05/16/2005 11:00PM

Pimlico enhances Preakness security


Efforts to crack down on the use of banned drugs will be in full swing at Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, officials for the state's regulatory agencies said.

Security on the backside of Pimlico Race Course during Preakness week is expected to be strengthened by a special team of investigators trained to detect medication violations. Preakness horses will be subject to an array of postrace screenings designed to look for hundreds of drugs. In addition, the state's racing commission is expected to require prerace sampling of horses entered in the day's races to look for illegal alkalizing agents, which are believed to stave off fatigue.

The efforts will in many ways duplicate programs that were in place at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby and are part of a larger effort by the racing industry to protect the game's integrity after a series of positive tests for illegal alkalizing agents in California and the indictment of a trainer in New York for administering a banned substance.

"It's not that I, personally, think that something untoward is going on," said J. Mike Hopkins, the executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission. "But people have asked for this, and in order to allay some people's concerns, we are willing to offer and use as much help as we can get. The more eyes you have watching everybody, the better off you are."

Hopkins said he expected combinations of security personnel from the racing commission, the racetrack, and the special investigative team to provide 24-hour security for each horse entered in the Preakness, from the time the horses arrived at Pimlico until the race on Saturday.

The special security team is being put together by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a national group seeking to strengthen security and medication procedures in racing. The consortium has paid for so-called big-event teams to be in place at Keeneland Racecourse for the April 16 Blue Grass Stakes and at Churchill Downs for the Derby. The teams have included investigators from the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau, an investigative agency owned by a group of racetracks, as well as personnel from the local state racing commissions.

Plans for big-event teams were developed at the urging of several members of the consortium who have been critical of racetracks that hire temporary workers to provide security at trainers' barns for high-profile races. These workers, the argument goes, are effective in controlling access to horses but are not properly trained to identify violations of racing regulations by anyone who treats the horses.

Frank Fabian, the new president of the TRPB, said in a recent interview that, based on the TRPB's experience with the first two big-event teams, the TRPB will welcome any requests by regulators or racetracks to provide additional agents. Fabian credited the medication consortium for covering all associated expenses.

The consortium has been "very gracious to allow TRPB to work with them," Fabian said. "And everyone has been very enthused on how that went, because clearly at Churchill they had a renewed focus on security. The presence of the big-event team showed to all the participants the increased awareness that everyone is placing on the sport right now."

As at the Derby, postrace samples from the Preakness horses will be subject to the so-called supertest, an array of sophisticated procedures that can identify 400 specific drugs, according to the director of Maryland's testing laboratory, Dr. Thomas Lomangino. The lab will be using a variety of other tests that Lomangino declined to identify because of concerns about tipping the lab's hand to potential cheaters.

The supertest was supported by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, a national group in charge of a committee that awards grades to races. The group passed a resolution recently that requires every graded stakes race to use the supertest or forfeit the grade.

Maryland tests for illegal alkalizing agents through blood samples collected after races, but the state's racing commission is considering whether to require prerace samples from Preakness horses, although the details had not been worked out by Tuesday, according to Hopkins. The majority of screening programs for alkalizing agents use blood samples that are collected before races, because exercise affects the amount of total carbon dioxide in the blood, which is the basis for detecting alkalizing agents.

Lomangino acknowledged that some people have criticized postrace sampling for alkalizing agents, but he said that Maryland has been testing for alkalizing agents for several years and was confident that the lab could detect the agents through postrace blood samples. The samples are taken one hour after a race, Lomangino said, which allows the total carbon dioxide to rise back to prerace levels.

"It's been stated that [postrace] sampling is not as effective, but I'm not so sure the evidence supports that," Lomangino said.