Track Medicine - by Dan Liebman

Imagine that you are a patient in a hospital, a prominent Thoroughbred owner and breeder said. The doctor enters the room, takes a vial out of his black bag, and gives you a shot. He then produces a couple of pills, which you take orally.

Of course, it doesn’t happen that way anymore. Patients wear identification bracelets that are scanned any time a test is run or a medication is dispensed. More importantly, doctors do not carry medications with them. Rather, every medication is dispensed by the hospital pharmacy, with a precise record kept. At any time, a nurse can retrieve the patient information and see every drug prescribed and administered, the dosage, and the doctor’s instructions.

If it can work for hospitals, it can work for racetracks.

Each racetrack would have a pharmacy where medications are kept and dispensed. It would be owned and operated by the racetrack, with minimal mark-up to cover the cost of operating and staffing the facility.

No one, including veterinarians, would be allowed to possess medications on racetrack grounds that were not obtained at the racetrack pharmacy. Routine, random inspections of vehicles, tack rooms, etc., would be mandatory, the terms having been spelled out in stall applications and licensing requirements.

Doctors with privileges at hospitals all play by these rules, obviously understanding that for everyone’s benefit, it is important to record accurately every test, procedure, and medication a patient receives.

Obviously, a person may be in and out of a hospital in a day or two while a horse may be treated by the same veterinarian, or for that matter several different vets, as he travels from track to track.

Veterinarians and trainers would still keep their medical records, which would travel with the horse, but prescribed medicines would be easy to track because the pharmacy would have a detailed history available at any time. If every racetrack pharmacy used the same computer software, the records could electronically be sent to another track when a meet ended or when a horse was purchased, claimed, or moved to another circuit.

Think of how much it would help an owner before he privately purchased a horse if he could request to see a list of medications taken by the horse he was considering buying.

Many owners are up in arms over the number of medications being administered and the associated costs. Racetrack pharmacies would help control those costs while ensuring any illegal medication found in a horse’s system would have been obtained elsewhere.

There is the issue of what to do about horses that ship in from a farm or training center. Pre-race testing may easily alleviate those concerns.

Honest trainers and honest veterinarians should embrace such an idea as racetrack pharmacies as another safeguard to help a struggling industry ensure safety and integrity.

Legendary Manager

I had several conversations with Marion Gross over the years, but in the summer of 2005 I helped him write a Final Turn for this magazine following the death of Lyphard. Those hours were very special.

The stallion manager at Gainesway Farm since 1968, Gross, who died Feb. 23 (an obituary will appear in the March 7 issue of The Blood-Horse), worked with Green Dancer, Riverman, Vaguely Noble (his favorite), Arts and Letters, Explodent, Key to the Mint, Stage Door Johnny, Cozzene, Broad Brush, Lear Fan, and many others.

He recalled how in 1982 the farm stood 50 stallions that collectively covered 4,500 mares. Gainesway was the first farm to go to more than one breeding session a day.

Gross believed the Gainesway secret to stallions living long lives was twofold: time to romp in their paddocks and regular 30-day weight checks with changes in feed regimen if necessary.

“A stallion doesn’t get to know the personalities of his handlers; the handlers get to know the stallion’s personality,” he said.

That philosophy served Marion Gross, and the horses he cared for, quite well.

26 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Barbara

Very sad to hear of the premature passing of Mr. Gross.  I think his care of his stallions was the industry gold standard bar none.

24 Feb 2009 10:35 AM
zarvona

Yes, would someone please explain “Dosage” and “Dosage Index”! I keep seeing the likes of  “Kelly Leak”  1.11 DI;  “The Pamplemousse”  1.67 DI; “West Side Bernie”  1.80 DI; “Midshipman”  2.37 DI; “Dunkirk”  3.00 DI; “Friesan Fire” 3.00 DI; “Notonthesamepage” an early bleeder 3.44 DI;  “Desert Party”  3.80 DI; “Mr. Fantasy”  4.20 DI; “Old Fashioned”  5.22 DI; “Beethoven”  5.86 DI;… and, etc., which looks a pretty wide variance on the surface. But, maybe with some clearer understanding one might be better informed.      

