08/19/2001 12:00AM

NTRA calls for national drug-testing organization at Round Table

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The racing industry needs a new national organization to push for and implement improvements to drug testing in the United States, officials for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association said Sunday during the Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing in Saratoga Springs.

The recommendation for the new office was one of the key findings of a long-awaited report on drug testing and medication prepared by an NTRA task force over the past two years. Other recommendations from the report included implementing more rigorous tests of post-race samples and establishing a quality assurance program for laboratories.

The task force prepared the report in response to concerns that racing was not adequately catching trainers that used illegal medications. The task force was headed by Jim Gallagher, a former New York racing regulator.

One of the critical features of the report was an examination of 1,272 post-race urine samples that had already been analyzed by state laboratories and declared drug free. The task force subjected the samples to a rigorous series of additional tests and found 24 positives for prohibited medications, including positives for cocaine and a synthetic form of methadone, or a strike rate of 1.7 percent.

The majority of the medications found in the samples were therapeutic drugs that could have performance-enhancing capabilities, such as clenbuterol or guanabenz, or so-called Class 3 medications, the report said. Pure performance enhancers such as cocaine or methadone are categorized as Class 1 medications.

Task force officials claimed that the findings suggested that racing was doing an adequate job testing for drugs. However, the findings also indicated that racing needs to focus additional efforts on detecting medications that are used to calm or sedate horses, officials said, because those drugs are the most common medications being abused. "These findings are very good in general, but we still have to be alert and keep looking for changes," said Paul Oreffice, the former chairman of Dow Chemical and a task force member.

Also at the Round Table, the NTRA said that it is developing a plan to push for changes to state regulation that would tax racetracks on their share of the takeout, not on handle, as is principally done in states now. NTRA commissioner Tim Smith said that the NTRA would initially push for the changes in four or five states, beginning next year, in the hopes that the changes would free up racetracks from regulationsm that prevent them from competing with other entertainment options.

"If four or five states do it, and the economic results we pointed out happen, then over a realistic period of time, say five or six years, we can get most if not all of the state on board," Smith said.