Updated on 09/16/2011 8:07AM

Loud, clear voice at Spa round table


TUCSON, Ariz. - Gary Biszantz may have shattered the serenity of a Saratoga Sunday morning with his Jockey Club Round Table speech on overuse of medication and the role of some veterinarians in creating it, but the impact of his remarks won't be known until racing sees what happens next.

Industry leaders reacted with seeming relief and satisfaction that a prominent colleague publicly proclaimed what many of them obviously had been thinking, judging from their rousing response to Biszantz's remarks.

But other important figures have sounded this alarm before, without much effect. Alice Chandler, Arthur and Seth Hancock, and Barry Irwin, among others, have spoken strongly on the subject. Last spring Seth Hancock was scorched in the Bluegrass press for citing Kentucky's medication policies as one reason for pulling his Claiborne stable out of the Land of Oz.

Unfortunately, most of those at the Round Table are not the ones who have to follow up on what Biszantz said. Ultimately the racing commissioners of North America must act with resolve on the issue, and replace rhetoric with firm rule.

Priorities are the linchpin of the medication issue. Biszantz is concerned that horses might make more starts and last longer without medication.

Others are more concerned with what horses are running on today, what it does to them, and where it leaves the horses who are running against them, clean and without help.

Owner Barry Irwin of Team Valor is one of those people. Like Biszantz, he speaks forcefully, and he spoke for many in a recent interview when he said, "Crazy things are going on out there. The biggest problem in racing is where you see guys dominating, guys that are new to training or had never trained with any success before, now winning with any kind of horse that comes into their barn. These guys are so far ahead of the curve that they never will get caught."

He is right in theory, but hopefully wrong in his conclusion.

The curve is narrowing, and some of the foremost scientists in the sport are moving closer to flattening it.

There are other hopeful signs.

In Lexington, heart of the Bluegrass, editor Mark Simon of the Thoroughbred Times called for a no-medication policy in Grade 1 races.

On both coasts and in the South and Midwest, racing commissions followed the lead of the American Racing Commissioners International and declared the possession and use of erythropoietin and darbepoietin a prohibited practice.

In New Jersey, Richard Chansky, a harness trainer who collected vials of EPO like a kid collects stamps, was barred for life.

And to their credit, New York and California raised flags of caution on the suddenly fashionable use of shock wave therapy, the latest flavor of the month for miracle turnaround of horses with serious problems. It may work remarkably well on some horses and some injuries, and could become a valuable weapon in the training arsenal of the future. But the two bastions of Thoroughbred racing are properly concerned about first finding out what the long-term implications are for the horse.

Dr. Scott McClure, a teaching and practicing vet at the University of Iowa who has worked with shock wave therapy, says it can be dangerous. Limiting its use time-wise before races is prudent practice for the present.

In this newspaper, leading practitioners of pinhooking recently discussed the "incredible shrinking horse" phenomenon, in which muscled sales yearlings suddenly deflate like balloons following sales preparation and presentation. The highly respected West Coast vet Dr. Rick Arthur called steroids, which are at the heart of that issue, "a palliative," and not a therapeutic medication and said they cover up signs of problems and allow trainers to keep up high level training of horses with those problems.

Gary Biszantz's remarks were a refreshing breeze in the shady wooded setting of the Round Table, both for those who were there and for those who used to be, when it was a lively forum for the expression of differing ideas and not a theatrical stage for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

For a major owner and breeder to take on veterinarians took courage, and Biszantz did it bluntly when he said, "The veterinary community has a difficult time accepting reality at the risk of giving up income. Economic decisions outweigh the horse's health, fairness and safety for both horse and rider, and for a level playing field that all participants can trust."

That's as clear as talk can get, and the applause that greeted it in Saratoga was a shining spot on what has been a dark horizon.