10/20/2003 11:00PM

New York sets EPO rule

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Beginning Nov. 1, a horse who tests positive in New York for the illegal blood-enhancing agent erythropoietin will be prohibited from racing until the drug clears the horse's body, according to a rule passed by the New York York State Racing and Wagering Board at a meeting on Tuesday.

The rule will make New York the first racing jurisdiction in the United States to address the use of erythropoietin, commonly referred to as EPO. The drug has been rumored to be in widespread use in horse racing for several years, but chemists have had difficulty devising a test that could accurately detect the drug.

Under the New York rule, a horse who tests positive for EPO will not be disqualified, nor will the purse be redistributed. The horse's trainer will not be disciplined. Instead, the horse will be prohibited from racing until the EPO clears the horse's system, a process that can take at least 120 days, according to scientists.

The rule was structured to address the limitations of the test that has been developed to detect EPO. The test can detect antibodies that a horse produces in response to an injection of the drug, but the test cannot determine when the drug was administered. Since horses frequently change barns, especially in the claiming ranks, the rule will not attempt to hold a trainer responsible, although regulators have said that multiple positives will likely result in increased scrutiny on a trainer's operations.

The rule was passed by the racing board under its "emergency rules" powers, which means the rule will take effect almost immediately without public comment. The emergency rule will expire in 90 days unless reinstated by the board, according to Stacy Clifford, a spokeswoman for the board.

The board also passed the rule as a recommendation to its regulations, meaning owners, trainers, and other members of the public will be able to comment on the rule before the board schedules a vote to make it a permanent part of state regulations, Clifford said.

In April, the board distributed a letter alerting horsemen that it was considering the rule. At that time, "we received very little public comment" from owners and trainers, Clifford said.

"The industry will have the opportunity to comment again during the rule-making process," Clifford said. "We don't know how many positives we will have. Hopefully, we won't have any, because we want this to work as a deterrent."

EPO, which first caught the attention of drug-enforcement agencies in human sports, stimulates the pancreas to create red blood cells, which carry oxygen to muscles. Some scientists have claimed that EPO can lead to anemia.