JC / Railbird

Equine Health

Shocking

Ray Paulick continues digging into the sudden deaths of 36 California racehorses from July 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013, and finds that:

… one trainer with 2.5% of the horses and 1.5% of the total starts has had 19.4% of the sudden deaths over a 21-month period.

That trainer has hired a public relations and crisis management firm to handle the attention his startling numbers have aroused. They’ve been tweeting.

6/21/13 Addendum: The CHRB has issued a statement on the ongoing investigation into the sudden deaths (PDF). “The pathology and toxicology work has been completed … with no indication of foul play. This aspect of the review is believed to have been as thorough of an examination as has ever been done anywhere in the world with such cases.”

Keep ‘Em Going

Part two of a six-part series on drugs in racing by Ryan Goldberg for the TDN considers the current, not-so-pretty situation (PDF):

It seems a trainer would have to be crazy to use illegal drugs when so many legal ones are at his disposal. Before the days of pharmacological drugs, the goal was to “hop ‘em or stop ‘em,” but what the picture looks like now is an everyday practice of using drugs to manage pain and other complications to get a horse to post. Since the majority of horses race for tags, it makes sense. “The claiming game does not protect the horse,” Scollay says. “It’s like day- trading on the stock market.”

The respiratory drug clenbuterol, its anabolic properties, and the widely differing state-by-state guidelines for its use get particular attention; Massachusetts is among the states listed in Goldberg’s piece as offering no guidelines. That was the case through the 2012 Suffolk Downs meet — since then, though, Massachusetts has joined seven other states in adopting the Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program, which allows for 24 therapeutic drugs and sets guidelines for their use, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission began the process of incorporating the new rules in January 2013 (PDF). Under the new guidelines, clenbuterol will no longer be permitted within 14 days of racing. Corticosteroids won’t be allowed within seven days.

Bigger than California

John Pricci gets to the point:

It may be impolitic to judge without having all the facts but it would be irresponsible and inappropriate not to speculate based on circumstances. From where we sit, these cardiac related deaths are a possible indictment of not only individuals but the whole way the game is administered. It’s a problem that stretches far beyond the California state line.

More on the sudden death issue collected here.

Getting Raceday Drug Data

Trainer Glenn Thompson proposes an experiment (PDF):

The idea is to have 10 racetracks across the country have 2 races per day that are drug free or limit the drugs. These races will either have a bonus for the trainers or simply enhance the purses so we get the maximum participation. Have 2yo, 3yo, 4yo and up, fillies and colts, long and short. Have races where pre-race meds are allowed but no lasix, have races where nothing is allowed at all. After each race, every horse in the race is scoped by a Racing Commision Vet and have the records very well documented. In three months we will have a 10,000-12,000 horse research project that will let us know exactly where we stand and let us know for sure what needs to be done. We will not be counting on some small study that was done in South Africa years ago. I know that this will be a very expensive experiment but feel that it is the most important thing we can do and hope that the racing community can pitch in and get it done.

All the Prescriptions

The New York Times is out with its latest piece in an investigative series on American racetracks, and this time, it’s veterinarians under scrutiny:

… in the shed rows of America’s racetracks and at private training centers, racehorse veterinarians often live by a different code — unique in the veterinary community — one that emphasizes drugs to keep horses racing and winning rather than treating soreness or injury through rest or other less aggressive means, according to dozens of interviews and a review of medical and regulatory records.

“It’s a simple equation,” tweeted turf writer Nick Kling on the story. “Either you favor the drug culture which props up US racing, or you oppose it.”

This could be the bright side of industry contraction: With fewer racehorses and fewer racedays, the economic pressure to run horses year-round could be reduced, meaning more rest and less reliance on drugs.