09/29/2014 10:01AM

Thoroughbred Club of America honors Bramlage, Fallon, Lavin

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The Thoroughbred Club of America recognized three noted equine veterinarians, Drs. Larry Bramlage, Edward Hagyard Fallon, and A. Gary Lavin, as honored guests during the organization’s 83rd annual testimonial dinner on Sunday at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

The trio became the seventh, eighth and ninth veterinarians to be honored by the TCA. Previous veterinarians honored were Dr. Charles Hagyard, Dr. Arthur Davidson, Dr. William McGee, Dr. Jack Robbins, Dr. DeWitt Owen Jr., and Dr. Robert Copelan.

Fallon was the first of the group to speak. A native of Lexington, Ky., Fallon, 82, graduated from Cornell Veterinary School in 1956, and joined the firm of his uncle, Dr. Charles Hagyard. He represents the fourth of five generations of his family to work in the veterinary field.

Fallon’s most notable contribution came in the reproductive field. Along with Dr. McGee, he was among those that championed the idea of palpating a mare’s ovaries to diagnose pregnancies earlier and determine when a mare should be bred. Fallon and McGee were also early proponents of putting mares under lights to encourage estrus and were among the first veterinarians to perform successful equine caesarian operations.

“When I was about to graduate from Cornell, Dr. Myron Fischer told me about the palpation of ovaries in mares that was occurring in Germany,” Fallon said. “This was also being done in England, and Dr. McGee had just started doing it in Kentucky. As time passed, I became a practitioner of this.

“I also got involved with putting mares under artificial lighting – it had been done for years with chickens to get them to lay more eggs, so I thought I’d try it,” Fallon continued. “Dr. Robert Loy was instrumental is showing me how to do it the right way. These innovations allowed for mares to be more receptive to breeding earlier in the year, and provided an advantage to their foals when they became of racing age.”

Fallon also worked with several high-profile stallions, including foreign import Ribot and Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

“Affirmed was a very kind horse,” he said. “If he stepped on your toe, he’d all but apologize.”

Lavin was the evening’s second honored guest. Lavin, 76, is a native of New Orleans, La., and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania veterinary college in 1962, becoming a racetrack practitioner in Louisville, Ky., and working at Hermitage Farm in Goshen, Ky. The notable horses to have spent time under Lavin’s care include 1992 Preakness Stakes winner Pine Bluff and Grade 1 winners Cox’s Ridge, Demons Begone, and Eddington.

Lavin has served as president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and he is currently the vice chairman of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and is a director of the Keeneland Association. He became the first veterinarian elected to The Jockey Club in 1994, and served as a steward of the organization.

In his speech, Lavin recalled equine medication practices from early in his career, when care was confined to a handful of antibiotics, vaccinations, and vitamins. He discussed the initial rise in popularity of phenylbutazone, better known as bute, and the slippery slope that ensued.

“The medication rules in Kentucky at the time were quite simple – no stimulants, no depressants, no local anesthetics, or any product that interfered in the testing laboratory,” he said. “Thereafter, in the avalanche of steroids, hormones, and synthetic medications, the use of these products became extremely popular. 

“Used properly, and I emphasize properly, they were therapeutic in purpose and very effective as such,” he continued. “The abuse of the same became a serious burden on the industry. We have recovered somewhat, but much more needs to be achieved. Transparency in the laboratory, with just a few laboratories that can consistently mimic each other to the smallest decimal, is essential to our goals. With interstate wagering, a positive test for banned substances should be subject to federal prosecution. Swift results and severe penalties most certainly would be a monumental deterrent.”

Lavin closed by calling for a “true czar” for the sport’s top-tier racetracks with total quality control. A sport united under the same banner, he said, would be the best service to the racing fan.

“When we lose our fans, we lose our industry,” he said. “It is high time to put the wings back on the horse.”

The third and final honored guest was Bramlage, 63, a native of Marysville Kan., who received his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University in 1975. Bramlage joined Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in 1989 and became a partner in 1992.

A leading orthopedic surgeon, Bramlage’s most notable patient was arguably Personal Ensign, as his care allowed the champion her undefeated career after she broke her rear pastern. Bramlage has performed more than 13,000 surgeries in the past decade alone.

In his speech, Bramlage spoke about the bond between man and horse, and warned of “pretenders [who] fan the flames of vulnerable hearts to spawn donations,” and of “do-gooders for profit.” Bramlage criticized members of the media who he accused of publishing “erroneous and popular, but unfounded, accusations” that eventually become accepted as fact by the general public.

Bramlage also called for members of the racing industry to put their differences aside and come together in order to develop a uniform medication policy that features strict penalties for violators in order to improve the sport’s public perception.

“We must remove the sometimes deserved and sometimes illusory target from squarely on our chest,” he said. “I don’t care if your ‘alphabet organization’ doesn’t like one or two items within the framework of ‘nationwide uniform medication,’ you can’t afford to oppose such a [policy] any longer. We should resist the temptation to tweak one or two items before you endorse them and adopt the rules first, and then work on those rules as we go forward.  

“And, don’t leave the penalty structure on the sidelines when you adopt the rules,” he continued. “Tolerating 65 percent of our positives from 5 percent of the trainers and their owners and veterinarians is not conscionable. We must prune the ‘diseased wood’ with meaningful penalties or it will take the entire tree with it. A progressive penalty structure protects us all.”

Bramlage also called to an end to raceday furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, noting that the anti-bleeding drug is valuable to the horse when racing, but that the media and public’s negative perception of its use will sink the sport if it is not abolished.

“The connotation that has been created is unsavory to the general public because they can’t discriminate between furosemide and cocaine, they just read the headline ‘raceday medication’ and feel racing is proving itself unsavory, if not dishonest again,” he said. “Other racing countries won’t let up emphasizing that they have no raceday medication, and overseas yearling consignors aren’t going to give up the newly found marketing advantage of their bloodstock being so called ‘drug free.’ So, I think the horse, and the connections, will have to go back to racing without furosemide’s help.

"Racing survived 100 years without [Lasix], and we can do it again," Bramlage added, "though it will cost horsemen more money and be terminal to some horses careers to do without it.”