Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 2, 2008--One day this fall I came across a veterinarian contact I had made, a person who has worked for decades at nearly every major racing venue in the country.

The vet spoke only on the condition of anonymity and his, or her, identity will be protected here. This doctor of veterinary medicine has a family and a thriving practice. But he, or she, no longer can remain silent.

This vet looks at the state of the game and wonders when regulators will finally get serious about what happens on the backstretch and shedrows of America’s racetracks.

“I want to run a theory by you about the dirt/synthetic/injury issue to see what you observer/handicapper types think about it. Here are my thoughts on how racing got to the point we’re at now:

The commercialization of the breeding industry.

Liberal medication policies of state regulators, allowing unsoundness into the gene pool.

The dominance of charismatic trainers, forcing other trainers to try to compete with [their] methods.

The widespread use of anti-inflammatory medications [Bute, Flunixin].

[Overuse of injecting] cortisone into joints [hocks, stifles, knees, ankles].

The sacrifice of thoroughbred horseflesh for the sake of speed.

Because of increased demand for veterinary treatment, large “group vet practices” now dominate the backstretch… kids straight out of school with no racing or even farm animal backgrounds, enticed by big paychecks and ‘glamour.’

Increased competition among veterinarians…creating a situation where veterinarians are treating whatever trainers want them the treat without the least hesitation, in order to maintain and build clientele, leaving lots of room for error.”

Again, speaking on condition of anonymity, the vet expounded further : “My point is this. The levels of cortisone that get pumped into horses legally in my opinion has a seriously detrimental effect on the body physiology that effects bone density…”

The DVM should know that we have written extensively in this space about how commercial breeding is the tail that wags the racing beast: Breeding for speed, not stoutness. The hot-housing, not healthy rough-housing, of young foals. The use of steroids. Corrective surgery. (And some might argue that the increase in number of graded stakes races has artificially raised bloodstock value).

Some racing organizations have countered these theories with statistics indicating there is no relationship between unsoundness and modern breeding trends. But this flies in the face of empirical data.

The modern racehorse runs far less often and requires more recovery time between starts. Now consider that while preparing to win a leg of New York’s old handicap triple crown series, the great Tom Fool worked a mile three times in a week, barbaric by today’s standards.

And so when the vet asked whether it was common for trainers to work horses in :46 and 58 and change, and if trainers always felt pressure to breeze every six days, rain or shine, and breeze fast, I recalled how it was back in my day.

I remembered the exercise rider who told me about Tom Fool but also how the old nurseries always worked their young horses fast. If the horses withstood the hard drills, they raced. If not, you never heard their names.

“After I [arrived at a major circuit],” the vet continued, “I was shocked at how many horses were being euthanized in the mornings. I was always of the belief that proper horsemanship combined with judicious medical advice could prevent most breakdowns. The number of horses I put down made me sick.

“The game might have passed him by but Jack Van Berg had it right when he went before Congress… There’s just no need to inject hocks, stifles, knees and ankles with [high doses] of Prednisone. Doctors treating humans for arthritis know to keep [cortisone] doses low.

“A big problem is that horsemen don’t want to lose the use of cortisone. [With proper diagnosis of leg issues] there’s no good reason for cortisone to be injected within 25 days. [Use the] European rules. That horsemen want to inject cortisone within seven days of a race is extremely common. Cortisone is the silent killer.

And this veterinarian, who has had experience with dirt and artificial surfaces, is skeptical regarding the efficacy of synthetic tracks as it relates to catastrophic breakdowns.

“When a horse is moving forward, his foot will slide when it hit’s the dirt. But when it hits synthetic, it plants, it holds them. If the [breakdown figures are better on synthetics] it‘s the management [increased scrutiny] of the horse, not the surface.”

In summary, the vet concluded: “As the years went on I felt uncomfortable working in a way that most trainers expected me to work. I feel the racing veterinarian/trainer relationship got distorted somewhere along the way and I mostly blame greed, a lack of spine, and a lack of knowledge of horsemanship on the part of my colleagues.

“[But something good] is going on concerning horsemanship and awareness on the backside to cause [recent positive] reversals. I still believe, however, that without a change in regulatory medication policy, the gains we are now seeing in equine welfare could be erased as time goes by.”

To date, there’s never been an academic study investigating the possible link of bone- density deficiency to the overuse of cortisone in the race horse. That might be a good place to start.