12/09/2008 12:00AM

Racing continues to suffer self-inflicted wounds


TUCSON, Ariz. - If you're trying to reach any national racing leaders this week, I can tell you where to find them.

They're right down the street from my office, at the fancy Westin La Paloma here in Tucson, talking and listening and eating and drinking at racing's annual pre-holiday orgy of oratory, the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program Symposium.

It has grown over the years since the first one in 1974, when 45 or so were present, into the nation's largest and most diverse racing discussion group, with as many as 1,000 on hand. Its current ringmaster, Doug Reed, his very strong right hand, Wendy Davis, and their associates and students have put together an intriguing agenda this year.

It runs all week and started Monday with the first annual conference of the Racing Officials Accreditation Program and a review of the model rules of Racing Commissioners International. The ROAP sessions, designed for all interested in officiating and regulating racing, offered discussions on controversial race videos, house rules, and whipping rules. Noted racing attorney Alan Foreman, who represents many horsemen clients, told the officials he thought penalties were excessive in many cases, and could affect ownership.

Computers and the influence of the Internet on racing played a prominent role in subsequent panel discussions, and much time was devoted to the future of the game. A coast-to-coast panel of Joe Harper of Del Mar, Charlie Hayward of NYRA, and Nick Nicholson of Keeneland talked about that issue on Tuesday.

Other topics during the week included the economy and its impact on racing, baby boomers and the new demographics, wagering and marketing developments, e-marketing, wagering integrity, federal and state regulations, and racing safety and welfare issues.

The symposium has become what it is in good measure because diverse racing groups use it for satellite meetings, and they now play a large role in the week-long activities.

While the buzz of the symposium occupied the week's racing activities, the sport elsewhere was busy treating self-inflicted wounds.

In Australia, the nation's press jumped on a decision by Racing Victoria, the ruling body in that state's racing matters, to disregard its own rules and not disqualify Bauer, the English runner who finished second, beaten a narrow nose, in the Melbourne Cup, one of the world's most important Thoroughbred races.

A rule passed four years ago by a board of chief stewards prohibits extracorporeal shock wave therapy on horses within seven days of racing. It turns out the veterinarian in charge of supervising foreign entries in the Melbourne Cup approved such treatment on Bauer five days before the race. Racing Victoria, which discovered the violation when the vet billed it for his services, defied credibility and said its vet was unaware of the rule, that the English trainer relied on the vet's recommendation, and that the horse's owners were entitled to their more than a half-million dollars because of that.

Racing Victoria said it relied on the advice of its well-known lawyer, Cliff Parnham, called by them one of the leading experts on such issues, who said they could not impose a penalty, even though the horse raced in violation of the rules.

Another top Australian lawyer, Ivan Brewer, a deeply involved racing man, disagreed strongly, saying there was no difference between a horse racing on illegal shock wave therapy and on drugs.

While this was going on halfway around the world, Kentucky officials were agonizing over an appeal by Dr. Rodney Stewart, who has been suspended for five years for possessing cobra venom. Stewart says he was in the process of moving from Kentucky to New York and stored three vials of venom in a refrigerator in trainer Patrick Biancone's barn for convenience, a move he says in retrospect reflected "my stupidity."

Readers of Lexington's Herald-Leader apparently agreed. One wrote whimsically, "The barn! Maybe that's where I put my cobra venom. I'm always misplacing things."

Another, less kind, wrote, "The poor horses. . . . These people should be tortured until their hearts explode. Greedy bastards."

And still another wrote, "Of course it's all a little mixup. Perhaps the Racing Authority would be interested in purchasing shares in the Brooklyn Bridge?"

And then, of course, there are racing's top trainers - Thoroughbred racing's Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher and harness racing's Mickey Burke, all involved in extricating themselves from positive tests on their horses.

Plaxico Burress of the New York Giants was not the only one in the news last week for shooting himself in the leg. Racing was getting its own headlines for shooting itself in the foot - again.