“There is a frog in South America whose venom is a cure
For all the suffering that mankind must endure
More powerful than morphine and soothing as the rain
A frog in South America has the antidote for pain”
(Paul Simon, “Senorita With a Necklace of Tears”)
We’ve long known that bad trainers will inject practically any substance to make their horses move faster. Cobra venom, cocaine, Viagra, yes, but last year, a new dope du jour surfaced in at least four states – pharmaceutical name, dermorphin, but owing to its amphibian origin, “frog juice” will suffice.
Here’s the thing, though, this Class 1 drug is 40 times more powerful than morphine. 40 times. So, not only does it (obviously) obliterate pain, but as Oklahoma State professor of pharmacology Craig Stevens tells The New York Times (6/19/12), it also causes the horse to “have feelings of excitation and euphoria.” Numb and rabid, exactly what you want in an animal whip-forced to run at breakneck speed.
On a single day in May 2012, 8 New Mexico Quarter Horses tested positive for dermorphin after running trial heats for the lucrative All American Futurity. In Louisiana, 11 horses (from 9 different trainers). Oklahoma, 15. And in Nebraska, trainer Kim Veerhusen was suspended for doping his befittingly named Cheatin Cowboy with the opioid.
Jeffrey Heath Reed was one of the naughty New Mexicans. But while awaiting a second-lab verification, he was allowed to continue racing. Three months later, two of his charges broke down and died competing in another round of Futurity heats. One, 2-year-old Jess a Zoomin, was among the frog-juiced in May. Reed’s suspension at last arrived that fall. For this miscreant masquerading as a professional, the final count included four dermorphin positives (a fifth, Jess a Zoomin’s, was dismissed on a technicality) and two for the anabolic steroid stanozolol.
The picture below was snapped after Reed was suspended. He holds a koozie from “Racing Free,” an organization committed to eliminating illegal doping. Wow.
The following, unless otherwise noted, were “vanned off” American tracks this week.
4-year-old Alert Warrior, Parx, race 2 (“took several bad steps while in apparent distress…ran loose before being captured and was vanned off”)
4-year-old South Beach Queen, Parx, race 9 (“pulled up in apparent distress…and was vanned off”)
5-year-old Mona’s Thunder, Suffolk Downs, race 3
4-year-old Czar Rd, Zia Park, race 1
3-year-old Sonic Dancer died yesterday afternoon at Keeneland. In race 6, the colt snapped his right leg and threw jockey Calvin Borel in the process. Because the stricken Borel was in harm’s way, the race was stopped, declared a no-contest. Mr. Borel appears to be fine (relative to the horse, that is). According to the DRF’s Byron King, the broken Sonic Dancer ran, presumably on adrenaline, “for a couple furlongs after unseating Borel.” Imagine that.
The death in Kentucky would have passed unnoticed if not for the dinged up Hall of Famer. There exists no chart, no video, and nothing on the Keeneland website save for an update on Borel’s condition. In fact, the DRF article doesn’t mention the kill until the second-to-last sentence.
A tweet from the jockey’s wife says, “Prayers to the connections of the fallen horse, and thanks to God above for keeping Boo from further harm today.” Apparently, God was too busy to also protect Sonic Dancer, but I’m sure if we pray hard enough, his “connections” will overcome their grief.
As you’ve probably noticed, I am now regularly reporting all Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses vanned off American tracks after actual races (training accidents are closely guarded secrets). One pro-racing reader took umbrage at the implication, arguing that not every horse who is vanned off is destroyed. While technically true, in an industry that does all it can to squelch ugliness, calling for the ambulance in full public view is an option of last resort, typically reserved for horses in distress. Fragile from the start, a racehorse unable to walk back to the barn is a bad omen.
In any event, it is equally true that catching a ride with the paramedics is not a prerequisite for euthanasia. A recent case in point, courtesy of the sadly unique NYS database:
5-year-old Congaree King ran the 4th race at Finger Lakes last Tuesday, finishing 8th (out of 9). The chart notes were unremarkable: “broke sluggishly, lagged back four wide on the turn and tired.” That’s it. Now, he is dead. The database: “appeared lame after race-x-rays next day revealed Fx LF leg.” This is the 34th kill of the year at Finger Lakes.