French right on Iraq, wrong about Lance

Aug 30, 2005 4:39 AM

The French are after Lance Armstrong again, now claiming that frozen Armstrong urine samples from 1999 show erythropoietin, better known as EPO.

Armstrong says if there is EPO there, the French put it there, upset that an American has humbled the very best of France, and all of Europe, seven straight times in the Tour de France, cycling’s greatest race.

I happened to side with the French when they angered our esteemed leader by not wanting to go to war over phony claims that Iraq was getting ready to attack the United States. I question their claims now, coming as they do in a French press that has chased Armstrong year after year as he sped past the best bicycle racers their country could produce. If nothing else, it is reasonable to assume that whatever — if anything — was in Lance Armstrong’s urine might also be found in the frozen samples — if any — of his leading competitors.

The Armstrong defense, of course, is likely to be used by the Palmeiros of the world, the professional athletes who arrogantly denied using drugs, then turned up positive and said they would have explanations later of how it all happened. We expect to hear Rafael, with no other explanations available, soon claiming someone spiked his samples to blacken his already darkened name.

While all of this was going on, a tragic-comedy was playing out in Kentucky, where its thoroughbred horsemen, led by the militant Marty Maline, were suing the governor and challenging the racing authority over the right to impose rules restricting the use of illegal drugs.

At last report some 20 veterinarians were getting ready to sue, too, which is amusing but not funny since these are the guys who get paid big bucks to administer the stuff. If 15 "adjunct medications" are allowed, as they formerly were, that’s 15 boosts to the bills that horse owners today are finding akin to buying a new home or car.

The horsemen’s suit is based on the fact that the governor of Kentucky, Ernie Fletcher, put the new tough medication rules in effect by declaring them emergency legislation. The horsemen, having lost their fight with the progressive new Racing Authority appointed by Fletcher, claim he did not meet criteria in declaring the legislation an emergency.

What was going on in Kentucky, and in effect sanctioned by the old racing commission that Fletcher tossed out on its ear, was clearly an emergency. It threatened the reputation of the famed Bluegrass and the credibility of racing in the state that hosts racing’s most hallowed prize, the Kentucky Derby.

While all of this was unraveling, some class was displayed at the home of thoroughbred class, Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, NY. For one thing, Nick Zito — one of the classiest guys in any sport — was inducted into the thoroughbred Hall of Fame.

Last Saturday, in the 136th running of the Travers Stake for 3-year-olds, Zito sent out George Steinbrenner’s Bellamy Road, idle since his seventh place finish as favorite almost four months earlier in the Kentucky Derby. Before that, he had looked like Secretariat in winning the Wood Memorial by 17½ lengths.

The horse ran his race on Saturday, but was outrun in his return after the long layoff by a stronger steed called Flower Alley.

As usual, while TV waited for the formalities to form for a chat with the winning owner, trainer and jock, a reporter stuck a microphone in front of a naturally disappointed Zito. He could have spoken platitudes, or not at all. He could have blamed the horse, or the jock, or the track. He could have just shrugged and walked away.

Instead, he said, "I thought Bellamy Road was really something. He hasn’t run in four months. I salute Flower Alley, but I also salute Bellamy Road. Four months coming off the bench, and he give us this. What a future he’s got."

Pure Zito. Pure class. And what a future he’s got.