in a series of recent moves to protect the sport's integrity and improve public trust. The measure comes three months after NYRA joined other tracks in testing for alkalizing agents - banned substances that are believed to stave off fatigue - and four months after a trainer was indicted in connection with an alleged doping incident at Aqueduct in December 2003.

"People are breaking the rules and everybody knows it," trainer Phil Serpe said. "I hope whatever they do works. To me, it's a near out-of-control situation. People are being called great trainers and heroes of the game, and they're not. It makes things difficult for honest guys to do their job correctly. Owners are constantly on your back because you're running second or third to these guys. Something's got to be done about it. I just hope they know what they're looking for."

"I'm in favor of it," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "If it helps you win one race, it pays for itself."

While all horsemen want a level playing field, some wonder if this tactic will prevent cheating.

"I think it's insane - I don't think it's going to do a thing," said trainer Tom Bush. "My own two cents, our testing is woefully inadequate because we don't ever seem to find anything. And when we do find something that's illegal, the punishment is not strong enough."

"I don't see how it can be effective," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "It's just another costly thing for the trainer, just another trainer's expense."

Charles Hayward, NYRA's president and CEO, estimates it will cost $500,000 annually to run the security barn. He said he believes it will help deter cheaters.

"We're not pounding our chests and saying we're the first - we just think it's a good thing to do," he said. "If we don't think it's effective, we'll look at it.

"Just like testing is not a cure-all, this is not going to be a cure-all. The most significant aspect of this is this keeps private vets out of stalls on race day."

The smaller outfits may be affected the most in terms of expense. A groom will be required to be with a horse at the security barn, meaning some horsemen may have to hire extra help. In New York, grooms make approximately $400 a week.

The bigger outfits, such as the ones belonging to Todd Pletcher and Bobby Frankel, have had their stall allotments cut from 40 to 36 at Belmont. Pletcher has opened a stable at Delaware, while Frankel will keep horses at Churchill.

Two years ago, Frankel was outspoken in his opposition to a proposed security barn for the Belmont Stakes, and the plan was quickly scrapped. But Frankel said he is in favor of the new plan.

"You think about everything," Frankel said when asked about his change of philosophy. "They're doing the right thing."

Pletcher has been the leading trainer at Belmont the last three spring meets. He said he doesn't feel any pressure to maintain a high winning percentage lest people think he took an edge.

"I myself am not worried about it, because we've proven wherever we go we do well, and it doesn't concern me because we're not doing anything wrong," Pletcher said.

Richard Dutrow has been among New York's leading trainers the last several years. Dutrow has denied rumors of impropriety, but on June 1 he will begin serving a 60-day suspension for two medication positives dating back more than a year. He says he supports the security barn.

"It's not going to bother me in any kind of way," Dutrow said. "Matter of fact, it's going to help us win, because there are some clowns out here that are trying to do the wrong thing, so they're going to be eliminated, so it's going to help us."

Dutrow and other trainers have concerns about taking horses out of their regular environments for such a long period of time. Many say that nervous horses could leave their races in the security barn.

Two adjacent barns will serve as the security barn. Barn 23, which for years was home to Scotty Schulhofer, and Barn 8, which has served as the receiving barn, can accommodate 93 horses. On days when more than 93 horses are entered, a designated race will be excused from the security barn, but those horses will be subject to a prerace blood test.

Trainers who don't get their horses to the security barn on time will be fined, and their horses can be scratched at the discretion of the stewards.