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Letters to the editor (5/20)
Kentucky vet raps column on Lasix use
The May 17 column "Drug policy bleeds sport of integrity" by Stan Bergstein was a shocker, to say the least. The fact that it was carried by Daily Racing Form was even more surprising. No one should give credence to something so ill-conceived and potentially harmful to Thoroughbred racing.
As the great horseman Keene Daingerfield observed in The Blood-Horse in 1979, "People who talk about going back to racing on hay, oats, and water don't know what they are talking about. We have always medicated horses. Today we are simply able to determine what they are medicated with."
To answer some of the column's ludicrous charges, it should be emphasized that the Triple Crown classics ought to be run with the same rules that govern all other races. To restrict in these races what is permitted in all others would destroy the integrity of the sport. One can only cringe at the field day the press would have. As a Standardbred man, Mr. Bergstein should be prompted against the suggestion that Lasix is a mask for performance-enhancing drugs, especially with today's Elisa test, which can detect substances within one-billionth of a percent, as knowledgeable Thoroughbred horsemen are aware.
The nationally respected veterinarian James Pascoe did an extensive study through an entire Hollywood Park meeting. He tested every horse who finished in the top four in every race with fiber-optic evaluation. He found that 75 percent of those tested bled to one degree or another. Perhaps one reason for the decline of harness racing is that some Standardbred horses are allowed to go untreated when they bleed. Could it be that these horsemen care less about their animals than Thoroughbred people do? Our rules leave the discretion of training and/or racing with Lasix to the pros - the trainers and veterinarians - and despite the sour grapes of Mr. Bergstein, we are prospering from doing so.
The chemists of our industry, as well as trainers and vets, are almost as one in their support of Lasix. They feel that the horse, the public, and the sport all profit from its use. To deny the use of modern therapeutic medication would amount to the same thing as baring mothers from vaccinating their children against polio.
I have battled bleeding in horses since the 1940's. Initially, I corrected exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging by using Doan's Pills, a trick I learned from Marion Van Berg, who used it and won race after race with it. Cephaloplasm was the way I prevented bleeding in such horses as Coaltown, Hasty Road, and Chateaugay. In the 1960's I turned to Lasix to treat such horses as Kauai King and Northern Dancer. Using Lasix on the great Northern Dancer - I was there and I did - resulted in, initially, a Kentucky Derby record and, eventually, a record in the breeding shed unmatched in American or European racing. This is certainly testament to the fact that Lasix-type drugs do not harm the animal physically and have no debilitating effect at stud.
I have been generally recognized as the first veterinarian to use Lasix successfully to stop bleeding. I never dreamed it would become so widely accepted 40 years later. It ill behooves Mr. Bergstein to impugn the integrity and propriety of almost every knowledgeable horse conditioner and vet involved in the Thoroughbred industry.
Alexander Harthill, DVM - Louisville, Ky.
Stevens, Carothers got undeserved knocks
Two opinions expressed in letters in the May 13 Daily Racing Form seemed poorly conceived. One, "Midstream rider switch leaves sinking feeling," was right to express sympathy for Victor Espinoza's loss of the opportunity to ride Congaree in the Preakness, though it's hard to criticize any owner of a top horse who uses Jerry Bailey when given the opportunity. The writer's comments about the ride by Gary Stevens on Point Given, though, are moderately absurd. Perhaps Stevens did have a bit too much confidence in a horse whose superiority was more imagined than real, but you don't win the Kentucky Derby three times by thinking your mount would be lucky to hit the board.
Far more dubious, though, were the sentiments in "No horse deserves such trash talk," whose writer was irreparably offended when Matt Carothers of Television Games Network referred to Jamaican Rum as a "garbage collector." I have watched TVG enough to know that Carothers is not only a fine and witty handicapper, but also an admirer of the equine species. His comment obviously referred to Jamaican Rum's running style of passing tired horses at the end of races to win his prize money, and nothing more. Why was the writer so offended by the term?
Sounds to me like contempt for how garbage collectors make their living. I am offended by the arrogant implications of the comments, and I think the writer owes both Carothers and all garbage collectors an apology.
Bill Feingold - Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Interference claim on NBC's Derby
I just finished reading the May 9 Racing Form article about NBC's Kentucky Derby coverage ("Derby ratings soar for NBC"). The writer seemed very pleased with the coverage and saw it as a vast improvement over ABC. Personally, I miss Jim McKay.
This aside, NBC does seem to have a decided advantage because it currently holds the rights to both the Triple Crown races and the NBA playoffs, making for bigger ratings for both. I am behind anything that helps racing.
The one thing in the article with which I disagreed was the coverage of the claim of foul against Monarchos by John Velazquez. While Velazquez was on the phone, he was clearly annoyed with the NBC reporters who were grabbing him by the shoulder and poking microphones in his faces. He showed great restraint in not losing it with those fools. Aside from this, you really couldn't hear anything. When Jorge Chavez was talking to the stewards, you couldn't understand a thing he said. The only things I could make out was, "I did nothing" and "my horse exploded." This enhanced the Derby coverage?
If NBC wants to listen to these conversations with the stewards, why not ask for permission to tap the line? Then they could hear the stewards, too. One-sided conversations aren't that interesting. Maybe they can clear this up for the Breeders Cup.
Jim McKay, where are you?
Jack Fallo - Metairie, La.
Racing's not alone in boosting stats
The May 13 letter to the editor "Souped-up surface did sport no favors," bemoaning the Churchill Downs racing surface on Derby Day was a rather disingenuous piece in its comparison of racing with three major sports - football, baseball and basketball.
Baseball has had corked bats and shaved infields for years. Basketball winks at walking and palming. And allegations of steroid abuse in football are just examples of athletes playing hurt.
Returning to Churchill, I remember from years past the horror stories of its sandy, "cuppy" surface, and how it favored horses from the East, then horses from the West. Perhaps more clay and more water will create the track preferred by the masses.
Bob Pfingstler - Meadow Lands, Penn.
Outrider's life transcended the track
This year's Kentucky Derby weekend was memorable for the many records set on the track and at the windows. But to the horsemen of Churchill Downs, it will remain unforgettable because of the untimely death of Glenn Webster ("Etc. . . .," May 9). As head outrider, he led what appeared to be a typical racetracker's life. He was, however, an extraordinary person: never an unkind word about anyone, always a helping hand for everyone. The racing community - and humanity - has suffered an immense loss.
Micky Kuzel - McSweeney Long Branch, N.J.