Prompted by complaints of break-ins and drug deals at Pimlico Race Course, Maryland racing officials tested 74 state stable employees this week for illegal drug use, and 30 tested positive.

Those who tested positive were suspended from their jobs pending a hearing before the state stewards, a committee that enforces the rules of racing.

On Monday morning, during training, employees of the Maryland Racing Commission and Pimlico security entered the stable area on the backstretch side and checked the state licenses of hot walkers and grooms, said Joseph M. Poag, the racing commission's chief investigator. He said about five city police officers stood by as backup but weren't needed.

Those without valid licenses were kicked out. Those with licenses were told to report for a drug test.

Racing commission chairman John Franzone said state regulations stipulate that backstretch workers with hands-on duties with horses can be tested at random for illegal drugs.

"Our intention isn't to put people out of work," Franzone said.

"We just don't want people on crack around horses."

Upon evaluation by a drug counselor, Poag said, the employees may be permitted to return to work. . . .

Artax, the Beeders' Cup Sprint winner favored to be named sprint champion and a strong contender for horse of the year honors, has been retired because of an injury to a ligament in his left foreleg.

Trainer Louis Albertrani said yesterday at Aqueduct that the decision was made after Artax came off the track Wednesday at nearby Belmont Park.

"We noticed he was off," Albertrani said. "We checked him out and that's when we discovered a small lesion in the upper part of the suspensory.

"It is a shame that he is retired, but he did his job for us and really had a great year."


Maier Tuning Up

Austria's Hermann Maier maintained his mastery of the demanding Birds of Prey course, pacing a World Cup downhill training run in Beaver Creek, Colo.

Another training run was scheduled today in advance of Saturday's race.

Maier, who beat Norway's Lasse Kjus in the downhill at the world championships on the same course last February as well as winning the super-G, also prevailed on a portion of the downhill track in Wednesday's giant slalom.

Maier, seeking to recapture the World Cup overall title he claimed two seasons ago, was clocked yesterday in 1 minute 45.88 seconds.

Italy's Kristian Ghedina was 0.21 seconds behind in 1:46.09.

Austrians filled out the next four places, with Hannes Trinkl coming in third in 1:46.31, followed by Stephan Eberharter in 1:47.05, Fritz Strobl in 1:47.16 and Roland Assinger in 1:47.48.


Gow Beating the Odds

Tournament favorites Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie were angry after squandering their opportunities to tear apart the Royal Sydney Gold Club in the first round of the Australian Open.

On a day when the 6,832-yard course was not much of a challenge and unheralded Australian Paul Gow shot an 8-under-par 64, neither Norman nor Montgomerie was able to come close to the lead.

"The conditions are very easy, and 70 is actually a very poor score today under the circumstances," Norman said.

"This morning, it was really there to be had."

The Australian native did better than his Scottish counterpart, who labeled as "criminal" a 72 for his first 18 holes in the $640,000 tournament.

"It was too many putts for the Nth time this year," Montgomerie said. "I'm always experimenting, and if they don't go in I try something else.

"But I'm running out of experiments."

Gow, who had the best round of his career with nine birdies and a bogey, upstaged the favorites and revealed that he had bet some money on himself to win.

"It's good fun, but they would only give me 100 to 1," Gow said of the bookmakers, whose operations are legal in Australia.

"I deserved 500 to 1."


Trinidad Is in a Jam

Felix Trinidad says he is willing to abandon the WBC welterweight title he won from Oscar De La Hoya to move up to 154 pounds for a bout in March against David Reid.

"If we have to leave it, we'll leave it," he told Puerto Rican newspapers Wednesday.

The World Boxing Council is threatening to strip Trinidad of the 147-pound title unless he fights in a mandatory defense against U.S. boxer Derell Coley.

Eduardo Lamazon, executive secretary of the WBC, told Primera Hora newspaper that he expected Trinidad's managers to ask for a waiver of the rule so the 26-year-old Puerto Rican can honor the contract to fight Reid on March 4 in Las Vegas.

However, Lamazon said nothing had been filed yet.

Meanwhile, Dan Goossen, promoter for both Coley and Reid, said plans for a Trinidad-Reid fight have been postponed.

He told the New York Times that Coley was offered a "substantial amount" of money to step aside, but refused to do so.

"He wanted to fight [Trinidad] for the title," Goossen said.


Time for Toying Around

The Washington Redskins are encouraging fans to bring new, unwrapped toys to FedEx Field Sunday for the "Toys for Tots" program they are running with the U.S. Marine Reserves.

The toys will be collected by Marines at the stadium gates and distributed to needy area children during the holiday season. The Washington Capitals will hold a similar "Toys for Tots" drive at the Dec. 2 game at MCI Center. . . .

National and local sports figures, including boxer Mark Johnson and former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, will participate in a toy drive Dec. 10 to benefit needy children and flood victims of Hurricane Floyd.

The event, called the Playground Legends Night Out, will be held at America Restaurant in Union Station from 6 to 9 p.m.

CAPTION: Greg Norman blasts out of a bunker on the third hole en route to dissatisfying 70--six shots off the lead--in the opening round of the Australian Open.