02/25/2003 1:00AM

Racing's problems better exposed than ignored


TUCSON, Ariz. - I heaved a huge sigh of relief the other day to learn from an NTRA/Rudy Giuliani release that public confidence in racing actually is higher now than it was prior to the Breeders' Cup scam.

This was the first word from Giuliani, who left New York to take on, for huge fees, Herculean tasks like cleaning the Augean stables of Mexico City and restoring calm after the jitters resulting from the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick Six.

Rudy's news was tremendously reassuring, because events of recent weeks had cast some doubt in my mind that this was so. Those events included:

* The discovery of five positives for OxyContin in Pennsylvania.

* The discovery of eight positives for banned ephedra in New York.

* The discovery of erythropoietin antibodies, through use of the newly developed Maylin-McKeever test, indicating the use of prohibited EPO in Texas and New York.

* The reported use of shock wave therapy, and with it serious questions of ethics, efficacy, and abuse.

* The mess at Gulfstream, where the leg of a horse was amputated after it was euthanized following an accident, and two veterinarians associated with the track's leading stable were kicked off the grounds by management in the aftermath.

* The five-year suspension of a leading harness trainer, Monte Gelrod, in New Jersey after a fourth positive for milkshaking.

* The deportation of another winning trainer in New Jersey after it was discovered, following a stable area fight, that he was in this country with falsified papers.

* The battle in Ontario, where Canada's leading harness trainer, Bill Robinson, has been suspended for 10 months and fined $50,000 for multiple offenses, but is still training on a stay and sending out squadrons of winners while the penalty is reviewed by courts.

* The problem of unsupervised, privately owned training centers, which in some cases provide refuge for trainers either banished or persona non grata elsewhere.

So, with all of this going on, it was wonderful news to find out that public confidence is back to pre-Breeders' Cup levels, or above.

There are, of course, two schools of thought on discussing embarrassing developments like those mentioned above.

One believes that only good news should be discussed and that dirty linen should not be washed in public. But what if you can't get the dirt out washing it privately? Should you just settle back, wear it dirty, and hope that a new laundry will open sometime soon, somewhere near, with super suds?

This was addressed at a recent awards dinner in Atlantic City, where an honoree gave a strong speech on integrity. He despaired about negative news, saying that no successful business in the United States talked about negatives, only positives. That, of course, is where the Enrons, WorldComs, and Arthur Andersens of the world come from.

Racing's problems are not new, but it is exposure, not concealment, that has brought action in addressing them. There was no move to organize a consortium on medication and drug issues until it became apparent that the betting public and horsemen themselves were aware that a problem indeed exists.

Some good may come from discussion of the current stirrings. Blowing smoke in rosy releases is not the answer.