Information Gathering on Natural Steroids to Begin With Fall Yearling Sales

As part of a program to determine a baseline for naturally occurring steroids in yearlings, blood samples will be taken and tested from some horses offered at the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton fall sales.

Under a program to determine a baseline for naturally occurring steroids in yearlings, blood samples will be taken and tested from some horses offered at the Keeneland yearling sale that begins Sept. 10 and at the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale Oct. 22-24.

Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said the samples will be taken on a random, anonymous basis, with the only identification attached to the sample being whether it came from a colt or a filly.

Russell said the tests are being done in conjunction with veterinarians and the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association. He said consignors whose horses will be tested are supportive of the program.

With Keeneland set to allow buyers to conduct post-sale testing of sale horses for anabolic steroids before they leave the sale grounds beginning in 2008, the process for determining levels of naturally occurring steroids in horses needs to be conducted now, Russell said.

“There is no known level at the moment for naturally occurring steroids,” he said. “It is the position of both sale companies that it is an integrity issue and not a competitive issue.”

Said FT executive vice president and chief operating officer Boyd Browning: “The information-gathering process (for a baseline of natural occurring steroids) is starting with the fall yearling sales.” He said the tests are being carried out at the respective sales, but that the testing is not being done by the sales companies themselves.

Administration of anabolic steroids and other medications in sale horses has been widely discussed in recent years, with various industry organizations and task forces recommending regulation or abandonment of the practice. There is still, however, a lack of unanimity on the subject.

For example, during a Sept. 6 panel discussion on yearling sales as part of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club monthly meeting, three bloodstock agents differed on whether steroid use in yearlings should be allowed.

“I think with the steroid issue, there is a much bigger deal being made out of it than needs to be,” Florida agent Barry Berkelhammer said. “It is very easy to see where steroids have been abused, and as a buyer I just won’t buy those yearlings. I personally think that a little bit of steroids along with the sales prepping does the baby a lot of good and keeps them moving forward.

“And that goes for a lot of other drugs being used at the sales…and I personally don’t have a problem with it. I like to think that the baby I buy that has been shown a hundred times of day, in and out of the stall, being scoped, being X-rayed--the sale process is very abusive to these young horses. I think a little bit of drug use, if done right and with good horsemanship involved, is exactly that--good horsemanship.”

California-based agent Gayle Van Leer said she prefers to buy yearlings that have not been administered steroids at the sale, and that not using them could help attract international buyers.

“I look at the bigger picture of the international market,” Van Leer said. “Steroids are not allowed anywhere else except here (in the United States) and race-day medications are not used anywhere else. I think we need more buyers in our markets, and I think they would feel more comfortable if steroids were not allowed.”

The third agent on the panel, Kentucky-based Headley Bell, agreed with Berklehammer that some steroid use is not detrimental. “To me it all depends on degree,” he said. “I agree with a little help here and there…not to the point that they are all blown up.”