11/21/2002 1:00AM

Tougher tests for graded races


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In an attempt to bring more consistent and significant drug testing to horses who compete in the country's best races, the North American Graded Stakes Committee is considering a new rule that would require increased testing for a race to keep its graded classification.

The workings are "incredibly complex," said Steven Duncker, the chair of the committee, referring to the testing rules that vary from state to state. But Duncker said the new rule is among the items that will be discussed when the committee has its annual meeting next week in Lexington, Ky.

"We're looking at coming up with a medication policy for graded stakes," Duncker said from his home in New York. "It would be a supertest on all graded stakes. We would say, 'Whatever your rules are, you must do these tests.' I think you can see how this would help."

Duncker said the tests would be for a number of medications and would use the most sophisticated methodology. He said the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau could be asked to help in enforcement.

"We're compiling a list of 140 or 150 things we want them to test for, and the level of specificity," Duncker said. "They would use thin-layer chromatography, and ELISA. We want to make it a condition - if you want your race graded, you have to do that. We might have the TRPB keep tabs on whether the labs are doing it. We're getting real close."

A consistent, nationwide drug-testing policy has proven an elusive goal in Thoroughbred racing. Proposals have been put forth by groups like the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, but a consensus never has been reached. Compounding matters is that the state regulators are split among two associations, the Association of Racing Commissioners International and the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association. In addition, veterinarians and horsemen in states such as Kentucky have been reluctant to adopt more restrictive rules.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has tried to take the lead on this matter by forming the Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force. The task force, in concert with other national groups, is seeking to develop a set of rules that could be adopted by all states.

There are 10 members on the graded stakes committee, five from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and five racing secretaries. In addition to Duncker, the TOBA representatives are Rollin Baugh, Gary Biszantz, Dell Hancock, and Barry Schwartz. The racing secretaries are Larry Craft, Frank Gabriel, Mike Lakow, Tom Robbins, and Bob Umphrey.