Steroid Misuse in Racing

Veterinary medical professionals and horsemen gathered at the American Quarter Horse Association’s annual racing conference on November 18 in New Orleans to consider the use – and misuse – of drugs and medications in racehorses. Topics included laboratory testing and procedures, out-of-competition and pre-race examinations, therapeutic and illegal medications, joint injections, acceptable threshold levels and withdrawal time, zero-tolerance policies, public education and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Once the panelists and attendees started talking, the discussion focused primarily – indeed, almost exclusively – on clenbuterol.

Approved for veterinary use in horses with allergic respiratory disease and for medical use in humans with asthma, clenbuterol acts as a bronchodilator. The problem, however, is how the drug is being misused – both in horses and humans: While it is not an anabolic steroid, clenbuterol has some of the same effects, increasing muscle mass and enhancing performance.

The consensus was that something has to be done to control the use of clenbuterol and other drugs. The AQHA Racing Committee and Racing Council voted on a number of recommendations, each of which would then go for final approval to the AQHA Executive Committee for final approval. Final regulations and rules will be based on facts supported by research and science, though the studies could take several months or even years. In addition, the Racing Committee will take input from the newly formed Equine Health, Welfare, Integrity and Research Committee.

Among other recommendations sent to the AQHA Executive Committee, the Racing Committee requested that the American Association of Equine Practitioners and RMTC adopt a priority status on therapeutic use of clenbuterol and that the two groups provide information, if possible, on the appropriate levels in accordance with approved recommended dosages.

“Solving this issue is a top priority, and by working with AAEP and RMTC, we hope to come to a swift resolution,” stated AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.  “AQHA must always keep the welfare of its horses at the forefront, while insuring the integrity of the sport.”

Goldikova’s Groom

Jockey Olivier Peslier celebrates as he rides Goldikova to victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile race during the 2010 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, November 6, 2010. Credit: Reuters/John Sommers II

This past Saturday was an exciting, emotional day for us in the Webster house. We were so thrilled to be able to witness Zenyatta’s 20th and final race. In between running out to the barn to do various chores, we kept our television set on from approximately 11 am that morning until the last race of the day in anticipation of catching even a glimpse of the dark bay Queen Z.

It was phenomenal to watch Zenyatta break from the gates, fall back to last position, continue to be boxed out of the pack, and then come from behind with mud being slung in her face and a massive amount of track to cover in the last stretch to second place – with only a nose separating her from the leading horse, Blame. It was an intense, dramatic race that left goosebumps on my arms. I could feel my heart beating excessively, even after her final run was over. And I could taste the bitter flavor of defeat Zenyatta’s owners, jockey, trainer and groom were also undoubtedly experiencing at that moment.

Despite the loss, I don’t think anyone can, or should, deny Zenyatta the immortality she deserves in racing’s history books.

But for me, the most emotional part of Saturday didn’t actually come during or after Zenyatta’s race – it came a few races prior to Queen Z’s appearance in the paddock. Since we have our hands pretty full with a large operation of reining and working cow horses, I am not able to always keep up to speed on the world of horse racing. And had it not been for Zenyatta, I may have never even heard of a little brown mare named Goldikova.

Goldikova wins an unprecedented third title at the 2010 Breeders Cup.

Sired by Anabaa (who traces back to Northern Dancer) and out of the mare Born Gold, Goldikova is currently a 5-year-old mare. She was foaled in Ireland but now, her training is based out of France under the tutleage of Freddy Head and is ridden by jockey, Olivier Peslier. She has an impressive record of 15-3-2 from 21 starts, in a career that began in September 2007, and has 12 group one races to her name along with eight victories over males. She has raced in Europe and in the United States.

Goldikova won her Breeders Cup race this past Saturday by 1 3/4 lengths. It was her third Breeders Cup win, making her the first Thoroughbred in history to win 3 BC titles – all in the Mile, against male rivals. Watching her race was thrilling, but watching ESPN film Goldikova’s groom on the sidelines was, to me, what the joy of horses is all about. Take a look at this Youtube video and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not the best footage (I was shocked when I could not find any more coverage of this emotional moment in racing), but you’ll get the gist of what I’m talking about.

