Bramlage Issues Statement on Racehorse Medications, Injuries

In the wake of a New York Times article and an NBC Nightly News segment focused on injuries and medications in the horse racing industry, Larry Bramlage, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, who served as the American Association of Equine Practitioners' (AAEP) On-Call veterinarian for this year's Triple Crown races, has issued a statement on the topic.

Bramlage released his statement through Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Ky., where he serves as the chief orthopedic surgeon.

According to the statement's introduction, released July 13, "The Times alleges that 'powerful painkillers' were given to the horse, and that X rays taken of the colt's joints prior to his withdrawal indicate a much more severe problem. The author also alleges that the practice of running horses with high doses of drugs to overcome painful injuries is common practice in Thoroughbred racing."

Bramlage--a member of the Jockey Club, and past president of the AAEP and the American College of Veterinary Surgeons--subsequently provided an interview to NBC news anchor Brian Williams "in an attempt to more accurately inform the public about health and safety practices in racing.

"Dr. Bramlage became concerned following the release of that segment that the public did not have all the facts regarding the issues presented by the Times and NBC," the statement's introduction read.

"In my opinion, the New York Times piece published on July 11 titled 'I'll Have Another had history of ailments, records show' was closer to tabloid journalism than in-depth reporting, as was the selective editing demonstrated on the July 11 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams," Bramlage said in his statement.

"In reality, statistics given by the Times that 24 horses break down each week on American racetracks was calculated based on a number of questionable assumptions including, the inclusion of 'eased' designations and equine ambulance pick-ups after a race as indications of injury, a procedure that is often, in fact, precautionary. Our increased awareness of equine injuries has increased the number of times that we help the horse off the track, but those are not necessarily indications that the horse has had a serious problem. In fact, statistics indicate the number of Thoroughbred injuries has trended downward with the increased caution.

"The misinterpretation of the medical terminology 'osteoarthritis' and the substitution of 'major painkillers' for anti-inflammatory medications is unfair to the uninformed general public. It's useful only to sell newspapers, not to allow the public to understand what actually happened for the horse. The phenylbutazone given to I'll Have Another is from the same drug group as aspirin and ibuprofen in humans, can't be given to a horse within 24 hours of a race, and is tested for with blood and urine samples at all levels of the sport. Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid used as an anti-inflammatory as well.

"There have been 11 horses that have won two of the three legs of the Triple Crown in the last 33 years. I would guess that almost all of those horses had X rays after winning the second leg as a monitoring, precautionary measure. That's routine veterinary care, and would be akin to the kind of examinations that human Olympic athletes who just qualified in the U.S. championships will undergo prior to competing in the Olympics at the end of July.

"While veterinary ethics preclude us from speculating on I'll Have Another's case specifically as we were not the attending veterinarian, the records provided to New York State Racing and Wagering Board do not indicate anything inappropriate," Bramlage concluded. "No illegal, unprofessional, or medically unwarranted medication was given to this horse. We totally agree with the approach that Dr. Jim Hunt (DVM), attending veterinarian, took to get this horse ready for a possible Triple Crown run."

View the New York Times article here.

View the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams segment here.

View's related coverage here.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More