Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Want Revenge: Not the story the Times thinks he is

It's undeniable that one of horse racing's most persistent troubles is perception; the belief among many of those in the public who don't like or watch racing (and some who do) that American owners and trainers are drugging, beating and abusing these animals for fun and profit.

It doesn't help when the people who are covering the sport can't get the story straight.

In the Oct. 6 New York Times, writer Joe Drape (a Media Eclipse Award winner) recounts the story of I Want Revenge, the 2009 Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on race day. The injury that prompted the scratch has since spurred a lawsuit. IEAH Stables -- which bought a half-interest in the Stephen Got Even colt in a blockbuster deal ($1.75 million plus a 25 percent share in IEAH's 2-year-old champion filly Stardom Bound) from owner David Lanzman only days before I Want Revenge's huge performance in winning the Wood Memorial -- claims the horse's injuries were not disclosed to IEAH leading up to the Derby scratch.

Drape's story is headlined -- and claims to illustrate -- that the "Lawsuit Sheds Light on Use of Legal Medications in Horses."

But after reading it, and some supposedly supporting evidence, I feel like Drape and the Times actually left people in the dark.

Drape's lead paragraph claims that the court case exposes "the fault lines of administering legal drugs to America's thoroughbreds." But from what I can tell -- and certainly from most of what Drape has written -- the lawsuit is much more about honesty and full disclosure in business dealings than the doping of this or any horse. The legal medications administered to I Want Revenge are but bit players in this story.

Drape writes that IEAH alleges that I Want Revenge was "ailing as early as April 7" and that Lanzman failed to disclose the injuries to his co-owners. Lanzman denies the charge. Veterinarians have testified that the colt was treated with substances including hyaluronic acid (a joint treatment) and corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory meds) between the Wood and his Derby scratch. And apparently, IEAH wasn't aware of his medical needs.

Drape's first cringeworthy moment in the story comes early, when he writes that I Want Revenge's ankle "was injected with what amounted to new transmission fluid."

Now, I know the horse was not injected with transmission fluid. Heaven help me, I hope you know the horse wasn't really injected with transmission fluid. But if there's anything an award-winning New York Times reporter should have learned by now, it's that a certain number of his audience are, in short, idiots. I suspect that somebody, somewhere has forwarded this story to animal rights advocates worldwide with a subject header akin to "Horse shot up with transmission fluid to keep him racing!!!!!!"

It's a horrible analogy, not particularly apropos, and needlessly inflammatory. And that's actually what prompted me to dig deeper into Drape's reporting.

What I found is that his story gets worse. That's because Drape claims the lawsuit is evidence of everything except what it really is -- a case of partners allegedly not communicating.

Writes Drape: "Regardless of the outcome of the dispute, the treatments are a striking example of how the use, and overuse, of legal medications have placed America's thoroughbred population at ever greater risk of injury and, in some cases, catastrophic breakdown."

A scathing accusation. So how about some evidence? Drape doesn't really provide it, namely because the sources he cites -- and to which the Times' Web site links directly -- don't particularly say what Drape claims that they do.

Drape writes: "There is a growing concern within the veterinary community that overmedication -- with drugs like corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories that can have dangerous consequences -- and lax oversight are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for thoroughbreds." His cited evidence, a link to this report, called "Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for the Safety and Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse."

That report indeed addresses medications and veterinary care, namely the need for consistent standards across jurisdictions and a more thorough and accurate means of monitoring those standards. It also addresses the public's perception of racing and the need for the industry to put horse welfare first in order to maintain a positive image.

But it's a nine-page paper, including three that serve as a cover sheet, a history and mission statement of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (which wrote the report) and a partial page including some of the veterinarians' names associated with the work. And in the roughly five and a half pages of content, the paper also addresses: 2-year-old racing; claiming races; the need for the industry to provide for retired horses; mandated rest periods of at least 10 days for all horses between races; the growing influence of "racinos" that are managed by people who don't understand horses and their needs; the need for continuing education for everyone from jockeys, trainers and stewards to track security officers. ... In other words, it's a catch-all paper that is not primarily nor even largely related to supplying the evidence Drape claims it provides.

In fact, not once in nine pages does that paper mention the mortality rate of U.S. thoroughbreds involved in racing, let alone as compared to other nations, though Drape cites it as supporting documentation for his making that comparison. And not once in the two pages that paper allots to the "veterinarian-owner-trainer relationship" and the subject of medications, including race-day meds, does the document even reference, let alone specifically make the claim, that "overmedication" or "lax oversight" of medication rules "are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for thoroughbreds."

The paper provides virtually no evidence for Drape's statements. And I can't figure out why he would believe or claim that it does.

Yet this is a mistake that Drape makes twice.

Later in the story, Drape writes: "There is a consensus among equine researchers and surgeons that legal medications and cortisone shots, over time, leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown."

He then throws gas on that lighted matchstick by citing the U.S. breakdown rate -- 1.47 per 1,000 starts for synthetic tracks and 2.03 per 1,000 starts on dirt, according to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission -- which indeed are higher numbers than he cites for England (0.8 to 0.9 per 1,000 starts) and Australia (0.44 per 1,000 starts).

