I don't wish to sound immodest, but readers are now looking at the prose of an award-winning columnist.

The honor came from the National Association of State Racing Commissioners.

That organizationhs January newsletter declared, "Although a full week remains in the current month, we confidently annouce that Washington Post columnist and punter Andrew Beyer has won our Foolish Thinking Award for January. And won it hands down, too, with the following:

"'Racing officials who criticize exotic bets because they encourage larceny are saying, in essence: The reason for corruption in racing is the public's unwholesome appetite for trifectas, exactas, etc. They are saying that the bettors, who are the victims of larceny, are really its cause.'"

I had maintained that racing suffered from an abundance of doping, fixing and ringer scandals long before so-called exotic bets had been conceived. Officials who say they will clean up the sport by abolishing trifectas and exactas aren't being realistic. They are just finding a scapegoat for their own inability to police the game.

Since most typical racing commissioners would not recognize a horse if they woke up in bed next to one, they can scarcely be expected to deal intelligently with the realities of the sport. But if they did, they might find an instructive example in Florida.

If exotic betting causes larceny, then the race tracks here must be bandits of utter iniquity. Horseplayers at Hialeah get to play four trifectas, nine exactas and a daily double every racing day.

In the last year or two, the Florida tracks did seem to have a significant amount of dishonesty accompanying their exotic wagers. Handicappers say frequent form reversals of the type that can only be caused by drugs (Marylanders have a lot of experience with that. My friend, Charlie the Pro, a brilliant horseplayer who is an expert in such matters, said he saw a daily parade of hopped-up horses on the tracks here.)

To their credit, the racing officials here dealt wiith the problem head on. Dan Bradley, the state's director of perimutuel wagering and his successor, Gary Rutledge, did not launch into any public relations campaigns against exotic bets. Instead, they cracked down on illegal drugs.

The state racing lab worked hard to uncover proof of drug violations, and after it did, the state threw the book at the offenders. Guilty trainers were slapped with long suspensions. The vet who treated most of the horses was suspended for life. And in case the sharpies are thinking about using some new narcotic that the chemists cannot detect now, the racing lab is freezing and saving the urine specimens of suspicious horses.

Today, Hialeah still offers four trifectas, nine exactas and a daily double every day. But handicappers have not seen many outrageous form reversals Charlie the Pro says he has hardly spotted a single hopped-up horse. For the time being, at least. Florida racing officials seem to have cleaned up the game.

Florida's approach to racing corruption is rather typical. New York's is more the norm. Most bettors and trainers are convinced that the use of illegal drugs is widespread in that state; yet officials there either ignore the violations or sweep potential scandals under the rug.

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board recently undertook a study of some of the law-enforcement problems in the sport and released its finding this week. It came to two conclusions.

One: exotic bets are "insidious to racing."

Two: exotic bets can't be abolished because they generate too much revenue.

Who's guilty of foolish thinking?