07/19/2011 1:11PM

Support for blood-booster research heartening


My last offering – on author Andrew Cohen and his raising the issue of the French blood-booster ITPP – drew a lively response.

I asked Cohen, after he had reported on the likelihood that it could be affecting, and infecting, U.S. racing, what kind of a response his column drew. He said two major hitters had privately expressed interest in helping out, but that otherwise “Crickets. No one did or said anything.”

I interpreted that response as silence, and said so here.

The charge drew the crickets right out of the bushes, and it now appears there are a host of them, chirping on both sides of the road and both sides of the border, with money in their hot hands, waiting to throw it at Dr. Lawrence Soma of the famed New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania for ITPP research as soon as he formally asks for it.

One of them was Mike Tanner, the executive vice president of the United States Trotting Association, which gives $100,000 a year to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in Lexington, Ky. Mike made it clear that he had suggested, loud and clear, at consortium meetings in California and Texas, that Soma’s investigation, in cooperation with the star racing chemist Dr. George Maylin, formerly of Cornell and now of Morrisville College’s school of racing in New York, was important and deserved support.

In Pennsylvania, where Soma receives the bulk of his support from the state, two major horsemen’s associations also have funded his work. The Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen’s Association, with its executive director, Ron Battoni, spearheading the effort, in cooperation with the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, contributed $55,000 in 2008, $65,000 in 2009, and $75,000 last year. The Pennsylvania harness group’s plans to boost its contribution to $100,000 this year. The Meadows group has not acted on the matter as yet, but its executive director, Kim Hankins, says he expects action before too long.

In Canada, the president of the Ontario horsemen, Hall of Fame trainer-driver Bill O’Donnell, has discussed funding of the Soma project with Woodbine Entertainment, Sue Leslie of the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and this week with John Blakney of the Ontario Racing Commission.

It turns out that the problem, as far as the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is concerned, is that Dr. Soma had not, until this week, submitted his proposal, and the consortium does not disburse funds without one. Its chairman, Dr. Robert Lewis, said, in an e-mail, “The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) has been monitoring discussion of the alleged use of a new drug, Inositol tripryophosphate (ITPP).

“The RMTC is eager to receive research proposals from scientists and researchers, both nationally and internationally, who are interested in improving our understanding of this substance and any risk it may pose to the integrity of horse racing. To date, no such proposal has been made to RMTC due to difficulties in obtaining sufficient quantities of ITPP for research.

“Either through exclusive arrangement directly with the manufacturer or from other sources, Dr. Larry Soma indicated just last week that he has identified a reliable source(s) for ITPP and is interested in pursuing research in this area. As a longstanding matter of organizational policy, RMTC does not disclose the availability of research funds.”

So I called Larry Soma, a longtime acquaintance. He laughed when I mentioned the delay in applying, saying, “You don’t put major research proposals together overnight. I expect to have mine for ITPP ready this week.” And he reminded me that you need to be able to hire assistants, buy expensive equipment, and gear up for a major program for a job like this one. It is no light traipse in the park.

My next call was to Jim Gagliano, a friend from our Meadowlands days. One of the brightest young executives in racing, he now runs The Jockey Club in New York, and he was quick to respond with an e-mail.

“Our position,” he said, is that we have also been interested in ITPP research for more than a year (in fact we have discussed it extensively with folks at the Partnership for Clean Competition, an organization of other major sports we are considering for membership).

“I understand Soma only recently (a week or so ago?) received an actual sample of ITPP. (In the past others thought they had a sample, but later found out it was bogus.) He has been encouraged to send in his research proposal to RMTC, but it hasn’t come in yet. We are active and significant supporters of RMTC and prefer research projects to go through that broad-based industry organization. If his proposal passes scientific muster, we would look to support the project. I know that researchers in other countries have been trying to obtain samples (and they have financing for that research) but a sample has been more elusive than the funding.”

Maybe some horsemen here or in Canada can tell them where to get the stuff.