11/07/2001 12:00AM

Some drug inroads made after all


TUSCON, Ariz. - Score two for the good guys.

New South Wales and New Jersey are 9,800 miles apart, and share little except that both got their names from the motherland, Great Britain.

But both shook up the racing world in recent days, the Australians claiming a breakthrough in testing for erythropoietin, or EPO, and New Jersey getting a state supreme court decision that can break up the logjam of positive tests that have been languishing there under court stays for months and in some cases years through challenges of testing.

If the EPO tests meet the critical standards of peer review and then hold up in American courts - two very big ifs - they could change the face of drug testing in America and around the world, and will have a heavy impact on cheaters who have used the stuff, undetected, everywhere.

A Daily Racing Form article on the subject last Saturday noted that there had not been one regulatory charge of EPO use in the United States, and said some believe that rumors surrounding abuse of the drug have been cooked up by overzealous critics.

Of course there haven't been any charges. Until now, there hasn't been a test for EPO. There was, however, a raid on the farm of one barred trainer in New Jersey, a former brief meteor on the racing scene, where some 200 vials of EPO were found. Do the doubters think he collected the stuff, like stamps or coins?

It appears there may be a test now, and if so we may find out who are the saints and who are the sinners, who are the chemists and who are the wizards, of if perchance they're one and the same. We'll also find out whether the overzealous critics were ringing the right bell.

In another revealing development, this one in the sanctum sanctorum of Kentucky, some rather serious shortcomings in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's "Supertest" report on drug positives were noted by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Even without an EPO test, the TOBA pointed out that "If you extrapolate the Supertest results over the approximately 103,500 horses tested in 1999, approximately 1,790 positives were missed, with approximately 325 of those being for Class 1 or 2 drugs. Furthermore, the Supertest report states that of the approximately 103,500 horses tested, 60,116 (58 percent) were winners. Applying that percentage to the extrapolated numbers, approximately 1,040 positives that were missed were from winners. Of those 1,040 positives, 189 can be assumed to to contain Class 1 or 2 drugs. If you take the Jockey Club statistic of 8.21 horses per race in 1999 and subtract one for each winner, it is possible that the owners of over 1,300 horses lost to horses racing on performance-enhancing drugs."

TOBA found that call rate alarming. So do I.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, the state's Supreme Court overruled an appellate court and declared that the "black box" tests administered in the state are valid and constitutional. This watershed decision opens the way for punitive action, and it was followed quickly by severe penalties for two offenders who have been racing under appeal for many months, but will not be for the immediate future. One was barred indefinitely, two others for 4 1/2 months. This is action that The Meadowlands has long been waiting for, and it is highly likely other meaningful suspensions will follow in short order in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

Finally, while watching the "Bleeders' Cup" from Belmont, I noted that 90 of 94 starters, including all 12 2-year-olds in the Juvenile, raced on the anti-bleeding medication, Lasix. Only four in the "World Championships" were able to get around the track without it, but one of the four - Banks Hill from England - won by 5 1/2 lengths.

This year 96 percent of the starters ran on Lasix.

Last year 95 of 103 Cup starters, or 92 percent, raced on Lasix.

It appears that we're losing the fight for that great goal of racing: improvement of the breed. But don't despair. With just a little effort, we can have the "All-Lasix World Championships" next year, with a built-in sponsor.