07/02/2001 11:00PM

Racing just gets curiouser and curiouser


TUSCON, Ariz. - The mysteries in racing are infinite, and they just keep coming.

Another arrived recently in the announcement that the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners had passed a resolution endorsing Kentucky's current medication rules and the use of drugs to treat bleeding from the lungs.

The resolution was drafted and approved in response to the national American Association of Equine Practitioners calling for uniform medication laws.

My first reaction was that the report of the Kentucky action was another of the endless river of jokes, most outrageous, that clog up my computer (and presumably yours) each morning, mostly from friends now retired who apparently have little to keep them busy except web surfing of humor sites. Adopt Kentucky's rules on medication? How about adopting a dictator's policies on human rights?

First of all, which Kentucky rules on medication? Those for harness racing, which require trainers to get a vet to certify the horse is a bleeder? Or those for Thoroughbred racing, which simply provide that a trainer can say, "this sucker needs Lasix" (or Salix to now be generically correct) and you start the pump.

As executive vice president of the Harness Tracks of America, I tried to pose the question of that total irrationality to Bernie Hettel, the executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission, while he was talking to our staff counsel recently. But our lawyer was informed that Mr. Hettel did not speak to me. This represented a first in my 55 years in racing - an executive director of a state racing commission refusing to talk to the administrative head of a national racing organization. But I have survived a half-century in the sport without speaking to him, and will struggle down the stretch without him from here.

Another mystery was a recent letter to the editor in Daily Racing Form, in which a breeder from Maryland leaped to trainer Bob Baffert's defense. It happened after I suggested, not that Baffert would or could do anything to a horse, but that under the present racing rules of California the stewards and the chairman of the racing board had no choice but to do what they did when they suspended him after finding a trace of an illegal drug in one of his horses.

If the action is an affront to Baffert and American racing, as suggested by some, the logical remedy is to change the rules in California - but not excoriate the judges or chairman for taking an action that the law prescribes.

More baffling developments

Two other mysteries, one discussed by DRF Editor and Publisher Steven Crist in Sunday's editions:

Why, after 17 years of "branding" - the hot word in advertising agencies and marketing research firms these days - the Breeders' Cup into a recognized championship event, now rebrand it as something that, as Crist points out, is unlikely to slip into common usage?

Besides, calling it the "Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships," or worse, the "World Thoroughbred Championships Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup," when there already is an Emirates World Series Racing Championship, seems to be pushing the envelope a bit far. Breeders' Cup still fits into a headline far better.

Finally, why - with national television exposure on CBS and four major stakes from four of the nation's major racetracks - was there no national pick four on last Saturday's great coverage of the Hollywood Gold Cup from Hollywood Park, Suburban from Belmont, United Nations Handicap from Monmouth, and Stars and Stripes from Arlington Park? It seemed it was a magnificent opportunity to link the four nationally in a television promotion that could be seen and bet on coast to coast.

I know it could be done technically, because there had been a national pick seven during the short-lived Brian McGrath commissioner years, and a national pick three on America's Day at the Races last year.

I asked the NTRA about it, and was told there was no compelling reason, and that it might have been nice to do.

I interpreted that to mean that no one had thought about it.