Saving the game, if it’s worth it, starts with saving the breed. Canon bones are thinner than Paris Hilton and horses noses bleed worse than a UFC fighter.
I followed Phil Schoenthal, a young trainer on the Maryland circuit, around the Mid-Atlantic sale in 2006. He courted a potential owner as they scouted out yearlings. One colt had canon bones as thick as soup cans. The client said, “He’s got Budweiser bones,” referring the conformation of a Clydsedale.
Phil said, “That’s soundness to me.”
Now there’s a concept!
If horses that had bleeding masked by Lasix are bred to mares who have a family history of bleeding, well, boy howdy, what do you think will become of Junior? Bill Boniface, general manager of Bonita Farm, told John Scheinman of Kentucky Confidential.com about what happened to a filly he liked (that happened to be a bleeder) who was bred to Spend A Buck.
“I think there’s overemphasis on Lasix,” Boniface said. “[A friend] had bought a share in Spend A Buck and when he won the Garden State Stakes he bled a bucket after the race. This filly was a bleeder. ‘Certainly you’re not going to breed that filly to that stallion.’ But she did. Years later one of her son-in-laws, who was training the first offspring came up to me and said, ‘I ran that filly out that mare you liked so much to that stallion and don’t you know she bled.’ The fact that we’re breeding the horses that were dependent upon Lasix and dependent upon medications; they will produce horses that are dependent upon the same thing. There is no doubt in my mind about it. The fruit does not fall far from the tree.”
Win-Star Farms Bill Casner has been vocal of late about the use of performance enhancing drugs on North American racehorses. His stance is that it’s got to end in an editorial he contributed to the Thoroughbred Times.
“North America's liberal medication rules are completely out of step with the rest of the global racing community," Casner writes. “The perception is that racing performance in North America, relating to pedigrees and our catalog pages, is tainted due to permissive medication. The world is increasingly reluctant to come to America to buy our horses. Public perception certainly sees racing as a sport that uses drugs to enhance racing performance and this reinforces the belief that racing is ‘dirty.’”
I’d be interested to see what, if any, drugs Super Saver was on when he won the Derby; what drugs Colonel John was on when he won the Travers; what drugs Bluegrass Cat was on when he won the Haskell. Maybe none. You know that Well Armed was cleaner than Kate Littleton when he won the Dubai World Cup. Of course, all Win-Star horses.
Why is it so hard to come down with a unilateral ban against drugs? Maybe because at this point all the horses that fill up a card are so dependent on them that there’d be no horses to left on the backside.
Take Bonita Farm’s Deputed Testamony, the oldest living Classic winner, now 31 years old, won the Preakness in 1983, never raced on medication. This horse broke a track record at 9.5 furlongs on three legs. He’s like Jordan with the flu, Favre with a shoulder; he’s Kellen Winslow, Sr being pulled off the field. And you know what? Despite that break he showed two things: heart and durability.
“He came home on three legs and set a track record that still stands,” Boniface told Scheinman. “He was all heart.”
Think Big Brown’s runners won’t limp on sore feet?
This sport can’t be fixed overnight, so it must invest in what will promise to keep it strong: sound, unbroken horses running on adrenaline instead of bute.
Brendan O’Meara is the author of the forthcoming book Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year to be published by SUNY Press in July 2011. You can read more at The Blog Itself and follow Brendan’s Twitter feed. He is also the Bourbon Underworld writer for Kentucky Confidential for this year's Kentucky Derby. His web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.