03/10/2005 12:00AM

Stewards will discuss remarks with Mullins


ARCADIA, Calif. - Members of the Santa Anita board of stewards said Thursday that they would speak to trainer Jeff Mullins regarding controversial remarks attributed to him in a newspaper article last weekend and that one of Mullins's clients would be sanctioned for a heckling incident related to the comments.

A column in Sunday's Los Angeles Times quoted Mullins as saying that anyone who bets on horses is "an addict or an idiot" and that "if you bet on horses, I would call you an idiot." Mullins said that his comments were taken out of context and that they were directed only to T.J. Simers, who wrote the column, and not to bettors in general.

In the same article, Mullins was quoted as saying that California Horse Racing Board executive director Ingrid Fermin "was after him" for claiming a horse trained by Bruce Headley, Fermin's brother-in-law, and that veterinarian Rick Arthur was guilty of a conflict of interest in the process of testing horses for alkalizing agents, or milkshakes - doses of sodium bicarbonate that are believed to help stave off fatigue.

One of Mullins's starters tested positive for alkalizing agents in January, resulting in Mullins's starters being placed in a 24-hour pre-race detention barn for a 30-day period, which ended on Thursday.

When asked to discuss his remarks, Mullins said, "I don't want to ruffle any more feathers."

Before Wednesday's fourth race, a fan wearing a dunce cap and another person began to heckle Mullins, according to steward George Slender. Michael Conboy, who owns horses trained by Mullins, responded by shouting at the dunce cap-wearing fan and making a vulgar gesture, Slender said.

Conboy appeared before the stewards on Thursday and apologized, Slender said.

"He was very up front," Slender said. "He admitted he was wrong. He said he should have never let it go that far."

Slender said Conboy would be sanctioned, with a ruling expected on Friday.

Steward Pete Pedersen said Mullins was not involved in the incident. "He did not respond in any sense to the incidents yesterday, which could have exacerbated this thing," Pedersen said.

Slender said he was taken aback by the comments in the Times article. "We didn't like them, but we can't stop anybody from calling people idiots," he said.

Regarding Mullins's comments about conflicts of interest, Slender said, "We're going to talk to him and see what he meant."

Mullins drew a vote of confidence Thursday from of one of his leading clients, Bob Bone, who owns Choctaw Nation, the winner of the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap last summer at Del Mar, and eight other horses trained by Mullins. Choctaw Nation is the horse claimed from Headley.

"My reaction - I read it and thought Jeff, in the heat of battle, said more than he should," Bone said. "What he said and what was printed were two different things. I think that it's a bad situation, and I hope it passes over and we can go back to talking about racing."