Necropsy on Eight Belles to include tests for steroids

STANTON, Del. -- The trainer of Eight Belles is certain the filly was never on steroids, and has ordered tests to prove it.

Larry Jones said Tuesday he wanted to dispel any suggestion the Kentucky Derby runner-up was on performance-enhancing drugs. Eight Belles was euthanized after breaking both front ankles Saturday, a quarter-mile after the finish at Churchill Downs.

"I guarantee there were no steroids ever on the horse," Jones said at a news conference at Delaware Park, site of the filly's first win.

Eight Belles' owner, Rick Porter, said the preliminary necropsy result showed the death came as a result of the fracture of the filly's two front cannon bones.

Jones was adamant that the necropsy will show no use of performance enhancing drugs, and hoped it would uncover any previously undiscovered "soundness issues."

Jones is still emotional about the loss of the horse three days after the Derby. He broke down three times during the 30-minute news conference while recalling the filly.

But the trainer's voice rose when he said he was responding to unspecified criticism he heard on radio programs while returning from Kentucky to Delaware that his horse must have been on steroids because she was so large.

"We're taking a lot of abuse out there. ... We're being accused of steroid abuse because she was so large," he said. "I can tell you that Mr. Porter goes to the sale to look for good horses and that's one of the things you look for -- a horse that's big enough, strong enough and fast enough to compete in big races."

Jones said the last time he used steroids was in 1997, on a severely injured horse. He said, even then, he used just a fraction of the allowable amount of the drug.

The use of steroids is a hot-button issue in racing and there is a growing movement to crack down on the use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

At this point, Derby horses aren't tested for steroids. But that might soon change because of increased pressure from inside and outside the industry for racing to develop stricter drug regulations.

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is attempting to come up with uniform medication and drug testing rules nationwide. Yet even a model they have shown would allow vets to administer one of four anabolic steroids considered therapeutic in nature. But the horses won't be allowed to race for at least 30 days after receiving the dosage.

In addition to defending his training methods, Jones again defended jockey Gabriel Saez's ride of the Derby runner-up.

"People have been on him. It's uncalled for. It's unjust," Jones said.

Saez's agent, Ruben Munoz, said the 20-year-old jockey was shaken when he heard PETA was calling for his suspension.

"I explained to him that it was coming from animal activists and that he had been exonerated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority," Munoz said.

Saez has not spoken publicly since the Derby, but has returned to riding. In fact, he won his first race at Delaware Park on Sunday by six lengths, had a first- and third-place finish Monday and a pair of seconds on Tuesday.

"This is the only thing that has moved him in the two years I've know him," Munoz said. "Yes, he's sad. Yes, he's worried."

Jones also took a swipe at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has said Saez should have known the horse was in trouble and that he went to the whip too often.

"I think that it is really and truly the most ridiculous thing I've heard of," he said.

Jones said PETA is capitalizing on a sad situation.

"When this started I feel like maybe their heart was in the right place," Jones said. "I think maybe they were generally concerned."

Jones has changed his thinking and said PETA is using the incident to raise money.

"I hate the fact they are using this to be a fundraiser for them. They're doing this for monetary purpose ... They're not in it for the good of anything. It's strictly something to rally around, hoping they are raising funds from this, and I hate it."

PETA spokeswoman Kathy Guillermo said the organization hasn't done any specific fundraising based on Eight Belles.

"PETA is not making money on Eight Belles, Mr. Jones is," Guillermo said. "Our concern was and is for the horses."

Jones said he was looking to get past the death of Eight Belles, for himself and the sport of racing.

"I'm sorry that people have to feel that they have to point fingers and they have to look for the negative of this game," Jones said. "I would like to bring closure to it. I don't want people to think of racing as it being abusive."