08/27/2002 11:00PM

New York nears EPO testing


NEW YORK - New York regulators will soon be conducting blood tests on horses to detect the blood-enhancing agent erythropoietin, or EPO, according to several racing officials close to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

The tests will begin once the board can formulate a policy to govern the practice, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Board members met Tuesday with Dr. George Maylin, who runs New York's drug-testing lab at Cornell University, to discuss the plan. Maylin has been working with several other scientists on a test to detect EPO.

The policy being discussed would include non-raceday testing of horses, and therefore represent an entirely new effort to tackle drug abuse in the U.S. racing industry. As a rule, regulators use postrace tests to detect drugs.

The effort by New York also suggests that a test has been developed to detect EPO, an illegal injectable drug that has been thought to be widely abused in racing during the past two years.

Despite the concern about abuse of EPO, a test to detect the drug has not yet been developed. Several months ago, however, the team led by Maylin was said to be close to adopting a procedure.

Board officials would not discuss details of the policy on Tuesday or specifics of the discussion, and Maylin declined to comment.

Other officials, however, said policies being discussed included testing horses at random on racetrack backstretches. If a horse tests positive for EPO, the trainer's barn will be searched and the horse will be declared "unfit to race" until its system is clear of EPO, which could take up to three months.

EPO was designed to treat anemia in humans. It is believed to improve a horse's performance by boosting the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.