But again, a paper Drape cites doesn't measure up to his claims.

In this case, Drape links to a report submitted to the Subcomittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, part of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives. That report is the testimony of Susan M. Stover, DVM, Ph.D., and professor at the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The report is attributed only to Stover. In it, she refers to herself in the first person, singular, when offering her insights.

I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a one-person "consensus." Or perhaps the "consensus" Drape claims is composed only of himself and Susan Stover -- whom he did not apparently contact nor directly quote for his story, only linking to her testimony.

I'm not suggesting Dr. Stover isn't an expert on this issue; undeniably, she is. I'm suggesting that Drape is unduly and improperly using her report as evidence that her thoughts speak for the bulk of equine veterinary practitioners.

Worse, Drape links to Stover's testimony specifically to support his story's claim that "legal medications and cortisone shots, over time, leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown." But while Stover does note that most catastrophic breakdowns are due to musculoskeletal injuries that often worsen over time and with repetition, she barely touches on the possibility that legal medications are intentionally or inadvertently masking injuries that should keep a horse from racing. In 10 pages, Stover writes one, inconclusive sentence on the subject:

"However, the potential for permitted medications to mask mild injury and to contribute to injury development needs to be assessed." (Emphasis mine.)

Stover later -- as part of an eight-point sentence on improving horse welfare that ranges from racing surfaces and workout patterns to hoof angles and toe grabs -- tosses in just five more words about legal medications, advocating for the "reconsideration" of some race-day medications, none of which she lists by name. In fact, the word "cortisone," nor any part thereof, never appears anywhere in Stover's testimony, though Drape cites Stover's testimony as support for his claim that "cortisone shots ... leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown."

These two attempts by Drape to bolster his story with outside sources that don't or that just barely, with a measure of imagination, provide the evidence he claims are, at the very kindest, shabby reporting.

But Drape's effort to tie I Want Revenge to claims that the drug culture of the racetrack is killing horses would fall apart even without these weak links. That's because the story of I Want Revenge is actually the opposite of what Drape claims it to be -- a case that supposedly shows how horses are doped to keep them racing.

Why? ... Because I Want Revenge didn't race.

As noted prior, Drape's story says that IEAH claims I Want Revenge "was ailing as early as April 7." That date is not only after the date that IEAH bought its 50 percent interest in the horse, which was reported on March 30. It was three days after he won the Wood Memorial. So Drape provides no evidence at all that I Want Revenge was kept performing (let alone at so high a level) by using legal medications that permitted him to race right through an injury. Nor does it appear that IEAH is making such a claim.

The story here is that I Want Revenge didn't race when he was hurt. He wasn't fit to go, veterinarians made that determination, and his trainer, Jeff Mullins, scratched the horse from the biggest race in America, the Kentucky Derby, in which I Want Revenge was favored.

Of course, there's no scathing story in "Vet and Trainer Make Right Choice for Horse."

It might be argued that the connections and their vets should've figured out what was wrong with I Want Revenge sometime during the month leading up to his race-morning scratch, but that isn't the case IEAH appears to be making in court. Nor does it seem that IEAH is claiming that the treatments of the horse were improper, detrimental to the horse, or undertaken to keep them from realizing that the horse was hurt. IEAH is simply saying that it bought into a horse -- for a princely sum -- and was not kept informed of the condition and welfare of their living, breathing investment until such point that he was scratched from the Derby and the colt's unsoundness was undeniable. In fact, IEAH claims it asked Lanzman directly about a Derby Eve rumor that the colt would be scratched and that Lanzman was dishonest by denying the rumor, a claim Lanzman denies.

That makes for a good story. Such claims lead one to question the honesty and transparency of the back side at America's racetracks, and whether even the richest owners who have millions invested are really kept up to speed with what's going on with their horses. And actually, the writer does a very good job of detailing the facts and claims that IEAH has presented regarding that aspect of the case.

It just isn't the story Joe Drape told you he was telling.


  1. I love this quote "There is a growing concern within the veterinary community that overmedication and lax oversight are part of the reason the United States has the world’s worst mortality rate for thoroughbreds."

    Well maybe the vets SHOULD STOP DESPENSING AND GIVING THE DRUGS. Lord I hate the AAEP (for several other reasons).

    On another note, is just me ("yes, Gordon is just you") or does Joe Drape only write about horse racing when drugs are alledegly involved.

  2. Try this

    Deep Throat Vet: Colleagues, Cortisone Hurting the Game
    By John Pricci - JOHN PRICCI BLOG

    Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 2, 2008--One day this fall I came across a veterinarian contact I had made, a person who has worked for decades at nearly every major racing venue in the country.

    The vet spoke only on the condition of anonymity and his, or her, identity will be protected here. This doctor of veterinary medicine has a family and a thriving practice. But he, or she, no longer can remain silent.

    “The game might have passed him by but Jack Van Berg had it right when he went before Congress… There’s just no need to inject hocks, stifles, knees and ankles with [high doses] of Prednisone. Doctors treating humans for arthritis know to keep [cortisone] doses low.

