01/14/2005 12:00AM

Procedures vary state to state

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ARCADIA, Calif. - "Milkshake" is the euphemism for an alkalizing agent, most notably sodium bicarbonate, which, in theory, prevents the buildup of lactic acid, which is what causes fatigue in muscles.

Although conventional wisdom holds that a milkshake is most commonly administered via a tube to a horse's stomach, an alkalizing agent can be used in feed in the form of paste, according to Dr. Rick Arthur, a veterinarian who is on the board of directors of the Oak Tree Racing Association.

Testing can be done either before or after a race. Southern California's racetracks - currently Santa Anita - have been drawing blood prerace, when a horse arrives at the receiving barn before a race, but the lab work is not done until two days later. The lab must do a separate test specifically for the alkalizing agent. It is called a TCO2 (total carbon dioxide) test.

Though most states prohibit milkshakes, very few conduct scientific tests for them.

In Florida, where there is no state-mandated test for milkshakes, Gulfstream Park recently adopted a house rule similar to that at Santa Anita, by which the track can penalize a trainer if his horse has a bad test result.

In some states, like Kentucky and New Jersey, Standardbreds are tested for milkshakes, but not Thoroughbreds. That divide is born of a belief that alkalizing agents are more effective in longer races, such as the standard one-mile distance of a harness race, as opposed to the frequent sprints in Thoroughbred racing, according to Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the New Jersey State Racing Commission.

In Kentucky, "we have a policy in place that prohibits the administration of a milkshake. However, no testing is being done with Thoroughbreds to prohibit it," said Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. "We have two distinct rules in the commonwealth of Kentucky."

Absent a test, the only way to detect the administration of a milkshake "is to see someone snaking a hose down a horse's nose," said Dr. Mary Scollay, the Florida state veterinarian at Calder and Gulfstream Park.

"And that's a violation no matter what's in the tube," Scollay said. "The content doesn't matter. You can't tube a horse on race day."

The mechanics of the test are challenging.

"You're testing for a naturally occurring substance," said Stacey Clifford, a spokeswoman for the New York Racing and Wagering Board.

For a postrace test, "The time to get a sample is specific. It has to be done about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes after a race," said Joe Lynch, the director of racing operations for the New York racing board. "It tends to dissipate in the blood."

"We have a lab on the grounds of The Meadowlands," said New Jersey's Zanzuccki. "We have the results within 72 hours after a race."

Southern California's tracks ship their samples overnight to the Ken Maddy Equine Laboratory at the University of California at Davis.

The tests, including shipping charges, cost about $10 to $12 per horse, according to Ron Jensen, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board.

In most jurisdictions, a reading of 37 millimoles per liter of plasma is considered too high. If a horse has been administered Lasix, some jurisdictions then consider 39 millimoles a violation. California's proposed rule has 37 millimoles as the standard.

An average reading should be about 31 or 32 millimoles, according to Jensen. "You could find some anywhere from 25 to 35. At 35 or 36, you give the benefit of the doubt."