12/23/2003 1:00AM

New drug test for graded stakes delayed


The implementation of a new drug-testing regimen for all graded stakes in the United States will be delayed by six months because of several "scientific and logistical issues" that have yet to be resolved, officials for the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association said Tuesday.

The owners' association had hoped to launch the new drug test for all graded stakes at the beginning of 2004. It had announced earlier this year that any graded stakes run in 2004 would lose its grade if horses in the race were not subjected to a post-race "supertest" able to identify over 140 drugs.

Andy Schweigardt, the secretary of the association's American Graded Stakes Committee, said Tuesday that the group hopes to have the test in place in July 2004, although the implementation could be delayed further. No graded stakes will have its grading jeopardized by drug testing issues until the drug-testing regimen is fully in place, Schweigardt said.

The owners' association experimented with the new testing protocol during the fall meetings at Belmont Park, Keeneland, and Santa Anita. Problems with the testing protocol were identified during the pilot program, association officials said.

"There's still some discussion about which drugs should be tested for and which drugs should be added to the list," Schweigardt said.

The owners' group is also considering identifying "one or two or three" laboratories that will conduct the test, rather than requiring every laboratory in the country to upgrade its testing equipment to handle the new protocol.

"It's a lot of time and expense to ask all of the labs to bring themselves up to the point where they can do this," Schweigardt said.