    “A big problem is that horsemen don’t want to lose the use of cortisone. [With proper diagnosis of leg issues] there’s no good reason for cortisone to be injected within 25 days. [Use the] European rules. That horsemen want to inject cortisone within seven days of a race is extremely common. Cortisone is the silent killer.

  3. Great, an unnamed person who "no longer can remain silent."

    I'm not saying Joe Drape COULDN'T or SHOULDN'T write a story about whether drugs are detrimental to horses and racing.

    I'm just saying that I Want Revenge and the IEAH lawsuit regarding same are a poor example, and that the reports Drape has cited for evidence don't really in any significant way support his points.

  4. Maybe Joe is just as frustrated as the rest of us who would like to see the end of medication and are called uninformed and ignorant. He's seizing on anything that makes the connection. And I can't believe you, as a writer and editor, would read the analogy of transmission fluid literally. The best description of hyaluronic acid (Legend) to a layman is just that: Oil for the machine. That's not the problem; the corticosteroids are. Oh, oops, I hope I don't actually sound informed there...just a little trainer in Europe where we run medication-free.

  5. Obviously I didn't read the "transmission fluid" reference literally. But, as a writer and editor, I unfortunately am quite aware that there are people who do.

    We had a sportswriter leave the business for another career. He wrote a column titled "Obituary of a Sportswriter" detailing how he reached his choice to leave the business. We saw trouble coming and prefaced his going-away column with an editor's note describing how he was leaving the newspaper to go into coaching.

    The following day at least a half-dozen people called or e-mailed to ask, "Oh my gosh, how did Chris die?"

    They were serious.

    So the "transmission fluid" analogy is a poor one anyway. When you're writing a story alleging that the industry is over-doping and potentially mistreating the animals, it's an analogy better left out completely.

  6. As someone who has been involved in racing for more than 50 years and also one who has great admiration for factual journalism, may I commend you on an outstanding piece by piece dissection of the sloppy piece in the Times. Unfortunately, far more people saw the Times piece than saw yours.

    Kerry Fitzpatrick

  7. Great work Glen exposing the distortion of truth in the NY Times. New York has got nothing on Henderson when it comes to newspaper men.

  8. Joe Drape is an Eclipse Award winning writer; he must do something right.

    And in checking out his previous stories I have to say I enjoyed his piece on the Smith Center (Kan.) High School football dynasty. I'll probably buy his book on the subject: "Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen."

    Aside: We beat Smith Center when I was an eighth grade OL/DL in Phillipsburg 29 years ago. Their jayvee throttled us the following season -- early in the Roger Barta era. They won their first state championship in 1982 and it sounds like not too many people have beaten any Smith Center football teams since.

    But I do take issue with the premise of the story about I Want Revenge. The horse, his connections and their dispute might reveal much about the inner workings of horse racing. But I don't think it says much at all about the drug culture.

    If on the lookout for a "poster horse" as a springboard for a story about the potential detriments of legal medications, I'd have picked a different horse. I Want Revenge isn't really a springboard for such a story; more like Acapulco cliff-diving.

  9. When I read Joe's piece in NYT, I noted most of the same problems that you did, Glenn. I suspect your commenter who said perhaps Joe was just frustrated by the overuse of drugs in racing, but that is no excuse for sloppy, misleading journalism. That may fly at FauxNews, but it should not at NYT.

    On the other hand, perhaps you weren't quite so constructive either when you said.."a certain number of his audience are, in short, idiots"...While that's doubtless true, on this and virtually every issue regarding Thoroughbred racing the NYT audience--and practically everyone else--is ignorant, even if they are not idiots. Ignorance is just as dangerous to us as idiocy. Unfortunately, Joe's article did nothing to educate them. I felt like he was flailing, venting...not a pretty sight.
    John P. Sparkman

  10. I'll cop to being cruel to a small segment of readers I dubbed "idiots."

    Scott Adams, creator Dilbert, notes that we're all idiots once in awhile, about something. And I'll admit to that, too.

    My point -- perhaps too bluntly made -- is that some people, whether through careless reading or what, are too readily confused or inflamed by such an analogy. It's best to avoid the confusion.

  11. The thesis Joe was drawing attention to is legitimate: We reach for the needle way too many times to cover underlying conditions that should prevent a horse from training and racing - hence we have a far greater frequency of break-downs than other major racing nations. It has reached the point where over-medication is, by way of break-downs and the perception if not the reality of cheating, turning fans away in droves. But, more importantly, it is endangering the animals and the jockeys aboard them. Until we own up to this problem and do something about it, this sport will continue to decline. Banning all steroids and race-day medication, as other major racing nations have already done with great success, would be a good place to start. Parsing an article is fair enough, but more important than that is to consider the issues raised in that article and weigh whether a disservice was done to inviduals or the industry as a whole. If the sources Joe quoted were not what would you call substantive enough, I am sure - if you gave him a chance - he would provide others to support his thesis.

  12. I have written comments on other articles claiming "sportswriters are the cause of racing's demise". This has been apparent for many years. The problem -- the public does not understand what medications "actually" do. The public, themselves, take the very same medications, under different names, to get up in the morning, to go to work, to get their kids off to school, further, give their kids these same med's so they can go to school. The public is "uninformed" in an information prone world. The public DOES NOT UNDERSTAND the the sportswriter does NOT know/understand any more about what they are writng than they do. They are led by the media much like being they led, polically,by the same media.

