05/29/2006 11:00PM

Science may be catching up to the cheaters


TUCSON, Ariz. - Across the continent, there have been significant developments and new approaches in recent days that can have long-term effects on racing integrity.

In Ontario, always a bellwether in progressive racing legislation, the racing commission has issued a directive that mandates the drawing of blood at any time the commission deems it advisable or necessary, without prior notice. If owners and trainers do not make their horses available for testing on demand, it can result in the horse being scratched, if in to race, or the trainer being refused the right to enter future races at Ontario tracks. Owners who refuse testing can be denied the right to race in Ontario.

The new policy presents two interesting possibilities, neither mentioned in the release of the directive, but both clearly available under it.

Random drawing of blood could lead to freezing samples for future reference against the day when research and new testing procedures become more sophisticated, and currently undetectable illegal substances can be identified.

A second possibility is use of the randomly drawn samples to develop a baseline measurement for normal parameters of horses in competition.

In another show of its determination to keep racing in the province clean, the Ontario commission reaffirmed the suspension of a veterinarian, Dr. Martin Ian Levman, barring all horses treated by him after Sept. 24, 2005. The suspension previously was indefinite, but now has been shortened until Sept. 24, 2009. Levman admitted buying prohibited drugs from the late Fred Rogers, whose offices were searched in 2004 and turned up large amounts of various drugs and substances, and invoice documents tying Levman to purchases of them.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, The Meadowlands, breaking away from the restraints imposed by its status as an extension of the state, found a valuable loophole that enabled it to ban a trainer for violation of track rules rather than state policy.

Dennis Dowd, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority's senior executive vice president of racing, and Chris McErlean, the authority's young vice president of operations at both the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, sent leading trainer Ken Rucker packing back to Illinois, from whence he came a year or so ago.

When he arrived, Rucker signed an agreement not to use any illegal drugs or medications on his horses. Dowd and McErlean invoked that agreement when a Rucker-trained horse turned up positive to the new EPO antibody test developed by Dr. George Maylin of Cornell University and Dr. Ken McKeever of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Earlier, driver Eric Ledford, one of the Meadowlands' top drivers, had been banned by the state after a raid on the training center operated in New Jersey by his father, Seldon Ledford, an Illinois-based trainer.

On my new Internet interview show, "The World in Harness" (www.harnesstracks.com), I asked Mickey Ezzo, the spokesman for the Illinois Racing Board, what Illinois planned to do about Rucker and Ledford. Rucker had been suspended for 180 days and fined $18,000 for six positives for indomethecin (Indocin) last fall, but Ezzo told me Rucker had obtained a temporary restraining order and had a hearing scheduled for July. As for his Meadowlands suspension, it was a track rule and no action was taken by the New Jersey Racing Commission, so reciprocity did not apply. Ledford, who was barred by New Jersey, is subject to reciprocity, but he appealed and will have a hearing this month.

In California, the international theory that lactic acid creates fatigue has been challenged by a number of scientists. One calls the lactic acid theory "one of the classic mistakes in the history of science," and says lactic acid actually is a beneficial fuel that fights fatigue.

If that view is correct, the use of "milkshakes" - a baking soda, sugar, and electrolyte solution that increases carbon dioxide buildup and thus buffers lactic acid - might seem a waste, along with testing for them.

Bennett Liebman, coordinator of the racing and gaming law program at the University of Albany, asks, in view of this new theory, if racing is spending millions on milkshake testing and protecting the public from nothing.

I asked Dr. Rick Arthur - who is leaving a renowned and highly successful private practice to become the California Horse Racing Board's powerful new supervisor of veterinary matters, with very broad authority - about the new challenge to traditional thought.

Arthur says it doesn't matter whether lactic acid is an energy source or a fatigue inducer. Either way, he says, it's a way to manipulate performance, and testing for milkshakes is worthwhile.

Case closed? Far from it. You will hear much more.