01/29/2002 1:00AM

Sleaze is in eye of the beholder

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England is now free of hoof and mouth disease, which is good news.

Unfortunately, New England's got it now.

A virulent attack of a slightly different strain, hoof in mouth disease, has broken out in New Hampshire.

A Republican candidate for governor there, Gordon Humphrey, has come down with clear symptoms, calling gambling "a scummy, sleazy enterprise" in a hearing on VLT's before the Ways and Means Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Ed Callahan, the vice president and general manager of Rockingham Park, was infuriated. He said Humphrey's remarks insulted more than 6,000 people working in the racing industry in New Hampshire, noted that the scummy, sleazy enterprise put more than $70 million a year into the New Hampshire treasury, and demanded a formal public apology.

Please do not hang by your fingernails waiting for one, Ed. Apology is not part of the political lexicon, but thanks for calling this guy to task.

Humphrey's remarks surprised me, because all this time I thought the scummy, sleazy set were the Enrons of the world, their leaders who dragged down billions and left thousands bereft of their life savings, and their pol pals who shared in the loot. Now I learn from Humphrey that the real scoundrels are guys like you and me who wager a deuce or a dozen on the third at Gulfstream.

Drugs and juveniles

While top trainers and others are telling us that it's fine to fill 'em up with Lasix on race day, and long-banned clenbuterol is waiting in the wings as the next Lasix to saturate and sully the sport, the 2-year-old under-tack sales are, to their credit, cracking down on the use of both.

Tom Ventura, the general manager of the Ocala Breeders' Sales, announced that sellers would not be allowed to administer Lasix while the horses were on the sale grounds. The same prohibition was announced for procaine penicillin. And clenbuterol will not be allowed within 72 hours of any under-tack show at any of OBS's juvenile auctions.

Ventura said the moves were being made "for the comfort and confidence of our buyers."

Shortly after, Fasig-Tipton said that it, too, was banning clenbuterol at its select Calder auction, and Fasig-Tipton CEO Boyd Browning echoed Ventura's remarks, saying the move was made "to promote a higher level of buyer confidence in the 2-year-old market." Deirdre Biles, writing in The Blood-Horse, said that "sales company officials received complaints from some consignors that 2-year-olds were receiving high doses of the drug prior to under tack shows." She quoted Fasig-Tipton's director of marketing, Terence Collier, as saying, "There was some pressure from buying groups and some very definite pressure from consignor groups that this policy on clenbuterol would substantially and positively change the perception of buyers at sales of 2-year-olds in training." And then the war cry of racing today was invoked: that the action would "level the playing field" and reassure the majority of consignors who had brought the issue to the sales company's attention.

Ventura, at OBS, said that company "wanted to shift the focus from medication issues back to the performance of the horses."

What a wonderful idea!

Now if they can only sell it to the Breeders' Cup crowd, which closes its collective eyes to 12 2-year-olds running on Lasix in the most elite juvenile race in America, it would reassure the bettors as well as the buyers and consignors.

There are other surprises:

* Keeneland, which until a few years ago did not have a public address announcer in its quest for purity, now has endorsed slot machines at Kentucky tracks.

* The mayor of Las Vegas was considering selling the city's name to an Internet gambling site, and in separate action the Vegas city council voted 6 to 1 to explore becoming the first American city to license and regulate Internet gaming.

* The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia, conducted a poll of 50 "prominent Sydney racing figures" - the city's biggest gamblers - and 72 percent of them said they thought drugs were used in racing. In addition, 89 percent thought there was too much racing, 91 percent thought Sunday racing should be abolished, 93 percent said Australia should continue to have legal bookmakers, and 89 percent said stewards should impose hefty fines and long suspensions for riding offenses in big races.

Enough for now. I'm going to shower, and see if I can get rid of that scummy, sleazy image. Care to join me?