Animal activists have a message for Kentucky horse racing: They are watching.
“PETA is putting Kentucky on notice,” warned a statement from Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has been protesting at Santa Anita in the wake of 23 horse deaths related to the track.
Now, they are turning their attention to the Bluegrass state in the wake of the death of a horse Saturday at Keeneland.
“No horses died during Santa Anita Derby weekend, which seems to show that the track’s new rules — while not as strong as PETA would have liked — are a lifesaving step. Now, all eyes will be on Kentucky, where Churchill Downs — home of the Kentucky Derby — has the second-worst death rate for horses in the country,” Guillermo said in the statement. She said PETA will be attending the Churchill Downs Inc. annual shareholders meeting later this month “to question the company’s executives.”
In California, The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita as well as Pimlico, where the second jewel of the Triple Crown is run, announced a set of new rules including limiting the use of furosemide, known as Lasix, and the use of whips. Protesters demonstrated outside Santa Anita on Saturday.
“At nearby Keeneland, Thoroughbred Cathedral Reader broke a leg and was euthanized on Saturday, and today, 2-year-old horses will be made to run faster than they ever will for the rest of their lives, risking injury and death to fetch a high price at the Keeneland April Sale,” Guillermo said. “Change is overdue, and for the sake of the horses, it needs to come now.”
The April 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale is taking place this week at Keeneland, which is also the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house. Horses ran timed sprints Monday and will be offered for sale Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Association of Racing Commissioners International issued a statement clarifying that horses treated with bisphosphonates, a controversial osteoporosis drug, may be denied entry into races while the organization formulates a policy to recommend to states.
The drugs have come under increased scrutiny by veterinary and racing organizations as deaths mount. Last year Kentucky saw an unprecedented 80 percent increase in equine fatalities during racing. Bisphosphonates, which are recommended for navicular bone disease in older horses, are suspected of interfering with proper bone formation. Racing and sales officials have called on the industry to stop using them in horses under the age of 4.
Bimeda, the maker of Tildren, one of the medications, said in a statement to the Herald-Leader that they “welcome the recent partial bans proposed by racing organizations in the United States and Canada, regarding bisphosphonate use in young horses, and we are committed to research which will provide a better understanding of these important equine pharmaceuticals.”
Dechra, which makes the other drug, Osphos, pointed to another potential concern in an email: “There are two generations of bisphosphonates, non-nitrogenous (non-nitrogen containing) or nitrogenous (nitrogen-containing). Osphos is a first-generation non-nitrogenous bisphosphonate. This is the least potent class of bisphosphonate.
“There has been evidence of the non-approved and FEI-banned nitrogenous bisphosphonate zoledronate being compounded and used in horses. The nitrogenous bisphosphonates are not approved for use in the horse and work on a more complex pathway with a myriad of side effects as seen and documented in human medicine literature.”
The racing commissioners said that “bisphosphonate use in a racing environment is already prohibited and, if found, the trainer is subject to significant fine and suspension and the horse will be excluded from competition for at least 30 days to one year. The extra label use in any horse younger than 4 years of age of any bisphosphonate is prohibited.”
The racing commissioners, who recommend model rules for states to adopt, is considering a policy “that would disallow any horse from being entered in a race that has been treated with bisphosphonates prior to age 4 or for reasons not specifically cited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as appropriate use. Owners and potential buyers of young horses are advised to insist on complete disclosure of any bisphosphonate treatments administered to horses they are considering for purchase.”
Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton and Ocala Breeders’ Sales last month announced a ban on the use of bisphosphonates in young horses. The sales companies said that buyers will be allowed to request horses be tested and that the sales could be rescinded.
However, it is unclear if current testing would be able to detect the use of the drugs after more than three months.