05/01/2002 12:00AM

Owners and horsemen clash over medication


Tensions among owners, breeders, and horsemen reached a boiling point in Kentucky Wednesday when racing officials met in Louisville to discuss reforming medication and drug-testing policies.

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which represents owners across the United States, released an open letter accusing the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of misleading the racing industry on medication issues.

Relations between the two groups have been sour for a year. The Kentucky horsemen, led by longtime vet Alex Harthill, have staunchly refused to join in the movement for reform, and the owners, led by Gary Biszantz, have increasingly taken an anti-drug stance in the debate.

In the letter, TOBA's executive committee said that a survey released two weeks ago by the Kentucky HBPA in which 91 percent of the respondents said they favored Kentucky's policy "cannot be taken at face value and should certainly be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism." The letter said that the survey results were skewed because a cover letter written by Harthill contained numerous inaccuracies.

"If the deeply flawed survey truly represents the attitudes of an overwhelming majority of Kentucky owners and trainers, then the day may come when racing industry policymakers move forward without Kentucky," the letter said.

The TOBA letter also said the survey results clashed with its own survey, in which only 43 percent of the respondents said Kentucky's policy was "fair."

Several members of the executive committee of the owners group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the release of the letter was spurred in part by an article in Daily Racing Form last week in which Harthill said that he had deliberately doped horses in the past, including Northern Dancer in the 1964 Kentucky Derby.

Harthill was unapologetic on Wednesday. "I feel sorry for those kinds of people, because they want to live in a dream world," Harthill said. "I told it just like it is [in the cover letter], just like I did in that interview. If they don't like what I said, I don't care."

Participants at Wednesday's meeting in Louisville, the second major conference of the reformers in the past five months, were expected to discuss a potential model rule for all racing jurisdictions and gauge the support for a $5 per-start fee to fund a new national organization.

Participants in the reform movement have said they will push for support of the uniform policy whether or not the Kentucky HBPA participates.

Two committees set up by the reformers were scheduled to make presentations on Wednesday. One was expected to list the drugs that horsemen contend are necessary for therapeutic treatment of the horse, and another committee was expected to give a report on the most common contaminants of post-race urine and blood samples.

The $5 per-start fee was also expected to be a major point of discussion. Many racing organizations have already endorsed the concept, which would raise $5 million to fund drug research and create a national medication clearinghouse.

Some officials, though, are raising questions about the mechanism for the funding. John Roark, the president of the national HBPA, said on Tuesday afternoon that his organization would endorse the fee only if racetracks put up an equal amount of money as owners.

"Let me put it this way," Roark said. "We will agree to pay whatever the tracks pay."