Stan Bergstein's Daily Racing Form columns

With permission of Daily Racing Form,  Stan Bergstein’s bi-weekly columns for that publication will appear here every other week. 

May 21, 2002

First the facts, then the drugs

The state of Maryland sullied its most historic race when it introduced an insult to the Triple Crown by allowing "adjunct medications" in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

Six Preakness trainers chose to use one or more of the adjunct medications - carbazochrome, transexamic acid, and aminocaproic acid - which may or may not have any value for horses who bleed during races. Carbazochrome, also known as Kentucky Red, is used to treat high blood pressure, and transexamic acid and aminocaproic acid are blood-clotting agents.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners has studied these medications and found that there is no scientific proof of their efficacy or safety, and that until there is, there is no justification for their race day use.

The AAEP recommends Lasix as the only medication to be used on race day.

Maryland thinks it knows more than the AAEP.

The state of Maryland not only permitted the use of the adjunct medications, but encouraged it with some bizarre rule-making and twisted logic.

Maryland's rationale, proclaimed proudly, was that while it is not the only state that allows the use of these medications - Louisiana is the other - it is the only state that lets the public know that this nonsense is going on.

But there is no reason to approve the use of the adjunct medications that were allowed in the Preakness. These substances may be totally ineffective as treatments for bleeding, and what they represent is something far more ominous.

Allowing their use in the Preakness is, in effect, sanctioning experimental pharmacology in one of the sport's classic races.

It is long overdue for major racing states to muster the courage to prohibit junk treatments and backstretch superstition in their major races. This is the 21st century, and science - not hardboot home remedies or feel-good philosophy - should be enlisted to make rules. The fact that state laboratories do not test for these substances because they are hard to detect, or because they think - but don't know for sure - that they are innocuous is no reason they should be allowed.

Hay, oats, and water are scoffed at in these days of medication without certification. No one is naive enough to believe or suggest that horses should be deprived of researched and tested medications, any more than humans should be deprived of them. But there is no evidence that compounds like Kentucky Red do anything for bleeders. The very issue of what constitutes a bleeder has become so clouded - and so abused - in American racing that in many jurisdictions the term is not only meaningless, but an outright joke. In a few states, it means whatever the trainer chooses it to mean. Bleeder certification is ill-defined and often flagrantly ignored.

There is an antidote to this state-sanctioned laxity, and it has been used to good effect in New Jersey for harness racing's Hambletonian Stakes. The Hambletonian Society, for example, specifies in the conditions that nothing can be used on race day. By signing the entry, the nominator agrees to the conditions.

There is another solution, of course. That would be for more time and money to be spent finding out just what all these medications do or do not do to the horse.

The Maryland-based Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which has backed the adjunct medication idea and was in significant measure responsible for its use in Maryland, has urged just such a program. It calls for "documentation of the administration of drugs and medications to racing horses, recognition of the difference between legitimate and non-legitimate therapeutic treatment, and recognition of tracks that have embraced 'best practices and standards.' "

Unfortunately, the use of scientifically untested adjuncts that do no proven good for the horse - and thus have no place in classic races - fails to meet those lofty standards.

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