01/14/2003 12:00AM

War vs. drugs moves slowly


TUCSON, Ariz. - Experience has taught that there is far more sentiment for the animals than for the humans in horse racing.

Women turn weepy at news of the death or injury of a horse, and men argue endlessly over runners' relative merits, but misfortune to the people who train or ride them often is dismissed in short order. This is said with full realization of generous outpourings from time to time for the truly unfortunate, but with short shrift and shorter memories displayed for others who stumble on hard times.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the departure of Gasper Moschera from the New York training scene was met with brief little compassion.

Moschera sent out successful claimers in New York for a quarter of a century, and he was a star of the training scene there for more than a decade. He was the New York Racing Association's leading trainer six straight years in the 1990's, when his horses were routinely winning more than 100 races a year. He was leading trainer at Aqueduct for 10 seasons, and at Belmont twice.

Earlier this month he quit, saying he was selling his home and moving south. There were few tears, for tribute is rare from those you defeat on a regular basis. In Moschera's case there may have been an added lack of compassion, for during his glory years there were whispers, but never confirmation, that his success came through chemistry. No one, including those paid to test horses, ever proved that, and there is no evidence that it was true. Moschera may just have been one very good horse trainer, particularly adept with claiming horses.

It was interesting, therefore, that he did not merely quit and walk away from the sport that gave him his moment in the sun.

He gave his valedictory with bitterness, saying that the beginning of his decline came with the arrival of Lasix on the New York scene. Moschera believes, as do others in the sport, that Lasix, or Salix, as it now is known, masks illegal medications.

Moschera told Daily Racing Form's David Grening that the claiming game has changed, and that while it used to be that a trainer would get one or two sore horses out of 10 claimed, today 45 out of 50 may be patched-up cripples.

He also said, concerning his own career, "I didn't learn this game with drugs and I never got involved with drugs. I never had a positive; that has to say something. Surely they would have caught me if I was using something."

While there is no evidence that Moschera ever used anything but skill, his last statement unfortunately is not accurate.

As long as there are substances being used for which there are no tests, the absence of positives is meaningless. If you can't test for something, obviously there will be no positives, and of course no one will be caught. To crow otherwise about low positive percentages is empty rhetoric at best.

That's why it was heartening to hear that Kentucky's Equine Drug Council had voted unanimously to ask the Kentucky Racing Commission to study the introduction of out-of-competition drug testing at Kentucky tracks.

Epogen, or EPO, is administered far in advance of race day, and to find it horses will have to be tested well before race day. Ned Bonnie, racing's most knowledgeable lawyer on illegal medication, is a member of the Kentucky Council, and it is his view that testing on non-race days will make it easier to detect blood enhancers like Epogen. It and substances like it explain why some horses display a tremendous move at the head of the stretch, when others fade with fatigue.

Dr. George Maylin of Cornell University and Dr. Ken McKeever of Rutgers have been making great progress on a test for EPO, but it appears that politics - including challenges from other researchers in the never-ending warfare between academicians - and the legal ramifications of non-race day testing are delaying implementation. Marty Maline, the HBPA's point man in Kentucky, predictably has been quick to point to these obstacles, and there is status quo in the Bluegrass.

Ned Bonnie had a different take. "It's not appropriate for us to sit and do nothing," he said.

Gasper Moschera undoubtedly would agree.