24 Feb 2009 7:05 PM
needler in Virginia

Dan,

Once again, you have presented an answer to what has been thought an "insoluble" problem. The nay-sayers will wander in very quickly, with "yes, BUT...." written all over their posts here, but all that is fluff and more horse manure than it takes to fertilize the Sahara. I believe VERY STRONGLY that if one wants to solve a problem, that solution can and WILL be found; your suggestion sounds like a perfectly logical solution, but then I think (more often than I should) that a lot of racing folks would rather hang from their toenails, naked, at the Churchill Downs finish line than pursue this logical course of action. These, of course, are the same folks who will deny resisting the changes you offer, but will respond that there are other, more significant, issues to be addressed first. I ask them all "WHAT COULD BE MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN DETERMINING WHETHER OR NOT YOUR NEW FILLY HAS BEEN DOPED TO THE GILLS FOR THE LAST SIX MONTHS??"

24 Feb 2009 10:32 PM
Steve Davidowitz

This 'prescription' for handling racetrack drugs is a good idea if I say so myself, well, I guess I did say so myself, in more than one forum in recent years and it is good to see The BloodHorse speak out and spell out a similar approach that is long overdue. . ./Steve Davidowitz

Author of The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing and Free Lance Columnist

25 Feb 2009 3:03 AM
Pauxatauny Phil

Didn't I read an article somewhere recently where it was explained that racetrack vets don't charge for examining horses but only for the drugs they dispense. How would Dan's idea work when veterinary greed continues to run rampant on the backside of every racetrack in America?

25 Feb 2009 6:25 AM
rwwupl

Thank you Dan for your proposal to get control of the drug problem for race horses.

Barry Irwin wrote about this approach some time ago and I and others have blogged about it also.

I hope your article will gain traction and be adopted. It would be a giant step foreword and help put to rest the perception by the public of a lack of integrity problem in racing.

25 Feb 2009 9:04 AM
Oscetra

I would love to see this - veterinary accountability!

25 Feb 2009 10:35 AM
Alpha_Hotel

Fantastic idea --  I'd even take it a step further and say that horses, like people, need electronic medical records so their medical histories are accessible track to track no matter the vet treating them.  

So far, that's not something the health insurers/hospitals/private practitioners have been able to work out on a grand scale for people, but such records are sorely needed in both cases.  Perhaps the thoroughbred industry could lead the charge on this one, for a change...

25 Feb 2009 11:53 AM
Naysayer

Hospitals are staffed 24 hours a day, with respect to nursing, medicines, and physicians. Racetracks are not.

This is not a horrendous idea, but I can't embrace it without recognizing that the implementation requires completely re-working the current protocol - which one would have to believe would rank as a secondary priority behind thorough, complete postrace testing, which is not a reality in most jurisdictions for the same reason this would be difficult to enact.

Beyond the fiscal and 'architectural' roadblocks - the simple fact of the matter is that we can't forget that we aren't always going to be speaking in the hypothetical. Were this enacted and I have return to the barn at 7:30PM to water off before leaving for the night - and I've got one sick, sick horse - I want to go in the tack room and get a tube of banamine paste and some acepromazine tabs and give my horse every chance to live. There isn't an on-call vet at the grounds of every track 24 hours a day - is that a new requirement of this conceptual policy?

Some one else pointed out that we have to pay a massive markeup on meds because there isn't a consult fee charged by the vast, vast majority of track vets.

It sounds like a great idea. I'm just not sold that it really is.

25 Feb 2009 1:52 PM
Abbie Knowles

Mr Gross is certainly a great loss to the industry and I was saddened to hear of his death.  Vaguely Noble was a favourite of mine too and sire of my all time favourite racemare, Dahlia!  The Gainesway stallions' longevity is a tribute to Mr Gross's care and Gainesway's policies and that is good to read about!

I think your idea about track medication is an excellent one and was most interested to read about it.  

This type of accountability would be good for the credibility of horse racing and help towards gaining peoples' trust in racing's integrity.  As well as hopefully making some malpractices harder to commit and thus helping the horses.  

