Making sense of the veterinary treatment of Derby, Preakness winner I'll Have Another

Making sense of the veterinary treatment of Derby, Preakness winner I'll Have Another

Details behind racehorse controversy exposed.
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Sep 01, 2012

Hype and excitement gripped the entire nation at the possibility of an eventual Triple Crown winner after I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness on May 19. Then, on June 8, the day before the Belmont Stakes, everything came crashing down.

It was an almost epic moment, not only due to I'll Have Another's amazing stretch with rival Bodemeister in both of the first legs of the classics, but also because jockey, Mario Gutierrez, virtually a rookie at 25 years old, had guided the horse miraculously to both wins—and was on the threshold of the making the record books.

This amazing feat, that both horse and rider could possibly achieve historical greatness, was immediately erased when I'll Have Another was scratched from the third leg of the Triple Crown with tendonitis.

So while we had a possible Triple Crown, an accomplishment that has not occurred since Affirmed in 1978, in an instant we would not. As I'll Have Another's career ended, the popular Derby and Preakness winner was retired to be shipped to Japan for stud, taking the remaining air out of the sport that was so critically needed.

On July 11, the New York Times followed the story and inflated a controversy when they reported details in "Records Show Triple Crown Contender Had a History of Ailments," following similar articles that began back in March, that again a racehorse was treated, in their words, by "powerful painkillers." From New York Times story: "The fact that drugs were being used on I'll Have Another in the days before a race of immense national interest, and were being ordered by a trainer with a controversial past, underscores the uneasiness the issue of drugs is creating in American racing."

After the New York Times article, the Blood-Horse published I'll Have Another's official veterinary records, along with comments from vice chairman of the AAEP Racing Committee Foster Northrop, DVM, and New York-based trainer John Kimmel, DVM.

The veterinary records were issued by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB) regarding treatment of I'll Have Another's attending veterinarian and director of Ruffian Equine Medical Center, James C. Hunt Jr., DVM, and an ultrasound ordered by Tara O'Brien, DVM, to diagnose the tendonitis, which led to I'll Have Another being scratched from the 144th Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y.

According to the veterinary records, I'll Have Another was administered vitamins, anti-inflammatory medication, Polyglycan, an IV medication administered to lubricate joint cartilage and other routine therapeutic medications to treat osteoarthritis.

In an NBC News interview, and in a subsequent statement published July 13, on-call AAEP veterinarian Larry Bramlage, DVM, DACVS, said, "the [New York] Times alleges that 'powerful painkillers' were given to the horse, and that X-rays taken of the colt's joints prior to his withdrawal indicate a much more severe problem." Bramlage said the New York Times author also alleges the practice of running horses with high doses of drugs to overcome painful injuries is common practice in Thoroughbred racing.

"In my opinion, the New York Times piece [July 11] was closer to tabloid journalism than in-depth reporting, as was the selected editing demonstrated on the July 11 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams," Bramlage says.

He says the misinterpretation of the medical terminology 'osteoarthritis' and the substitution of 'major painkillers' for anti-inflammatory medications is unfair to the uninformed general public. "It's useful only to sell newspapers, not to allow the public to understand what actually happened for the horse," he says. "The phenylbutazone given to I'll Have Another is from the same drug group as aspirin and ibuprofen in humans, can't be given within 24 hours of a race, and is tested for with blood and urine samples at all levels of the sport. Dexamethazone is a corticosteroid used as an anti-inflammatory as well," Bramlage says.

He stated ethics preclude him from speculating on I'll Have Another's case specifically because he wasn't the attending veterinarian, however, he says the records provided to NYSRWB do not indicate anything inappropriate. "No illegal, unprofessional, or medically unwanted medication was given to this horse," Bramlage says. "We totally agree with the approach that Dr. Jim Hunt, attending veterinarian, took to get this horse for a possible Triple Crown run."