04/03/2006 11:00PM

Race fixing, doping arrests in New Jersey

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The New Jersey State Police have arrested four associates of Seldon Ledford, a leading harness racing trainer, on charges of administering blood-doping drugs to horses who raced under Ledford's name at The Meadowlands.

Ledford's son, Eric Ledford, 35, a top driver, was arrested on Saturday after the police conducted raids on a stable area rented by Seldon Ledford at a farm in Englishtown, N.J., and the homes of a veterinarian and a trainer who worked for Ledford. According to the police, the raids netted samples of Aranesp, the trade name for the drug darbepoetin, which was developed to fight anemia in human patients.

Although no charges have been filed against Seldon Ledford, Ledford's assistant trainer, Ryan Dailey, and the assistant trainer's wife, Ardena Dailey, both 31, have been charged with rigging a public contest. The veterinarian, John Witmer, 68, and Ledford's son have been charged with conspiring to fix races.

The New Jersey Racing Commission has suspended all four as well as Seldon Ledford, pending a hearing on Thursday. The 50 horses trained by Ledford have been placed on the stewards' list and are prohibited from running at any New Jersey track, according to Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the commission. Zanzuccki said the commission participated in the investigation, but declined to comment further.

Seldon Ledford was a middle-of-the-pack trainer until 2005, when his horses racked up earnings of $3.1 million. In the first three months of 2006, Ledford horses have earned $721,766.

Darbepoetin is closely related to erythropoetin, a blood-doping drug commonly known as EPO. Both are banned by all racing jurisdictions. Blood-doping agents increase the supply of red blood cells, which deliver oxygen and can enhance athletic endurance. The use of such agents has been the subject of speculation for years, partly because of difficulties in developing an accurate test.

Last year, racing laboratories in many jurisdictions, including New Jersey, began using a test that could detect antibodies in a horse's blood that would be produced as a result of blood-doping. The test cannot specifically detect the actual administration of a drug, so few jurisdictions use the test to call positives. However, racing authorities have frequently used positive results to lead investigators to blood-doping suspects, according to Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Although the New Jersey case involves harness racing, Waterman said it would be naive to think that darbepoetin was not being used in the Thoroughbred world. "It's been on the rumor mill for years, and we've taken the stand that we should assume it's out there," Waterman said.