LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The latest bombshell from horse racing is no bombshell at all.
The New York Times reported last week that Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another was being treated with painkillers in the weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes, and may well have been suffering from osteoarthritis.
The Times spoke with four veterinarians who examined the horse's records, disclosure of which had been required by New York racing authorities, to their credit.
But here's my question.
What is the big deal?
I pulled up the story on my iPad and the first image I saw was the one you see at the right, of a dead horse lying on the ground, as part of The New York Times' multimedia presentation.
Which is interesting, because I'll Have Another is not dead. He's very much alive. In fact, I'll Have Another did not run in the Belmont.
Let me get this straight. I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby. He ran in and won the Preakness. He was X-rayed after the Preakness and found to have some issues. He seems to have been treated for pain. His owners did not engage him in heavy activity. (In fact, I'll Have Another did not participate in a timed workout between the Preakness and Belmont, though he did take to the track.)
When the horse did not respond to treatment, and was not in healthy enough condition to race, he was scratched from the race, and will never race again.
Somebody tell me where the abuse happened with this animal? How does this rise to the level "underscoring the uneasiness" some fans have with the sport, in The Times' words? What does "underscoring the uneasiness" even mean?
I'll Have Another was sound enough to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and when he turned up with some problems, he was treated for pain, plus given what the Times described as "synthetic joint fluid," and when he was not, in the estimation of owners and trainer, in shape to run the race, he was pulled from the race.
Isn't that how it is supposed to work?
Trainer Doug O'Neill took issue with The TImes' description of the presence "powerful pain killers" in the colt's system. I don't care whether the painkillers were powerful or not. (And keep in mind, what's powerful for a human isn't near as powerful for a 1,200-pound horse.)
I know, in this day when newspapers are taking on the crusade of painkiller abuse in both equines and humans, this is going to sound a bit revolutionary, but I advance it knowing that perhaps I'm being a bit old-fashioned.
Often, painkillers are an appropriate response to pain.
There are legitimate uses for medication in race horses. Is there abuse? Yep. But jumping on every incident as evidence of a growing problem leads to the kinds of stupidity we get in human medication -- with the honest (and sick) people paying the price for those abusing the drugs.
Don't get me wrong. I love a good witch hunt as much as the next journalist. I renew my witch hunting license every season, dutifully.
But there's plenty to be reformed about horse racing without resorting to shaky statistics or, for that matter, the kind of soft phrasing seen in the following Times paragraph:
The use of pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs is neither illegal nor uncommon in racing. But 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.
The first sentence of that needed to come before the story's 12th paragraph.
I'm going to have to go with Triple Crown vet Larry Bramlage on this one.
"No illegal, unprofessional or medically unwarranted medication was given to this horse," Bramlage said.
The bigger issue in all of this is that I'll Have Another is off to a stallion career in Japan, when in reality, his racing career ended for heath reasons after only seven starts. I don't care how brilliant some of those seven starts were, I don't think the perpetuation of such a bloodline is necessarily the best thing for the sport, the same way I cringed when I heard people talking about Barbaro's worth as a stallion, if he could've been saved. Barbaro ran six races, won them all, then suffered a catastrophic injury in the seventh.
For the good of the breed, there ought to be some kind of longevity requirement for stallion fees, but there's too much money out there and too many buyers who don't care about durability, only speed.
If there's a story on I'll Have Another, that would be it for me.
I don't think the colt's owners can be blamed for trying to coax him into shape with a chance at a Triple Crown on the line. I don't think they can be blamed for using legal medication. And I don't think they can be blamed for pulling him out of the race when he couldn't go.
There's plenty to be reformed in horse racing. But I'll Have Another is nowhere close to being a poster colt for that.
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