05/18/2006 11:00PM

Trainer barred for EPO by Meadowlands

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Ken Rucker, the leading trainer at the Meadowlands harness meet this year, has been barred from the track, effective May 24, after a blood test from one of his horses indicated that the horse had been administered the illegal blood-enhancing agent erythropoietin, The Meadowlands said.

Rucker, 41, has 68 wins at the current Meadowlands meet. His purse earnings are nearly $1.5 million.

Erythropoietin, or EPO, is illegal in every racing jurisdiction. In March, the New Jersey Racing Commission began using a test designed to detect antibodies in a horse's blood that are produced after an EPO administration. Because the test does not specifically identify the drug, enforcement of penalties is problematic.

Highland Pride A, a pacer trained by Rucker, won the eighth race on April 30 at The Meadowlands and tested positive for the antibodies in a postrace test. Meadowlands officials said that because Rucker had signed an agreement at the beginning of the meet that allowed the track to ban any trainer whose horses test positive for EPO, the track was able to enforce the ban.

The antibody test is also widely used in Thoroughbred racing, but no track has publicly enforced a ban against a Thoroughbred trainer because of an EPO positive.

The action against Rucker comes on the heels of multiple arrests by the New Jersey State Police last month in a blood-doping investigation revolving around a leading trainer, Seldon Ledford. State police have alleged that Ledford and others involved in his operation routinely administered EPO to horses that raced at The Meadowlands.

Rucker did not return a phone message left on Friday at his home in Beecher, Ill.