Thanks for publishing it and thanks to The BloodHorse for taking a strong lead in this matter.

God Bless

Best wishes

Abbie

25 Feb 2009 8:29 PM
noholme

an excellent suggestion. anything that even hints that it could help clean up this medication mess deserves consideration. i would ban all race-day medications as well, bute and lasix included, on the basis that any horse unable to race without them should not be racing at all. other countries do quite well without them and with apparently higher levels of confidence in the sport than ours here. i do think that it is time the vets stepped forward and took some responsibility for what is happening. the recent aaep paper again pointed blame elsewhere. it is is time we started acting like adults and accepting responsibility for our actions. policing medication and adopting uniform testing and penalties would be a giant step in that direction. we cannot sell this port to new fans when we old fans harbor such deep doubts about its fairness and honesty - and consideration of the animals and riders.

26 Feb 2009 3:36 PM
mgb

Is the Final Turn article that you helped Marion Gross to write available online? I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to read (or re-read!) it.

26 Feb 2009 8:20 PM
lucky13

Hey Dan forget about the horses med's I think you and the rest of the folks up at the hall of fame need your own medication. How hard could it be to finally let David Gall in. Jay hovdey got his wife in, shouldn't be to hard to let Gall, and a few other old timers in.

27 Feb 2009 12:03 AM
Barry Irwin

Dan, this idea has been floated around for awhile, by me and others. It is do-able, but like everything else, it needs a champion on a racing board to push it through.

Steve, not all vets make their money from giving shots. There are a few top vets that charge a fee to diagnose a horse.

This is the way it should be.

If a track pharmacy existed, owners would save money on meds, so they could afford to pay for a diagnosis.

This is workable and would separate the talented, caring vets from those that make their dough "pre-racing" and jugging afterwards.

28 Feb 2009 12:55 AM
lobieb

The concept is great but what about the horse that gets sick in the early morning with no vet and drug store available, during the days I think it is viable at night am not that sure.

01 Mar 2009 8:29 AM
da3hoss

The idea has merit but there are some practical implications that have to be addressed, like no Vet could have meds on him unless filled at race track pharmacy...how would he/she be required to justify carrying those meds? existing patients? anticipated patients? what about those late night emergencies?

You are in a stable not a hospital where meds are immediately available for hospital stays and you only go to pharmacies for maintenance meds or follow-up meds...

How about a breakdown on the track? Would Eight Belles, or any other horse, have to lay there while the vet (who has no meds on him, remember, unless he has gotten them from the track pharmacy) writes a prescription and someone fills it so he can euthanize the suffering animal? I know, I know I'm being extreme...

01 Mar 2009 12:54 PM
Ewali

Physicians, with limited exceptions, are not allowed to dispense drugs as prescribing and dispensing is a recipe for conflict-of-interest and over-prescribing.  I would much rather pay to have my horse diagnosed and prescribed an appropriate set of medications (filled through a pharmacy) than to have my horse receive a grab-bag of injections in order for the vet to cover his or her costs.

I think this is a superb idea.  Alternatively, in one of Jerry Bailey's CDs, he makes the suggestion that programs carry not only the name of the trainer, the jockey, the owner, but the veterinarian.  With time, handicappers (and owners) will have statistics on relative successes and failures of individual track vets.  However, we do this, we certainly need more transparency in current track veterinarian practice.

