Drugs become a target at Breeders' Cup track

Investigators are searching for banned substances.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - If the barns on the backside of a racetrack constitute a little village, Mike Kilpack and Duke Mann are beat cops on patrol this week at Monmouth Park.

A team of 22 "Big Event" investigators, including the two out-of-towners, is working at the Breeders' Cup World Championships, the operators of which have increased their efforts to keep illegal drugs away from Breeders' Cup horses.

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Trainer Patrick Biancone announced that he wouldnot appeal a one-year suspension.

This year, the 11-race event, to be held today and tomorrow at Monmouth, also instituted random drug tests given to horses 10 days before their races.

"If you have a test for it, we want to use it," said Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders' Cup operations. "The New Jersey Racing Commission and their laboratory has stepped up to the plate tremendously to work with us, to move this to a higher level than what is done on an everyday basis."

For the first time, the Breeders' Cup is using a test for EPO (Epogen) recently developed by researchers at Penn's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square and the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory in West Chester.

"I think for the Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup, we have the most level playing field that we can have - which we desperately need," said Rick Porter, owner of Hard Spun, who runs tomorrow in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Porter also owned Round Pond, the Michael Matz-trained filly who won last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff.

However, some horsemen believe that, as in other sports, by the time a test for an illegal substance is developed, the cheaters often are on to something else.

The need for these measures was underscored this month when trainer Patrick Biancone, who has seven Breeders' Cup horses, announced that he would not appeal a one-year suspension after prohibited drugs, including vials of cobra venom, were found at his barn in Lexington, Ky. Under the terms of the suspension, Biancone's operation will be shut down on Nov. 1, but his Breeders' Cup horses will be allowed to run with Biancone's assistant, Francois Parisel, in charge. Biancone is not allowed on the grounds at Monmouth.

Kilpack and Mann have a list of banned people, but their impact, they said, is mostly on the preventive side of the ledger.

"Like cops on the side of the road," Mann said. "They kind of know who we are."

Their patrol vehicle is a golf cart, and they also walk through the insides of barns, not waiting for invitations, dodging horses, and checking stalls for Breeders' Cup starters, while explaining to trainers that their presence is designed to "even the playing field," as Kilpack told Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones.

Jones said that measures such as the seven-hour detention barn now used before races at New York racetracks were a pain in the neck, "but our horses run very well when we go to Belmont. The closer they watch, it seems like the better we run. I'm for it."

Overall, Jones said the problem might not be widespread, but added, "You'll always have some people trying to push the envelope, no matter what it is."

Veteran trainers are used to investigators' being around at big races such as the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Derby, on loan from their full-time jobs, which include doing criminal background checks. Kilpack works for the California Horse Racing Board; Mann, for the Colorado Racing Commission. Their "Big Event Team" coworkers here include security officials from a number of tracks, including Philadelphia Park.

They try to play the good cop. When they saw Bob Baffert outside his barn, they stopped and bantered with the trainer for about 15 minutes. Kilpack and Baffert have known each other for 20 years, so Baffert, who has a story for any occasion, reminisced, mentioning one particularly zealous investigator.

"He'd be in the tree with binoculars," Baffert joked. "He'd get his man."

The investigators also inspect the medicine brought on the grounds by veterinarians. One team confiscated a Canadian drug brought in this week by a veterinarian because it hadn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. "It's not a violation, but you should know better," Mann said.

Video cameras are going to be used by security officials when trainers and veterinarians are in stalls with their horses. This week, the New Jersey Racing Commission also reported that the 40 random blood tests taken last week from Breeders' Cup horses were all negative.

Although it was known in advance that the tests would be given to some horses, trainers and race officials said any additional tests could work as preventive measures, and were more effective than checking on race day.

"If you gave them EPO on the day of a race, you wouldn't have any effect," Eric Birks, a researcher in the clinical studies department at the New Bolton Center, said in July. "And racehorse trainers, as much as they try to influence the race, they're not stupid people. They're trying to influence things in a logical manner. They would have given EPO a week or two weeks before a race, to try to build up their red-blood-cell concentration to carry more oxygen."

Before the breakthrough developed by the team from New Bolton and the West Chester laboratory, tests couldn't be done for EPO, just for its antibodies, which could stay in a horse's body for months or even years. EPO is a blood-doping agent that enhances the red blood cells in racehorses.

Some of the biggest problems are away from the Breeders' Cup level, at the other end of the racing spectrum, where trainers are trying to get claiming horses to the races without much concern for their future.

"Honestly, most of the horses [at the Breeders' Cup], I've watched them on the track - every horse here looks good," said Ben Perkins Jr., the Monmouth-based trainer of Wild Gams, who runs today in the new Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. "These are big, strong, sound horses. You can tell when a horse is a little funny."

When Kilpack and Mann met Jones inside Barn 12, just outside Hard Spun's stall, they admitted their surprise when they came upon another source of help for the Pennsylvania-bred colt.

Jones introduced them to the chaplain from Delaware Park.

"We pull out all the stops," Jones quipped to the investigators.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.