  13. As Joe Drape noted in the article, there's no requirement for medications disclosure to the general public, i.e., the press. So how often does a reporter actually get to see veterinary bills? Almost never. But in this case, the lengthy and varied list of medications and treatments administered to IWR was made available for review and Drape was justified in jumping on it.

    Mr. Lancelotti, the average reader is not an idiot. Most of us know exactly what each of these medications, taken individually, is supposed to do. And yes, I may occasionally go to work on 1 or 2 of them. But I sit at a desk all day. I certainly wouldn't consider working or breezing on the Churchill Downs track while loaded with all the junk that was shot into IWR.

    Given IWR's post-Wood condition, and given all the medications Northrop administered, Mullins is lucky IWR didn't break down during one of his pre-Derby works.

  14. Are you suggesting that sports writers are over-medicated?

  15. I believe the critiques by this blogger of Joe Drape's story misses essential points and is unfortunately part of the problem.

    Instead of railing against The Times terrible, one-sided approach to racing, which is appalling and instead of going into the referenced material Drape uses to make some of his points, the bottom line is carried in three central issues that cannot and should not be minimized.

    First: Cortico steroids may have a temporary benefit, but they are dangerous in the loing term because they replace natural fluids and repeated use will eventually break down the joints.

    Why they are permitted for racing purposes goes against the idea that steroids have been banned from the sport. Yes, they have therapeutic value, but I repeat and I do not need a Vet Journal to tell me that repeated injections are a danger to man and beast.

    Second: When a high ranking veterinary official can argue that owners are entitled to transparency while the betting public is "NOT", that is is a perversion of transparency to the highest magnitude. It is so insulting that it is worth the entire Times article to see it in glaring print!

    Racing officials who believe the betting public has no right to information privately shared, information that can dramatically affect the performance of a racehorse, should step down from their posts the same day they speak.

    The public is being left in the dark on too many levels, which was a key point in Drape's piece.

    * Finally, the people who defend the sport's shady practices in the name of love for the sport are contributing to the ultimate demise of the game they love. As with baseball, we need more attention to the underbelly of racing not less. We need to prod The Wizards of racing to act as The Wizards of baseball were forced to do--through Jose Canseco's somewhat accurate, somewhat inaccurate-report on steroid use in his sport and by the Congressional hearings that were so effective after 'A Game of Shadows' was published. That book too, had plenty good info and plenty unreliable, misrepresented source material mixed together. That is the nature of reporting controversial material or court cases for that matter Nothing--not even this blog, or my own commentary--- ever gets pieced together without some over reaching phrases and details.

    I think The Times leaves a lot to be desired in its racing coverage and Joe Drape may be pushed into coverage he would himself prefer be more broad. But, this was a very good, very probing story that deserved the light of day and my only hope is that it is not buried under an avalanche of nit picking critiques and in fact helps to awaken The Wizards of racing that they deserve and will get negative press so long as they refuse to seriously tackle the actual over-use of 'therapeutic' drugs for racing purposes. This asbove all else has been hurting the public's negative perception of the sport, not the coverage of it!
    The policies by The Times and other news organizations that have abandoned, or reduced racing coverage (except for the big events and the ever present scandal) were fostered by The Wizards reflexive, head in the sand approach. It is long past time for a change/
    Steve Davidowitz.

  16. Steve: As I've noted above, I'm not saying this issue isn't a story. I'm saying the Times chose the wrong horse and poorly documented the story.

    So I believe they've done a disservice to racing, potentially to the parties involved in the I Want Revenge dispute, and to journalism. That's quite a trifecta.

    If this (or any) story needs to be reported, then do it better.

    The right story, done wrong, is still wrong.

  17. Rock On Steve! Thanks for the sanity.

  18. Anonymous: Would that be the sort of "sanity" which dictates that because the problem is legitimate, the storytelling need not be?

    End justifying means?

  19. The New York Times has an agenda on everything. They will attempt to destroy anything that's in its path that they think is wrong. Drape and Bill Rhoden are two overpaid lackeys.

  20. "The New York Times has an agenda on everything"

    Yes,mostly a Liberal agenda.

    I believe the NYT will be siding with PETA.

    Good piece.

  21. As a former employee of the New York Times company, I can assure you that overpaid, he is not. Steve Davidowitz made the point best. And Frank, once again, sorry that you're so dependent on pharmacology to live your life, but most of us are not. The equine equivalent of teenage athletes do not need a panoply of drugs to compete. Trust me, I DO know. And so does everyone else in Europe.

  22. Good post, S. Davidowitz, as Mr, Craven and this blogger don't have a clue about the dirty secrets of the backside.
    Imperfect a piece as Mr. Drape's may be, like it or not, the article illuminates the fact that not only on a average American cheap track claiming racecard, but for none other than the pinnacle, marquee event, the KY Derby, sore horses are pressured by legal medications to enter the starting gate.
    What may have happened if IWR were a 25Kcl instead of a multimillion dollar stallion prospect is anybody's guess. Maybe Mr. Craven can explain wher Mr. Drape is wrong in trying to illustrate this fact, or how he knows sooo much about racing issues on the backside.