01 Mar 2009 2:31 PM
ky

Do you REALLY believe the VETS are all of the problem.  What a bunch of bunk.  There are MANY top trainers that place vets in uncomfortable situations by pressing their own agendas on the vets and circumvent the vets diagnostic ability by diagnosing themselves.  Has everyone forgotten the old days when horses were taped together by trainers and doped by trainers with every drug known to man out of Canada(and still today).  Or the hundreds of pharmacies that illegally gave drugs to trainers to help their horses to run.  There will ALWAYS be people in this sport that get by with corrupt practices, and some of them can fall into the category of vets.  But, I am SICK and tired of the inuendos that the "vets" are all of the problem.  When I go the pediatritian and I see a Nurse Prac, not a DR, and I am charged $150 for a five minute "well baby" exam, no one yells about that, but if a vet charges $75-150 for an exam, from experience, people hit the roof if they have not HAD to pay those fees before.  SO, to make enough money for our 24 hour on call service, we dispense drugs to cover our time and efforts for your animals.  I understand completely there is corruption at EVERY level, including owners, trainers, jockeys, and vets but any time there is money on the bottom line, people push that envelope.  Vets that are up and up that diagnose and inject joints, endoscope, radiograph and do many other practices that aid in the health and wellbeing of the animals so that WE the owners get PLEASURE from watching them perform for us should be praised.  THE Horses deserve for us to keep them out of pain.  This pharmacy on the backside is a fine Idea, but the vets will have to be able to make money, so on top of buying your drugs, you will have to pay 150 for an exam, whether anything is found or not and I will guarantee that many will not have horses examined which may =more problems not being diagnosed and treated before going to the next level of detriment for our horses.  My soapbox.

01 Mar 2009 2:33 PM
goodwin

Regarding the veterinary regulations: couldn't every trainer have a specific emergency supply of certain items, which, if he has to use them, all he has to do is file a form with the track dispensary, explaining the usage to get more? This sport NEEDS a unified regulatory body, just like the Big Three sports in this country (okay, throw hockey in there, too), which would make the injuries much more palatable to the general public. Horse racing is losing interest because people think it is inhumane. Show Americans an extremely regulated sport,in the BEST interests of the animal, and the crowds will return.

01 Mar 2009 6:03 PM
JOE D.

THATS A BRILLIANT IDEA I HOPE SOMETHING CAN COME OF THIS.ITS A SHAME THAT VETS CONTROL THE ENTIRE SPORT.ITS TIME TO TAKE IT BACK.

01 Mar 2009 7:39 PM
scott

This idea is just not pratical.  The people commenting, have no idea what goes on a day to day life at the track or farm for that matter.  There will always be cheaters in any sport.  Test the animals, and suspend the cheaters.  Most, of us don't cheat.  We actually care about our animals.  I have lost races knowing someone cheated.  Life goes on.  I will get them next time.  Lets fix some real problems.  We need sponsorship, like the top three sports. And we need fans!!!!!!

02 Mar 2009 4:10 PM
Amber

In response to "ky" on the soapbox...I agree the drug problem isn't just centered on the vets and it is unfair to focus on just them. How I read the initial article is that it would hold ALL parties responsible. I've worked for a trainer who has pressured the vets to give drugs to mask injuries before the horse performs. To me, the proposed method gives the vets extra support in saying no and reminding the demanding owners or trainers that if they convince someone else to say yes then it will be on record.

As for the 24 hour availability problem...go back and read what Goodwin posted at 01 Mar 2009 6:03 PM. It's definitely a feasible solution.

As for the rest of you that say those of us posting don't have a clue on what's going on at the stables. Believe it or not, there are more poeple than just you who have experience. So quit making excuses!

02 Mar 2009 5:34 PM
bianca

Ive been in the back stretch for years, and every horse in the barn are on some kind of cycle of medication. This is what we need to probe. Since the track isn't correcting it, someone needs to step in for the horses and the sport. Hopefully this article will be the start.

02 Mar 2009 5:52 PM
Wanda

goodwin: good idea but trainers cannot have any needles etc. in the barn. Most states/provinces allow you to have powdered Bute etc. If you have to medicate right away you do need a vet to inject anything.  

03 Mar 2009 1:20 PM
HarryG

Agree totally with your comments. I am relatively new to the sport and find it appalling what is so apparent. A great sport turned into a joke.

03 Mar 2009 5:22 PM
AnnG

Think that you are overlooking the problem.  Vets would not administer the drugs without the trainer asking for them.  The vets don't just go pull a horse out a stall to administer drugs.  Trainers need to be held accountable and owners need to be more involved to know what is happening to their horse.  Owners have the right to request only certain medications be given their horses/however, most owners are not hands on and rely on trainers.  Start holding trainers accountable and lay off the vets.

10 Mar 2009 1:35 PM

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