California's Dr. Jack Robbins shared some of his favorite memories and sounded off on current medication policy as the honor guest of the Thoroughbred Club of America's 71st annual Testimonial Dinner, held Nov. 8 at Keeneland.
Robbins recalled his earliest visits to Lexington while attending veterinary school at the University of Pensylvania. Robbins would board a train on Friday nights and spend weekends with esteemed veterinary Charles Hagyard and associates Art Davidson and William McGee. "Things must have been different in those early years," Robbins recalled, "as Dr. Bill moonlighted on dogs and cats at night in the attic of the office."
A 1944 graduate of Penn, Robbins established a practice in Southern California that included many of the sport's leading breeders, owners, and trainers. Among the horses under his care over the span of 50 years were Citation, Majestic Prince, and John Henry.
He told the story of a filly that had just arrived in California by train and with an acute case of hives. "She was a sight to behold...her eyes nearly swollen closed, breathing with difficulty, and blotched with urticarial wheals all over her neck and body." Robbins was called in to treat the filly, who recovered and was eventually sold to the Wheatley Stable of Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps. The filly, named Miss Disco, went on to produce champion and leading sire Bold Ruler.
Robbins remembered the day when Calumet Farm trainer Jimmy Jones asked him to geld a 3-year-old by Alibhai out of champion Twilight Tear. "Today, that would be comparable to being asked to cut a colt by Storm Cat out of Serena's Song or My Flag." Robbins gelded the colt, named Bardstown, who went from a winless rogue to an earner of over $500,000.
A founding member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, Robbins said he is vehemently opposed to raceday medications other than Salix (formerly Lasix), particularly to a "concoction of steroidal and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications." Robbins said the medications may "over-emphasize an analgesic effect and endanger both horse and rider"; produce a performance-enhancing effect; and make it more difficult to "implement and control an all-important backstretch surveillance program."
Robbins, who said uniform medication rules must be adopted, called a recent move by the Kentucky Racing Commission to reduce accepted raceday medications from 16 to five a "farce."
"It reminds me of a recovering alcoholic reducing his wine consumption from one gallon a day to a little more than a quart. That wino still has a major problem...16 to five doesn't clear him."
Robbins is president of the Oak Tree Racing Association, a member of the Jockey Club, and a board member of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the University of California-Davis Center for Equine Health. With wife Maggie, Robbins has four sons who have distinguished themselves in the horse industry: Jay, trainer of two-time Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Tiznow; Tom, a senior racing official based in California; Don, former president of Hollywood Park; and David, an attorney.Complete Text of Dr. Jack Robbins' Speech