  23. Ok, don't post my comment. The FACTS ARE that you are a tinhorn cub journalist in the backwater of VA with NO knowledge of backside Vet Med at the Grade One level!!
    As a purported journalist, how can you claim to have the audacity to have an opinion on what happens at Churchill Downs on Derby week, moron!

  24. Steve did say it best. Thanks. The story in the Times is what it is; very typical of journalism for as long as I've known it (about 30 years).
    And as an aside, owners do not necessarily see via the monthly bill what medications his/her horses are getting. Lots of them are not mentioned unless the owner specifically asks.
    (They could guess by how high the bill was).
    Also, in England, at least some trainers include ALL vet work in the daily rate.
    Seems they do quite a bit of injecting of joints, amoung other procedures between races.

  25. Wow, the latest anonymous is one of the most obnoxious -- not to mention impatient -- critical cowards I've faced around here yet.

    Do you think I sit here 24/7 waiting to moderate comments?

    I've heard lots of dirty secrets from the backside. I know medications -- legal and illegal -- are a problem for racing, in more ways than just in perception.

    Just because the CAUSE is good, doesn't excuse shabby reporting, poor documentation and picking on a case that, in my mind, doesn't illustrate the problem.

    I never said Joe Drape is wrong for trying to expose problems in racing. I said he did a very poor job of it. (Which brings

    I'll reiterate my statement above: The right story, done wrong, is the wrong story.

    To anyone who is willing to excuse slipshod reporting as a flawed but justifiable means to an end YOU AGREE WITH ... I hope you remember that when someone uses it toward an end WITH WHICH YOU DISAGREE.

  26. So very tired of reading anything Gina Rarick says. She thinks she knows it all because she trains a small stable of horses. Let it be noted she writes blogs for the NYT during the Triple Crown. A blog that is overseen by her buddy Joe Drape.

  27. Great analsis and insights to the weaknesses in the article. However, if the article, with its inaccuracies and all, speeds the day that race day medications are banned, great!

  28. The motives of the writers behind the comments are as interesting as your deconstruction of Mr. Drape's article. This isn't the first time NYT/Drape have addressed the issue (see, and frequently the NYT/Drape pieces have been shoddy, as you point out.

    Mr. Davidowitz suggests that vet records should be made available to the public, but that could lead to more confusion, too. As a "drug free" trainer, Ms Rarick notes, in one of her comments, that she doesn't have a problem with Legend, but does with corticos, whereas Mr. Drape's "transmission fluid" anology ("oil" for Mr. Rarick)paints the same strokes for Legend and corticos.

    However, even with the "oil" or "transmission fluid" medications, there's issues that even Ms. Rarick might take exception with; for instance, administering Legend as a preventive medication is much different than actually injecting hyaluronic acid into a joint; too much of the latter, any vet will tell you, reduces the "shelf life" of the runner. Hyaluronic acid, as bad as it sounds, is part of the sinovial fluid that naturally lubricates joints.

    I don't think Mr. Drape really has a handle on what he's writing about, and your analysis of his piece is on the money, although his "motives" are admirable: to bring light to the prevalent drug issues

  29. As always, Sid, thanks for your perspective.

  30. Alright Craven, Fernando, et al, what are your qualifications to opine on what Mr. Drape is exposing with his excellent piece that was well researched, and why are you so protective of American medication rules?

  31. New "Anonymous:"

    I can understand you questioning my credentials for critiquing Joe Drape on the subject of turf writing. I can't understand your questioning Sid's unless you lack access to Google.

    Nobody here is being "protective of American medication rules," least of all me. I think those rules are highly open to debate. I think the number of race-day meds probably can and should be reduced or even eliminated. ... I'm not an expert on medications, not a vet, etc., but that's my opinion from observation.

    The point of my critique -- if you read halfway closely -- is that I believe Joe Drape DIDN'T do a good job of researching, or at least of documenting, this story. The two papers I note as being linked (I can only presume) as evidence for points being made in the story, don't really address the connected topics sufficiently, if at all. ... Someone else noted that Drape could probably provide "other (sources) to support his thesis." I'm sure he probably could; point is, he NEEDED to.

    Even if you believe Joe Drape's story is on the right track, you should want him to stay ON the tracks. There are so many diversions in that story that the train never reaches its destination.

    The court case involving I Want Revenge has virtually nothing to do with medication rules. As I've noted, the meds are bit players in the conversation. It's a business story, pure and simple, it just happens to involve a horse.

    An element of that story -- or a story on its own -- is the topic of a veterinarian's obligation to provide information. Is it to owner or to trainer? Both separately and equally?

    That discussion on transparency has a second-cousin transparency issue: Whether horseplayers should know more about all the treatments the equine athletes are receiving, before the horseplayer makes his bet. Still, that debate really has little or nothing to do with WHICH meds are legal, rather with whether everybody (media included) should be told everything that's going on with practically every horse, REGARDLESS which meds are legal.

