Nothing seems to have gone right for the present dispensation at the Bangalore Turf Club. The Managing Committee has faced one problem or the other and the relative lack of experience and arrogance of the others has put the club in limelight for all the wrong reasons.
Notwithstanding all the negativity about the committee, it is now left to contend with the serious problem of a breach of medication rules which will have a far-reaching impact on the way the sport is conducted in Bangalore. The maturity that the management can show in handling the matter will be under scrutiny. The matter has the potential to explode in its face.
Rafa who is a five-year-old male horse was given a female hormone with the pharmacological name of the drug being Premarin. The drug consists of pregnant mare`s urine which is how the name is derived. It is used to boost estrogen levels in females post their menopause stages. One does not know the efficacy of the drug in preventing bleeding of horses during a race. But some traditional vets and trainers believe that Premarin does help and use it despite the use of hormones having been banned at the turn of the century. Hormones are equated with the use of steroids. One is not sure whether Premarin is used only for preventing bleeding or for other purposes as well. There is no reported use of this medication officially in the veterinary hospitals run by the clubs all over India according to a retired senior vet. There are also no drug positives for Premarin.
Most people in the know say that the drug has been used to prevent bleeding during a race. Horses tend to bleed due to exertion and traces of blood can be seen in the lungs in all horses which race if one were to scope the horse. There are horses which cannot take the pressure of the race and they tend to bleed more aggressively which manifests through blood coming out through the nostrils. Horses which have these problems are categorised and the ones who are prone to bleeding almost on every occasion, are called chronic bleeders. Bleeding is also caused by various factors apart from the stress of racing like lack of preparedness, underfoot conditions, infection et al. While the conditions in some horses are temporary, in the others it becomes chronic. As such, medications which can prevent bleeding are much in demand in racing. Lasix is the traditionally accepted medication though horses are not permitted to race with Lasix administration close to race time.
Rafa has been in the news for all the wrong reasons on three occasions. Rafa won a graded race as a three-year-old two years ago at Hyderabad and the urine test came positive for testosterone. Rafa was not disqualified because since Rafa being a rig, there was a possibility of the body producing this component. Rafa came positive during the summer season of 2017 for Procaine Penicillin for six nanograms. Reporting levels for this drug is 10 nanograms but the Delhi testing lab which was a recent addition was unaware of the protocols and declared the horses as positive for six nanograms. When the second sample was sent to an international lab, it came as negative because these labs follow the international protocol of 10 nanograms for any horse to be declared positive because at the level the drug is said to be pharmacologically active. The trainer was lucky that no action was taken on him for both these infringements while Neil Darashah lost his license despite his horse having tested for only 1.4 nanograms. This was because of the cover-up allegations orchestrated by the members of the turf club. At worst of times, the trainer might have suffered a punishment of 15 days. The club politics ensured that the matter was blown out of proportion. The present Managing Committee did nothing to dispel that notion and actively encouraged such a view to scoring brownie points.
Trainer Dominic has said during the enquiry that he was aware that Premarin was given to Rafa but was ignorant that the drug was banned because it was a female hormone. The treating private veterinarian Satish also confessed during the enquiry that he was not aware of the fact that the drug had been banned. Hormones have been under the banned category for nearly two decades now. The trainer must take all welfare measures as the horses are under his charge and he needs to educate himself about the pros and cons of any treatment. Unfortunately, in law ignorance is not an excuse to escape the consequences.
Premarin is a controversial drug which is used to treat a woman for the problems they face post their menopause. How this drug is being used on horses itself is a mystery. In humans, the risks reportedly outweigh the benefits. In 2002, the Women`s Health Initiative (WHI) study of more than 16,000 women using Prempro, was abruptly halted by the federal government after it concluded that HRT raises a woman`s risk of having a stroke by 41 percent, risk of suffering a heart attack by 29 percent, and risk of getting breast cancer by 26 percent. More than 5,000 personal injury lawsuits filed by more than 8,000 women who took Prempro or Premarin are pending in US Courts. Unfortunately, it is hard to find any reported cases of the reaction of horses anywhere in the world.
The BTC Stewards must show great resolve in ensuring that we have drug free racing. Either by ignorance or with the deliberate intention to profit, horses are cruelly subjected to banned substances. Since the club`s veterinary department functions like a government organ, the pressure from authorities often prevents the vets from acting with courage and conviction. The onus is now on the Stewards to protect the integrity of the sport. Unfortunately, drug-free racing is only a hope.