A special breed

Despite foot problems, steroids, he will be in demand as stud

Big Brown

June 06, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

Whether or not Big Brown wins the Triple Crown tomorrow, the 3-year-old colt will have an active - and lucrative - post-racing career in the breeding shed.

Never mind that he has a history of foot problems that surfaced again last week with a now famous quarter crack in his left front hoof.

Forget the admission of trainer Rick Dutrow that the colt gets a dose of the anabolic steroid Winstrol once a month, although he told The New York Times that Big Brown skipped his May dose.

And disregard the fact Big Brown's sire had an eight-race career, shortened by injury, punctuated with foot problems.

The winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness already has a syndication deal reportedly worth more than $50 million. Once he is retired from the track, he likely will command a stud fee of $100,000 for at least two years.

He has demolished his competition, winning five races by a combined 39 lengths. No horse has threatened his Triple Crown campaign. Big Brown is so enchanting that not even quarter cracks or steroids would scare off Reiley McDonald, a partner of Eaton Sales Inc. in Lexington, Ky., and a well-respected bloodstock adviser.

"What we've seen is a horse that has taken on the best of his crop of over 35,000 and beaten them all handily in spectacular style," McDonald said. "He's won the second leg, which shows some durability.

"If he can carry that over a mile and a half [in the Belmont Stakes], it does make him somewhat of a super horse. So who wouldn't want to breed to him?"

McDonald, a native of Upperco, considers a quarter crack injury "a glorified hangnail. ... To link it to a genetic weakness would be a real stretch."

Steroids are another matter.

"Winstrol once a month is pretty standard," he said. "I think the first and easiest step this business can take following the Kentucky Derby is to ban use of steroids at the racetrack. It's needed and it will have positive ramifications.

"That said, would the fact the horse has been on Winstrol [discourage him from breeding to Big Brown]? Absolutely not."

It would, however, give pause to Dr. William Solomon, a veterinarian and breeder who owns Pin Oak Lane Farm near New Freedom, Pa.

"The use of anabolic steroids [in horses] isn't that much different than it is in [human] athletes," Solomon said. "It's something that should be a concern and something that should stop."

Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, wants to see the return of durable, sound horses to the industry. He said a lot of horse owners are getting out because too many buy yearlings from a fashionable sire, only to have them suffer an injury the first time they breeze.

That, in fact, happened to Finley's syndicate.

"We gave $575,000 for a 2-year-old, and he looked like nobody on Earth could beat him," Finley said. "As good as he looked, as good as he breezed in the quarter-mile, he hasn't run since, and that was a year ago. I was taught some lessons there."

Finley said horsemen need to send a message they won't ignore issues of soundness when it's time to pay stud fees.

Nevertheless, the use of steroids also has its proponents. Some trainers have found that steroids help build muscle and also help horses maintain their appetites during training.

Dr. Dan Dreyfuss, a veterinarian who services the Pimlico and Laurel tracks, disputes the widely held belief that steroids enhance performance in horses. He said a dose of Winstrol once a month is in line with the manufacturer's recommended guidelines and approved by the FDA.

"I don't think it enhances performance, I think it enables horses to continue to perform," he said.

But have steroids made Big Brown a super horse?

"No, because tens of thousands of horses get anabolic steroids, and we're looking at a horse trying to do something that hasn't been done in 30 years," he said. "To say that is flawed logic."

Big Brown's sire, Boundary, had eight races before injuries, including chronic quarter cracks, ended his career. Bill Mott, Boundary's trainer, told the Louisville Courier-Journal he had "a lot of soundness issues," particularly with his feet.

Even if quarter cracks aren't heritable, as Dreyfuss said, there could be a connection with other foot problems.

"I have experience with several stallions who had foot problems," said Dr. Tom Bowman, a veterinarian and partner of Northview Stallion Station. "And those foot problems very often are reflected in offspring, although not quarter cracks per se."

Still, the allure of a horse with a turn of foot like Big Brown's is often too much to resist.

"When it comes to horses that have outstanding racing careers, I think most breeders are willing to overlook certain structural flaws with the hope of achieving the same kind of success in this horse's offspring," Bowman said.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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