10/13/2005 11:00PM

Owners of stricken horses sue drug firm

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A group of horse owners has filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey pharmaceutical company alleging that an antibiotic prepared by the company contributed to the deaths of three horses, including the stakes winners Egg Head and Saratoga County.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for northern New York on Sept. 29, alleges that Wedgewood Pharmacy, a mail-order business that prepares and compounds drugs for animals, inappropriately compounded an antibiotic that was given to four horses, three of whom died after developing laminitis this summer. Compounding is a pharmaceutical term referring to the mixing and preparing of ingredients to make a drug.

The lawsuit is seeking "in excess of $75,000 exclusive of interest and costs" for each horse's death.

In addition to Egg Head and Saratoga County, two top sprinters, the two other horses named in the complaint as having been treated with the antibiotic were the filly Cathy's Choice, who was also euthanized, and the filly Yankee Penny, who was admitted to a veterinary clinic for treatment and survived.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not return phone calls on Friday.

George Malmberg, the chief executive officer of Wedgewood, said that the company and the plaintiffs had reached an agreement several days ago to test the remaining syringes from the initial order to determine whether the drug came from a bad batch.

"They've agreed to our proposal to have the medication tested," Malmberg said. "Our preliminary investigation gives us every indication that the medication was compounded appropriately and at the correct potency indicated on the label."

The lawsuit says that the antibiotic was administered to Saratoga County, Yankee Penny, and Cathy's Choice by veterinarian James Pendergast because all three were suffering from a laryngeal infection.

The lawsuit separately states that Egg Head, who had a career record of 7 wins from 8 starts at the time of his death, was administered the same antibiotic after suffering a cut over his hock, but by a different veterinarian, Dr. David Bryant. The lawsuit said that the antibiotic was obtained from Wedgewood but does not make clear whether the medication was from the same batch that was administered to the other three horses.

Saratoga County, Yankee Penny, and Cathy's Choice were all trained by George Weaver. Saratoga County had won four straight starts prior to being euthanized, including the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen and the Grade 2 General George Handicap; Yankee Penny was an undefeated winner of a maiden race and allowance; and Cathy's Choice was winless after five starts.

Egg head was bred and owned by Harvey Clark's Rabbit Head Stable. Just prior to Egg Head's final start, a 45 percent interest in Egg Head was purchased by a group led by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who took over training of the colt from Lynda Knee. Although Rabbit Head is named as a plaintiff, McLaughlin said last week he had "nothing to do with the lawsuit."

"He got a cut, he got colitis, and he died," McLaughlin said. "It's hard enough thinking about losing a horse like that."

Saratoga County was owned by Evelyn and Richard Pollard's Richlyn Farm, which had an agreement with another company, Grapestock, for the horse's breeding rights after he retired. Yankee Penny was owned by John Peace, and Cathy's Choice was owned by Catherine and Donald Flanagan.