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Polo horses to be drug tested

11/4/2009

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Random drug tests will begin next
year for horses in polo matches in the U.S. after the deaths of 21
elite horses in Florida that were injected with an incorrectly
mixed supplement shortly before a championship match, the United
States Polo Association said Wednesday.

The decision was made last month to begin a pilot program for
testing horses starting in January, said association spokeswoman
Amber Owen.

The Lexington, Ky.-based organization put together a committee
to study the possibility of testing shortly after the South Florida
deaths in April. The random testing will be mandatory.

Horses from the Venezuelan-owned Lechuza Caracas team began
collapsing April 19 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in
Wellington as they were unloaded from trailers before the match.
Some died at the scene, others hours later.

Florida's top veterinarian later ruled the deaths were caused by
an overdose of a common mineral that helps muscles recover from
fatigue. Dr. Thomas J. Holt said at the time that toxicology tests
on the dead horses showed significantly increased selenium levels.

A Florida pharmacy that mixed the brew of vitamins and minerals
for the team has acknowledged that the strength of selenium was
incorrect in the product it delivered. The compound also contained
vitamin B, potassium and magnesium, and is similar to a name-brand
supplement known as Biodyl, which is used around the world in the
sport to help horses recover from fatigue. It hasn't been approved
by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S.

The Lechuza horses had been injected with the compounded
substance just hours before they began dying.

John Wash, president of club operations at the polo facility in
Wellington, said he doesn't see a need for drug testing, but is
happy to support anything that will better the sport.

"I never knew of a problem in polo where testing was needed,
but our goal has always been for the welfare of the rider and the
horse," Wash said Wednesday. "If somehow it can better the sport,
than we're in favor of it."