01/30/2004 1:00AM

New York finds one EPO case


NEW YORK - One horse, a Standardbred, has tested positive for the banned blood-enhancing agent erythropoietin since New York began testing for the drug on Nov. 1, officials for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board said Friday.

The horse, Broadway Lover, tested positive twice for antibodies of the drug, commonly known as EPO, after races at Yonkers Raceway, according to Stacy Clifford, a spokeswoman for the board. The horse was then put on the veterinarian's list and suspended until the antibodies cleared his system, under a new rule adopted at the beginning of November.

EPO, which stimulates the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the spleen, has been a significant target of horse racing regulators for the past five years. The drug was believed by many regulators to be in widespread use because of reports of its abuse in other performance sports, such as track and field and bicycling.

New York passed an emergency rule in November calling for any horse who tested positive for the drug to be suspended until the drug cleared the horse's system. The rule, which was extended another 90 days at a board meeting on Friday, was put in place after chemists at Cornell and Rutgers universities developed a test to detect antibodies produced by a horse in reaction to an injection of EPO. The test cannot determine when the drug was administered, however, complicating any efforts to hold a trainer responsible for a positive.

The dearth of positives for EPO seems to suggest one of the following possibilities: talk of the abuse of EPO could have been exaggerated; trainers could have stopped using the drug last year after the board began to test aggressively for the drug; or the test is not performing as indicated.

"Hopefully the rule is working the way it was intended to work," Clifford said. "It's supposed to be a deterrent. If anyone was using it, hopefully they've stopped. Honestly, we don't want to find the drug."

In Delaware, which also recently began testing experimentally for the drug, regulators have detected "a very small percentage of positives" for EPO, according to John Wayne, the administrator of racing for the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission. Delaware is considering a rule similar to that in place in New York, Wayne said, and regulators will meet March 23 to discuss the new rule.