KENTUCKY: When it comes to drugs, Derby owners fall silent
Posted: April 29th, 2009 - 10:19pm
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The death of the filly Eight Belles during last year’s Kentucky Derby, along with the revelation that Big Brown had been treated with steroids before his dazzling victory, spurred pledges of reform and accountability for the welfare of the American thoroughbred. But as racing prepares for its biggest show on Saturday, many top owners and trainers still resist even discussing what legal medications their horses are receiving.
Of the 20 owners who as of Monday intended to run a horse in the Derby, only three were willing to reveal veterinary records to The New York Times, showing what legal medications their colts were receiving. In some cases, the request was handled by the trainer.
Even with the prohibition of steroids in the past year, the United States continues to have the world’s loosest medication policies for thoroughbreds, and there is a growing concern within the veterinary community that the combination of overmedication — with drugs like corticosteroids, an anti-inflammatory that can have dangerous consequences — and lax oversight have imperiled the safety and welfare of racehorses.
The aggressive use of legal drugs is one of the main reasons this country has the worst mortality rate for thoroughbreds, veterinarians say. In effect, they say, short-term fixes with potent legal drugs have left horses vulnerable over the long term.
The 17 owners unwilling to show the records offered a wide variety of reasons for their refusal. Some talked about competitive pressures, one trainer cited his horse’s privacy, and David Lanzman, co-owner of the likely Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, referred the inquiry to his trainer, Jeff Mullins.
“I’m the wrong guy to talk to,” Lanzman said. “I’m a mortgage banker. I don’t know what goes on back there.” Mullins declined to provide the records.
The owners’ responses make it impossible to tell what practices even racing’s most prominent and accomplished people follow when it comes to using chemistry to improve their horses’ performance.