Absolutely unable to contain himself, this video shows Goldikova’s groom break out on the dirt track at Churchill Downs, with security and the media in hot pursuit, as Goldikova thunders down the racetrack to the win:

It gives me goosebumps every time I watch it…. This is what it’s all about.

Another point of interest – in this race, Goldikova beats Gio Ponti, who was the runner-up to Zenyatta last year. The Usual QT takes third and Paco Boy, takes fourth. Paco Boy has lost to Goldikova for the fifth time in his career. Now retired, he will never beat her.

According to the media, Goldikova will stay in training for 2011 and try again for a fourth victory at the Breeders Cup next year.

Zenyatta Fever

Who isn’t a fan of Zenyatta?

With her high-stepping dance, and undeniable charisma, Zenyatta has singularly amassed a fan club of not only horse racing enthusiasts, but ordinary people. Families who have generationally long since turned from Saturday afternoons at the races, to network television screens filled with hockey, baseball and football players.

The buzz around the horse racing scene is positively palpable. The New York Post, 60 minutes, Regis and Kelly Show, W and Oprah magazines have featured her, shedding a rare mainstream spotlight on a horse. Zenyatta has inspired an incredible swell of fan support from all walks of life, and done a tremendous service for the horse racing industry, in the doing of.

Zenyatta is a tall, dark bay beauty with an air of elegance and class about her. She is calm, and seems to drink in her surroundings with her lucid eyes. Those close to her explain how she loves people around her, and is a true ham when meeting her fans. She loves to prance before a crowd, and even enjoys a Guiness or two from her trainer. That huge personality is combined in a monster of a mare; at 17.2 hands, she is four inches taller than Secretariat or Man O War.

Zenyatta was born on April 1, 2004 in Kentucky. She is the daughter of Street Cry, an Irish-bred stallion who won the Dubai World Cup, out of Vertigineux. She was sold as a yearling for the somewhat low price of $60,000 – mostly due to the fact that she was a little unsightly, suffering from ringworm at the time, leading Bob Simon of 60 Minutes to suggest she has gone from “rashes to riches”.

She was purchased by Jerry and Ann Moss, trained by John Shirreffs, and ridden for the majority of her career by jockey Mike Smith. Now, as a six-year-old she has amassed over $6 million in lifetime earnings.

Her story is not typical – she was too immature to be started in any of the Triple Crown races, which usually catapault a horse into the limelight. The fact that she has not been celebrated as much as she deserves, until recently, could also be attributed to her missing those three important races. She started her career in 2007 in the Hollywood Park Maiden Race. She won that race – and never stopped. She has won against Kentucky Derby winners, such as Mine That Bird among others. The amazing thing about this mare is that she has never known defeat. Secretariat did not win every race, neither did Man O War or Affirmed. There is something truly special about Zenyatta – and many believe her to be the greatest race horse of all time.

What also sets her apart from other great race horse paradigms is that she is a mare. Not supposed to be as fast as the boys, only race against other fillies. Well, this female had different plans – she breaks slowly in the races, hangs back from the leaders like she is cantering around on a Sunday morning – then comes from behind at breakneck speed to win. Every time. Geldings, stallions, mares – it doesn’t matter. She has beaten them all and every time.

Observe this classic win at the 2009 Breeders Cup, and you’ll see what we mean.

She’s even inspired a sensational simulated race, pitting her against such greats as Ruffian, Smarty Jones, Cigar, Citation and naturally, Seabiscuit.

So, feel free to stand up and cheer for the Queen of Racing tomorrow as she heads into the Breeders Cup. Cheer, cry, laugh, and even weep, as this weekend marks the very last race in Zenyatta’s career. She’ll be running against a field of 11 other horses – all males. The purse is $5 million dollars and there will be millions of people tuning in to cheer her on and witness this historic moment in horse racing history. We might not see another like it in our lifetimes.

In the meantime, here’s the latest vid on Zenyatta, featuring such celebrities as “Govenator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sting! If you’re into more, check out our Facebook page, as we have posted some video there as well.

Big thanks to Amie Peck – another Zenyatta fan in the office! – for assistance with the research and writing for this post.