Sports Outside the Beltway

Polo horses in United States to have random drug tests

I’m astonished that there was no testing program in place already. Race horses are tested extensively. From AP-

The U.S. Polo Association has quietly moved to start randomly drug testing horses, months after 21 prized ponies dropped dead in South Florida.

The horses, belonging to a Venezuelan team, died in April as they stepped off trailers before a championship match. The state veterinarian has blamed it on an overdose of a common mineral that helps muscles recover from fatigue. Before the match, they were given a concoction of vitamin supplements mixed by a local pharmacy.

A pilot testing program is expected to be in place by January 2010. That is when the next polo season begins.


Officials blame mineral overdose in polo horse deaths

Local prosecutors say this isn’t a criminal matter. From AP-

Florida officials say a mineral overdose is the probable cause of death for 21 polo horses that fell ill as they prepared for a championship match earlier this month.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said Tuesday the animals likely overdosed on selenium, a common mineral that can be toxic in high doses.

The horses from the Venezuelan-owned Lechuza Caracas team began collapsing as they were unloaded from trailers at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington. Some died at the scene, others hours later. All 21 horses were dead by the next day.

The toxicology results say the animals had “significantly increased selenium levels.”

How much significantly increased? Ten to twenty times the normal amount Dr. John Harvey a University of Florida veterinarian tells The Palm Beach Post.

Citing anonymous sources, an Argentine newspaper reported last week that the supplements included 5 milligrams per milliliter of selenium instead of 0.5 milligrams. Harvey said the horses’ blood and livers contained 10 to 20 times the normal amount of selenium.

The Florida Department of Agriculture declined to offer any details of the ongoing probe.

The poisioning of these horses had to take place over a period of time. A one-time dosage I think wouldn’t have caused those levels to occur.

The question that stumps Harvey is unlikely to be solved by the ongoing investigation into who is responsible for the bad batch of supplements that killed the polo ponies. His question is less complicated.

Why, he wondered Tuesday after the test results were announced, would anyone inject a benign but unnecessary supplement into healthy horses?

“I’m not sure why one needs a mixture like this,” Harvey said, referring to a generic version of Biodyl that became lethal when too much selenium was added. “I’m sitting here saying, ‘Why give them intravenous vitamins?’ I would recommend a good balanced diet.”

Humans usually out of ignorance give themselves drugs and vitamins they think are good for them, when they are of no benefit or even detrimental. Why should their behavior be any different when it comes to animals?


Pharmacy admits it incorrectly mixed supplement linked to deaths of 21 horses

The death of 21 polo ponies last weekend has been big news here in Palm Beach County. Why it happened is slowly coming forth. From the Palm Beach Post-

A top official of an Ocala-based pharmacy today admitted that it incorrectly mixed a medication that was given to 21 horses that mysteriously collapsed and died last weekend.

Jennifer Beckett, chief operations officer for Franck’s Pharmacy, said an internal investigation revealed that the strength of an ingredient in the medication was flawed. In a written statement, she did not name the medication or the ingredient involved.

“We will cooperate fully with the authorities as they continue their investigations,” she wrote. “Because of the ongoing investigations, we cannot discuss further details about this matter at this time.”

This pharmacy is in for a world of trouble. Not just for potential liability in the deaths of these animals.

In a letter to polo team veterinarian Dr. James Belden, an attorney representing the insurer of a company owned by Victor Vargas, says its investigation revealed that a generic compounded version of Biodyl was administered to 12 ponies prior to their deaths before a match at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Sunday. It is unclear why the letter references only 12; 21 horses are believed to have received the supplement.

Attorney William Gericke wrote that Belden ordered the compound from Franck’s Pharmacy in Ocala.

“Since you ordered the Biodyl from Franck’s Pharmacy that was administered to the horses, I believe there may be a possibility that my client may look to you as a party who has some responsibility for the loss,” Gericke wrote.

Biodyl, a vitamin supplement that is banned in the United States, emerged as a possible culprit in the deaths when Lechuza Caracas’ team captain polo told an Argentine newspaper it was administered to the horses.

But the Lechuza Caracas team issued a statement today clarifying that Biodyl wasn’t used in the horses, but rather a generic version created by Franck’s Pharmacy.

The pharmacy was mixing drug not allowed in this country. Horse owners were administering it to the animals. Federal prosecutors are almost certain to get involved with this. The pharmacy and horse owners were dealing in a drug that is illegal in the United States and with drug laws like they are, I can’t see how some people won’t up doing serious jail time if the story reported above is true.


Three polo players banned for throwing match

Only in Palm Beach County would this rate as front page sports news.

WELLINGTON — No player in the history of polo has won more U.S. Opens than Memo Gracida.

And while this year’s Open was supposed to be a final hurrah for the 50-year-old Hall of Famer, the International Polo Club Palm Beach made a bold statement on Thursday, banning Gracida and two of his teammates from La Herradura from playing at the club for the rest of the year after the team threw Wednesday’s match against Lechuza Caracas.

The club is hosting the U.S. Open, meaning Gracida can’t participate in polo’s most prestigious event.

La Herradura lost to Lechuza Caracas 18-7 in the USPA Piaget Gold Cup semifinals, the sport’s second largest tournament behind the Open.

Jimmy Newman, the director of polo operations, said it was clear that La Herradura was purposely giving up goals.

By losing Wednesday’s match by at least 10 goals, La Herradura would have been placed in a bracket that it considered more favorable for the U.S. Open.

“They were positioning themselves in the next tournament,” Newman said.

The Polo Club banned Gracida, his son, Julio, 19, and Kris Kampsen, 26, Newman said. The team’s fourth player, Fred Mannix Jr., left the field less than a minute into the match, deciding he didn’t want to be part of it. The team replaced Mannix with J.J. Celis. Mannix will not be penalized by the Polo Club.

“It was pretty obvious that one team was not trying to win,” Newman said. “The club is making a statement that we’re just not going to have it.”

Newman said that La Herradura did not break any official rule, but the club still felt action was necessary.

“Those two teams were pretty evenly matched,” Newman said. “If they both played hard, it would have been hard to pick a winner. It certainly was not a 10-goal spread.”


After Crab Orchard defeated Bend About 14-5 Wednesday, La Herradura had to lose by 10 or more goals to enter the U.S. Open as the fourth-place team. Bend About and La Herradura were going to finish as the third and fourth teams heading into the Open, and whichever team lost by more goals in the Gold Cup would be the Open’s fourth-place team.

“We weren’t going to tolerate something like this,” Newman said.

If players or a team have an incentive to lose, they’re going to do just that. These players’ actions were wrong, but the Club shouldn’t be surprised by their happenning.


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