    All of those stories are actually better-told in Drape's piece than was the element that everybody who is criticizing me seems to have WANTED to be told: The allegation that legal meds are leading to America's fatal breakdown rate for racing thoroughbreds. That's a valuable story to pursue, but one that is several degrees of separation apart from the story of I Want Revenge, precisely (as I note) because he's a horse who, when hurt, DIDN'T race and thus DIDN'T break down. He's only dragged into this story (heavily) because the court case provided Drape with vet records a reporter would rarely get to see. Who cares, apparently, whether those records are from a horse that actually serves as an example of the alleged race->injury->med->race->breakdown connection against which Drape is trying to build a case?

    The reports Drape cited might be very useful for certain information or toward a larger goal, but didn't meet the burden of proof as support for the case against legal meds Drape was making.

    And this leads me to Rank Speculation Time: Joe Drape both has a story on Smith Center, Kansas, high school football in his archive at the Times online, AND has published a book on the team. ... I'm wondering whether this I Want Revenge story isn't a (poorly done) mashup of another book idea Drape might have in the works.

    You could tell all the above stories in an entire book on how meds influence the game, tie them together in a less-tangled chain because of the longer format, flesh them all out as they deserve, and make it all make sense.

    Some people believe Drape accomplished that with his Times story. I think they're quite mistaken.

  32. Nicely done, Glenn! Thank you.

  33. Complicated issue, this.

    Glenn's criticism of Drape is accurate and warranted, and while the issue does deserve much greater public scrutiny (as Steve suggests), I don't see how the discussion benefits when poorly framed or constructed.

    It should go without saying that no NY Times article will ever deeply address the major factors that contribute to this complex issue. And I don't know what others' expectations are of Drape, but he's never impressed me with his Thoroughbred related pieces, and this sloppy article is therefore no surprise.

  34. With all due respect, Glenn, you seem to be placing a legalistic 'burden of proof' on the reporter that could only be fulfilled if one had unlimited space, limitless deadlines and a headline writer who captured the absolute essence of a story. As a career journalist of 40 years across three continents, I rarely had the benefit of any of the above. You hold Joe to what I would deem an impossibly lofty standard to the point that I feel positively embarrassed in looking back at some of my volleys from the ink-stained trenches. Under time and space constraints and at the mercy of headline writers, one can too often feel the end product is inadequate and imperfect.

    Joe's article is what it is. Like some of your own offerings I am sure, it is less than perfect. But it is laudable in my mind because it touches a number of issues critical to the survival of the racing industry. Unlike you perhaps, when I read an article in the New York Times or my local newspaper, I am not expecting to find a scholarly dissertation with everything in context and every 'i' dotted and every 't' crossed all in the space of 700 words (or less, commonly, these days.) And crowned by a wonderfully comprehensive and insightful headline. I have threatened to assault too many headline writers to believe that even the NY Times is perfect in this regard.

    Also, as a matter of fair play, I would have approached the article differently. (Am I permitted to be critical of the blog host?) I was trained that when you are writing an article critical of a person or organization, you give them the opportunity to answer that criticism before publication, even it is within an opinion column. (In Australia and Britain at least, newspaper lawyers will insist that you do, given the level of burden upon the reporter in defamation lawsuits!) Did you give Joe an opportunity to answer your criticism or to explain why the article appeared as it did? I have corresponded with Joe by email before, and, while I don't know him in person, he was gracious and patient enough to proffer a reply and state his reasons for writing what he did.

    It seems to me you are vilifying a reporter and a publication here without, to throw in an Aussie expression, 'giving them a fair go,' before publishing your invective, if not after.

    All the best,

    So I read and accept what Joe wrote in the spirit it was written and if he did not source the story to high legalistic standards

  35. No, Graeme, I'm not expecting any legalistic burden of proof.

    I'm saying that if Joe Drape makes a claim -- for example, that "There is a consensus among equine researchers and surgeons that legal medications and cortisone shots, over time, leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown" -- then the expert testimony to which the New York Times directly links should be the work of a group and not an individual (it isn't) and should address and support that specific claim, directly and I should hope extensively (it doesn't).

    As for contacting Joe Drape first, no, I did not. Perhaps we've become less gentlemanly about things over here since the days of naming seconds and allowing the source of the perceived offense to have his choice of weapon: Swords or pistols.

    Joe very well might have e-mailed me right back. I might have been able to write my criticism having already heard his defense. But I certainly don't feel obligated to have done so.

    His work is in the New York Times. It shouldn't be so readily shot full of holes.

    And on such note -- that I might merely be shooting the messenger who carries an important dispatch from the front lines of racing's backside -- I have taken more than a few such bullets through the years and have the scars to prove it. ... Goes with the territory.

  36. Here's why you are mistaken, Glenn and also how someone such as Mr. Fernando, who has been involved in the game all his life may still not understand what goes on in the daily care of tens of thousands of racehorses scattered around America.

