Should consignors be allowed to medicate sale 2-year-olds with clenbuterol right before they breeze in under tack shows? The answers to that question were mixed during a panel discussion that was conducted during a meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club Tuesday night in Lexington.
On one hand, trainer John Ward supported the use of clenbuterol because the drug protects the lungs of young sale horses that are being stressed. On the other, he said, there is a cause for concern because clenbuterol seems to "give them a little bit of a buzz that, in my opinion, makes them go out there and work maybe a tick or a fifth of a second faster." Pushed beyond their "more natural capacity," many of the horses that receive clenbuterol become exhausted and sore, Ward said. As a result, they need to be treated with additional medications to keep them sound for showing purposes back at their barns.
In California and Florida, sale juveniles can be given clenbuterol on the days they work as long as their consignors report the treatments to the sale companies. However, Keeneland will use Kentucky's rules of racing for its April auction of 2-year-olds, so sellers will not be able to treat their horses with clenbuterol within 72 hours of an under tack show.
Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator. Some people believe that it also is a stimulant. The drug's use as a race-day medication has been banned widely in this country. However, definitive scientific information about the drug's potential to make a horse run faster is lacking.
"With regard to effect on performance, to measure that is something that is extremely difficult to do with laboratory science," said Dr. Tom Tobin of the University of Kentucky. "You would need large numbers of horses, and that is something that has not been done. The generally accepted wisdom on clenbuterol, at the moment, is that in the normal horse, it has no bronchodilator effect. It should not enhance performance in any way through the respiratory system. If the horse has a subclinical condition, it conceivably could (enhance performance). If you administer a horse clenbuterol for a long period and get the anabolic effect, whether or not that affects performance is also unclear at the moment."
Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan agreed with Ward about clenbuterol's usefulness as a protective medication for young horses. But like Ward, Moynihan was not entirely comfortable with the idea of treating sale juveniles with the medication. He called for uniformity in sale medication rules, saying they should follow racing guidelines.
"I personally think that it would alleviate a lot of concerns that prospective buyers have," Moynihan said. "It would give them a sort of peace of mind that they maybe haven't had in the past regarding 2-year-old sales."
Nick de Meric, a juvenile consignor, said he was in favor of Keeneland's decision to follow the rules of racing because "that takes the question of whether clenbuterol is a performance enhancer or not out of the equation." He also said Keeneland's approach would prevent any attempted abuse of the drug. According to de Meric, there probably have been "a small number of cases" in which consignors have given high quantities of clenbuterol in an effort to improve horses' performances in under tack shows.
The theme of the panel discussion was improving buyer confidence at sales. Other issues addressed included the merits of the respository system versus the bone warranty system, the correction of angular limb deformities, and consignor accountability.