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STEROID ISSUES FINALLY COMING TO FOREFRONT.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI HORSE RACING

ARCADIA - And you thought baseball was slow into stride on the steroids problem?

In baseball, rumors that players were abusing steroids to build muscle first went public in the 1980s, and it was two decades before the sport got serious about cracking down, leaving needle tracks on Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame hopes and Barry Bonds' reputation.

Now, using the baseball timeline for comparison, consider how far horse racing has come -- or hasn't.

Influential veterinarian Dr.Rick Arthur said Thursday morning: ``I think we are still in the `80s.''

Arthur, the California Horse Racing Board's equine medical director, made the comment shortly before CHRB leaders met with about 50 thoroughbred trainers at Santa Anita to discuss a board committee's push for tougher penalties for medication violations and tighter restrictions on the use of clenbuterol as well as a ban on anabolic steroids for horses.

The enhanced penalties could receive the full board's approval in its monthly meeting Tuesday at Arcadia City Hall. The clenbuterol matter could take a little longer, board chairman Richard Shapiro said. And steroids could take longest of all, because it's part of a national effort on the issue, Shapiro said.

But any action on steroids is better late than never, because American horse racing is behind the curve on two counts: North and South America are the only places where racing permits steroids, and racing is this continent's only major sport not to have banned the their non-therapeutic use.

``Horse racing actually has a very positive story to tell when it comes to drug enforcement, except for the issue of steroids,'' Arthur said. ``The only reason we've escaped public criticism is because most people didn't realize they're being used.''

As with human athletes, anabolic steroids used purely to gain a competitive edge allow racehorses to train longer and harder, so trainers can squeeze more starts into a shorter period of time without regard for long-term damage.

As with people, steroids have side effects. Arthur said that in horses, they include reported problems with infertility, and a tendency for mares to show masculine behavior.

At Thursday's meeting between CHRB leaders and California Thoroughbred Trainers members, Arthur and Shapiro heard some opposition to a steroids crackdown.

``Comparing human athletes and horses doesn't make sense,'' trainer Peter Miller said. ``These drugs help these horses to run. I have a filly who, without (the steroid) Winstrol, could run three or four times a year. With it, she runs once a month.''

Said trainer Ray Bell, before the meeting in the Santa Anita backside recreation hall: ``I don't think it (steroids) is as huge an issue as it is for baseball. It doesn't make that big a difference in performances. Horses are massive, powerful animals anyway.''

Bell went on: ``I do use them on occasion, if a horse has been sick, or if a filly has been a little nervous. But I don't use them regularly, as I think some trainers do.''

Among racing's problems with steroids is that breeders use them to make horses appear more impressive at auctions, often leading to disappointment for buyers.

``Until we get the breeders and pinhookers (re-sellers) to stop using it, I don't see how our banning it is going to help,'' trainer Jim Cassidy said.

For reasons having to do with the animals' welfare and the integrity of competition in a legal betting sport, the national equine medication consortium has recommended a steroids ban. The threat of federal legislation is one reason for California officials' urgency to tackle steroids and other drugging issues. Another factor is California politics at a time when the racing industry wants economic concessions from Sacramento and Indian casinos.

``When we're up there trying to get relief, it doesn't look good that all we read about horse racing is that we're drugging horses,'' Shapiro said.

The CHRB medication committee has proposed weaning California barns off steroids, beginning with measures calling for warnings while testing methods are put in place.

``We're going to be ready to move when and if it becomes a national (ban),'' Arthur said. ``It's going to have to be regulated. I'm not going to be the one to explain to Sen. (John) McCain why steroids are OK for racehorses but not for people.''

This weekend: Harvard Avenue (Victor Espinoza), the recent El Conejo winner, and Friendly Island (Garrett Gomez), the Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up at 58-1, form half the field in Saturday's $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita.

In Sunday's $150,000 San Marcos Handicap, on turf, Boboman (Gomez) will be a much shorter price than when he won the Hollywood Turf Cup at 9-1.

Obrigado (Corey Nakatani) was second to the dazzling Showing Up in the Hollywood Derby.

heymodesti(AT_SIGN)aol.com

(818) 713-3616

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OUT OF THE GATE

- Kevin Modesti
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 19, 2007
Words:807
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