    Let's play flow chart here:
    1) Absentee, oft uninformed OWNERS, who invariably pressure trainers to get a horse to the winners circle. Pay (usually) vet bills without always understanding what is actually being treated.
    2)TRAINERS, who make a 10%+ commission of purse money, wanting to get a horse to the winners circle. May or may not be totally honest with owners about a horse's true physical condition
    3) Racing VETS, whose livelihood is enhanced by injecting more "stuff" and selling more "stuff" in as many barns as possible, often use different treatment strategies in every client's barn, for instance, taking a conservative approach in a good horseman's barn, then going into the aggressively medicating horseman's barn who has a long track record of breaking down horses and not caring about it, then billing owner with a medical record that is highly confidential.
    4) A racing association who wants to keep breakdowns of horses as quiet as possible. These records can also be difficult to access.
    5) A fan base that is ever more turned off by high profile breakdowns of racehorse on TV, or anywhere. Barbaro, George Washington, Fleet Indian, Pine Island, Eight Belles. Outstanding horsemen all.
    6) Medications testing that allow joint to be injected, or cortisone to be administered in any fashion(IV,IM,IA, you name it) even on raceday!
    7) Racetrack culture demands secrecy regarding problems
    8) you find it hard to believe racing vets, even at the highest level, want to lose the income made from injecting cortisone/acid? Think they have anything bad to say about dollars made with anti-inflammatories? Think again
    These are our players.

    Now, take horse A with a problem ankle. Biggest race for owner, trainer, vet who needs to get horse in the gate. Problem goes undiagnosed for a month!! But injections given, all under control, blah blah blah. Media scrutiny, questions being asked, ankle injected twice! one being four days before Derby! Unbelieveable? Think again. More intense media scrutiny, livelihoods at stake, not to mention the horse's, OnCall expert vet shows up Derby! morning, problem diagnosed, horse scratched, plug pulled, America saved at the Eleventh Hour from another horror show. Thank You, Dr. Bramlage.

    Glenn, you may have all the journalistic critiques of Drape's article you want, but with nobody in this business willing to talk about it's problems, he is quite hamstrung on what he can print. I for one, think the lawsuit does expose some faultlines regarding vet records and their secrecy, and how American medication rules are probably regarded as a bad joke in international racing circles.

  37. You're too free to forgive a considerable amount of bad sourcing and dot-connection via dotted rather than unbroken lines in the name of proving a worthy point.

    And for someone who laments that "nobody in this business (is) willing to talk about it's problems," it would be beneficial for me and the readers here to know more about your own background and expertise (other than your apparent proximity to Big Sandy). Otherwise, well, we're still sort of hearing from "nobody."

    I do welcome criticism, particularly if it is accompanied by disclosure.

  38. Steve Davidowitz was right about the nitpicking. Maybe Drape didn't cite best evidence - ok - so I'd like to know who among nationally known turf writers is doing in-depth investigative reporting on the relationship between medications and breakdowns - fatal or otherwise. At least Drape has furthered the discussion and copied IWR's medical bill to a wide audience - I certainly haven't seen the bill linked on the BloodHorse!

    Did you actually look at the long list of drugs given IWR between the Wood and the Derby. IWR was injected with bute and Adequan, both painkillers, on April 13 - on April 14 he breezed 1/2 mile. He was injected again with bute and a tranquilizer on April 15 and more bute on April 17 and more Adequan on April 20. Then no painkillers for 8 days. On April 28, he had a "bullet work" of 4f in 47.2 and he also had a injection of bute and more tranquilizer. Then Robaxin (another, stronger, painkiller) on April 30, DMSO (a natural painkiller) and Banamine (ANOTHER PAINKILLER) and more bute on May 1.

    And here's something odd about the record - Northrop testified that IWR was injected with Vetalog - a corticosteroid - on April 15, but no Vetalog injection appears on the bill for that day. There was a 3rd injection noted that day, but it's not Vetalog.

    The Vetalog might create the appearance of improvement; steroids notably mask underlying problems. Maybe that's why IWR was able to go without pain meds between the 20th and 28th.

    Leaving aside the painkillers, there were so many other medications, each causing or countering side effects produced by the others.

    Do you really think it was acceptable to give all this medication to a horse who was also being worked as his leg was being treated?

    If IWR had been allowed to heal - given time to heal - maybe he'd have come back. But he wasn't allowed to heal - Northrop jammed him full of everything but the kitchen sink and probably would have thrown in the kitchen sink if he thought it would get IWR to the track on Derby Day.

    The increased use of pain medications after the second work argues that the second work worsened IWR's condition - and it also argues that Northrop and Mullins both knew it.

    Was anyone on the IWR team exercising common sense? Looking at the medical record, I don't think so. Especially NOT the vet. Whatever Mullins wanted, Northrop was ethically responsible for IWR's health and soundness. No wonder he opposes disclosure.

    So why was Drape's story not illustrative of the relationship between legal meds and breakdowns? IWR "worked" while on all those drugs and his injury worsened. Does a breakdown have to occur on raceday and be fatal? IWR's racing career is certainly dead.

  39. I agree it would be splitting hairs to argue that working an injured horse isn't dangerous, just as racing him is dangerous. There certainly was a lot of vet care being poured into I Want Revenge, and seem to be some discrepancies in the records.

