Published in the Jan. 19 issue of The Blood-Horse
Last year, for the first time, all sale companies that conduct major juvenile auctions in Florida, Kentucky, and California tested horses for drugs following pre-sale under tack shows. This year, two companies, Ocala Breeders' Sales (OBS) and Fasig-Tipton, are tightening their medication policies. OBS announced Jan. 11 that it would not allow consignors to treat horses with the bronchodilator clenbuterol within 72 hours of an under tack show at any of its juvenile auctions. The company also announced that sellers would not be able to give procaine penicillin and the diuretic furosemide (Lasix/Salix) to 2-year-olds while they are on the sale grounds. Later the same day, Fasig-Tipton's senior announcer and director of marketing, Terence Collier, said the company would similarly restrict the use of clenbuterol at its select Calder auction. Clenbuterol generated the most controversy of any medication issue at juvenile auctions last year. Its use was permitted in Florida and California, but it could not be given to sale 2-year-olds for workouts at Keeneland, which based its testing program on Kentucky's rules of racing. Some people believe clenbuterol can enhance performance. Sale company officials received complaints from some consignors that 2-year-olds were receiving high doses of the drug prior to under tack shows. "There was some pressure from buying groups and some very definite pressure from consignor groups that this policy on clenbuterol would substantially and positively change the perception of buyers at sales of 2-year-olds in training," Collier said. "Some consignors felt the sale might be tarnished because some sellers were using clenbuterol at higher levels than others. This action was taken, in effect, to level the playing field--to give added confidence to our buyers and to reassure the majority of our consignors, who brought this issue to our attention." Tom Ventura, OBS general manager and director of sales, described clenbuterol as "a little bit of a sensitive issue'' last year. "We wanted to shift the focus from medication issues back to the performance of the horses," Ventura said. "If clenbuterol is perceived as a problem in some circles, then we thought we should address it." Procaine penicillin use, according to Ventura, was not an issue last year, but OBS officials decided to ban it because, like clenbuterol, it is not generally permitted as a race-day medication. Procaine is chemically related to drugs that are used to mask pain. There are several other antibiotics consignors can use, Ventura said. The ban on furosemide resulted from concerns about an OBS condition of sale that requires a consignor to announce if a horse is a bleeder. Confusion could result, Ventura said, if a seller worked a 2-year-old on furosemide without officially identifying the horse as a bleeder in sale paperwork. The reaction from juvenile sellers Becky Thomas and Nick de Meric was generally positive. Both are active in the leadership of the National Association of Two-Year-Old Consignors. "Consignors should support the policies of the individual sale companies, but I don't think we should come out in support or not in support of a particular medication," Thomas said. "I think clenbuterol is a wonderful therapeutic drug if it is used in the right way. But there is such a stigma to it that I understand why they (the sale companies) want to take it away. Procaine penicillin is a good drug for a horse that spikes a temperature, but there are other antibiotics that we can use. I have never been a Lasix (furosemide) user." Said de Meric: "With these changes, clenbuterol gets taken out of the picture, and so much the better. It will be one less question in the buyers' minds." New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, a leading purchaser of juveniles, said the OBS and Fasig-Tipton restrictions on drug use will not make a difference to him. "I never look at the medication records at a sale," he said. "If a horse looks like he can run, he can usually run. And if he can run, medication isn't going to help him do that much more." Dogwood Stable's Cot Campbell, another leading buyer, called the restrictions "a good trend" because "I would like to see more conservatism in the preparation of 2-year-olds. "But," Campbell added, "I don't get caught up in analyzing the details of medication rules. For the most part, I just buy from the consignors I know and trust. If you tighten up things, then good for you. If you don't tighten them up, I'm still coming to your sale." Keeneland does not plan to make any major change in its medication rules or testing this year. Said Gerald McMahon, Barretts' president and general manager: "We'll take a look at what the other companies are doing, and we might make some changes as well. We want to keep pace with the industry in general."