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Monday, March 25, 2019

Bisphosphonates Ban: Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Ban Off-Label Use of Popular Navicular Disease Medication in Young Thoroughbreds



Bisphosphonates are a type of medication used to treat osteoporosis in humans. They have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration since 2014 for treatment of navicular disease in horses older than four. Research in Europe, conducted by Professor Jean-Marie Denoix and others, has also investigated the possible expanded use of one bisphosphonate, tiludronate (Tildren) for other lameness problems, such as bone spavin and osteoarthritic lesions of the thoracolumbar vertebral column. Professor Denoix also led the initial research on Tildren for navicular disease in older horses.
The drugs are only approved for use in older horses in the US; the Thoroughbred industry has been struggling with the off-label use of them in younger horses being prepared for sales. In the United Kingdom, a rule passed in 2017 states "any horse to which therapeutic bisphosphonates are administered under the age of three years and six months will not be qualified to run under the BHA Rules of Racing at any point in its life".

On Saturday, the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association (CBA) in California issued a statement calling the use of bisphosphonates in young Thoroughbreds "unacceptable". The issue of bisphosphonates was previously covered in the Hoof Blog in 2018, following warnings raised by speakers at the ARCI's Conference on Equine Welfare and Racing Integrity.

LEXINGTON, KY (March 25, 2019) – Officials from Keeneland Association, Fasig-Tipton Company Inc. and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company Inc. (OBS) jointly announced today that they will enable buyers of horses younger than four years old to have those horses tested for bisphosphonates. 

The policy is undertaken to ban off-label use of these drugs. The revised Conditions of Sale for each of these sales companies takes effect July 1, 2019.

At each of the three sales companies, buyers of young horses may request testing for bisphosphonates to be performed at the time of purchase. If the sale horse tests positive, a buyer has the right, within 24 hours of notification, to rescind the sale.

This proactive measure by Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton and OBS – the three major U.S. Thoroughbred auction companies – mirrors the leadership action they took in 2009 to ban the use of anabolic steroids in sales horses.

Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason, Fasig-Tipton President Boyd T. Browning Jr. and OBS President Tom Ventura said in a joint statement: “This is an integrity issue. We all agree that this policy is critical to strengthen buyer confidence in the entire Thoroughbred auction process. As research continues, we will amend our Conditions of Sale to reflect the advancements in testing science.”

In summary, the policy will be implemented as follows:
  • The buyer has the right to request, at the time of purchase, that blood be drawn from a horse to test for the presence of bisphosphonates;
  • The respective sales company will coordinate testing with a designated laboratory and report the results of those tests to the consignor and buyer in a timely manner;
  •  If the sale horse tests positive for bisphosphonates, the buyer has the right, within 24 hours of notification, to rescind the sale and return the horse to the consignor; and
  • The buyer will bear the $500 cost of the test; however, if test results are positive, the cost will shift to the consignor.

Information for this article was provided by press release. Top photo courtesy of Visit Florida.

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Suggested further reading; these articles are free to read: 

McLellan, J. (2017), Science‐in‐brief: Bisphosphonate use in the racehorse: Safe or unsafe?. Equine Vet J, 49: 404-407. doi:10.1111/evj.12682


ARCI Racing welfare forum: Bisphosphonate medication regulation in American flat and harness racing; risk and protective factors in flat racing




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