    You have made a case that I Want Revenge is a better example for Drape's story than I gave him credit for being. Still assumptions are being made.

    For instance, certainly something was wrong with the horse for him to need painkillers and other treatments following the Wood Memorial. Yet something about the horse was "right" if he went eight days without painkillers and then fired the 47.2. Perhaps Jeff Mullins and his team felt that whatever ailment the horse had, was fixed? ... Then it cropped up again and the treatment became more aggressive.

    Oh, hell no, the horse didn't need to be racing in the Derby. Not if he was in need of so many painkillers in the short days and hours prior. ... But, then again, he didn't race.

    In this thread of comments, Foster Northrop is being portrayed as needle-wielding opportunist and Larry Bramlage as a savior of the horse. Yet Drape reports that both Northrop and Bramlage "described I Want Revenge’s maladies and treatments in the month before the Derby as minor and routine for a top-caliber racehorse. Both also testified that the colt’s X-rays and ultrasounds were perfect, and that I Want Revenge did not show any signs of lameness until the morning of the Derby."

    So both vets are telling the same story. If Larry Bramlage is a hero in this case, is he a hero who is willing to lie for Foster Northrop and Jeff Mullins?

    Even if we're willing to speculate that without 11th-hour intervention, I Want Revenge would've raced, broken down, and died on Derby Day, Drape's supporting documents for some of his most definitive accusations are insufficient; it could be argued, dishonest.

    Drape's claiming a "consensus" based on one person's testimony, and the Times' linking to a paper as supporting some of Drape's other claims ("lax oversight, etc.") that doesn't appear to address or support those claims, are not minor flaws, forgivable in the entire well-meaning context.

    They're mistakes that shouldn't see print.

  40. I haven't seen the vet bill to which one of the "anonymous" people referred to, but the use of Legend and Adequan for preventive joint problem management is common and a good thing. Adequan is administered IM; Legend IV. As I noted in my earlier post, this is different from actually injecting a joint with hyaluronic acid or cortisone. When the latter procedure is done, however, it takes about 7 to 10 days for maximum effect.

  41. At the risk of beating a dead horse...

    I commented above as "Anonymous". I've since opened google account - I'm the one who took a close look at IWR's medical record.

    One of your comments in reply to my post was "...certainly something was wrong with the horse for him to need painkillers and other treatments following the Wood Memorial. Yet something about the horse was "right" if he went eight days without painkillers and then fired the 47.2. Perhaps Jeff Mullins and his team felt that whatever ailment the horse had, was fixed:"

    It occurred to me that you missed my reference to a Vetalog injection Northrop gave IWR on 4/15 (it didn't appear on the IWR invoice).

    I've since done a little research on Vetalog. It would have been impossible for Northrop to know the true condition of IWR's leg on 4/28 when Mullins worked the horse. IWR may have seemed fine without actually being fine, and Northrop would have known it, but apparently decided to hope for the best and risk further injury to the horse.

    A "Doctors Foster & Smith" website article on steroids states that Vetalog (a glucocorticoid, which is a type of corticosteroid) is effective for up to 2 weeks.

    "The Horse" website article on steroid by Michael Ball, DVM, says " should be remembered that if the corticosteroids are being given for a musculoskeletal problem, a signficant masking of pain can occur. Continued exercise of injured tissue might not be in the best interest of the horse."

    The "Doctors Foster & Smith" article said: "In most instances, the beneficial actions of glucocorticoids only suppress the harmful effects of the disorders (e.g. allergies) while they are being used. As soon as these medications are withdrawn, the problem may reappear. They can, in some cases, suppress the body's actions long enough for tissues to heal correctly on their own, but the steroids play no part in the actual repair, and in some cases can actually delay healing."

    The DF&S article also said: "Most veterinarians today prefer not to use the long-acting injectable products like triamcinolone (Vetalog)..."

    Given the Vetalog injection on 4/15 (which requires some days to take effect, hence the continued need for painkillers through 4/20), it makes perfect sense that IWR might have looked and felt great when he went to work on 4/28 - less than 2 weeks after the injection. A responsible vet should have made it clear to Mullins et al that they shouldn't work the horse on the 28th because it was too soon to know whether the leg had actually recovered. Instead, Northrop apparently crossed his fingers and hoped for the best and whatever was wrong after the Wood got worse.

    Finally, you wonder whether anyone believes it likely that Bramlage and Northrop colluded in a lie. I doubt it. I think they engaged in Clintonian parsing of the word "lameness." Maybe to them, lameness is something more than swelling and/or heat in the leg and/or evidencing pain. Maybe to them, when you inject a horse's leg with Vetalog and his symptoms disappear, you believe you have "cured" whatever injury the horse presented that occasioned the Vetalog injection and Q.E.D. the horse can't be lame.

    So I don't think they lied within whatever linguistic universe vets inhabit. But to my mind they are needle-wielding villains, both of them. Both say IWR's maladies were minor and his treatments routine. If it's routine to inject a horse with a long-acting, pain-masking drug that can delay healing, and send the horse to work under the influence of that drug, then something is very wrong with the routine practice of veterinary medicine on race horses.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.