Veterinarian Responsible for Racehorse Laoban’s Death Gets License Suspended

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3 min read

Thoroughbred stallion Laoban was used as a breeding machine at WinStar Farm in Kentucky. In 2021, a veterinarian injected him with a cocktail of four vitamins and minerals known as a “black shot,” in an apparent attempt to increase his energy (so that breeders could continue exploiting him). The plan quickly backfired: Minutes after the substances were administered, Laoban was dead.

PETA immediately called for a law-enforcement investigation into the stallion’s suspicious death, in addition to filing a complaint with the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners about the veterinarian involved. Following PETA’s calls for action, Woodford County Animal Control announced that an investigation had begun into Laoban’s death.

Here’s what the Louisville Courier-Journal reported at the time:

  • Three of the four substances administered to Laoban had expired, and one of the ingredients had been expired for nearly nine years—an iron product that was indicated only for iron deficiency anemia in baby pigs, not for horses.
  • Heather Wharton, the veterinarian who administered the “black shot” cocktail, admittedly did so without reading the labels on its four ingredients. She also reportedly used the ingredients in at least 10 different ways contrary to label instructions. According to documents, she administered expired vitamin B12 at five times the recommended dosage and expired vitamin B complex, despite the label warning about the risk of anaphylactic shock.
  • The North American Company for Life and Health Insurance attributed the stallion’s death to the possible negligence of the attending veterinarian and refused to pay out.

On March 30, 2023, officials took action.

Although they should have revoked Wharton’s license, at least she faces consequences for Laoban’s death, thanks to PETA’s efforts. The terms of her settlement include the following:

1) Completion of at least four (4) hours continuing education hours in drug interactions and dosages, pharmacy effects and procedures, and the management of medical emergencies, such as anaphylactic shock within six (6) months of the signed agreement (this is in addition to the 30 hours required for licensure renewal);

2) Payment to the board of an administrative fine in the amount of $30,000 within six (6) months of the signed agreement;

3) Acceptance of a written reprimand for violations of the Practice Act (i.e., this reprimand will be noted as a permanent disciplinary mark on the licensee’s record); and

4) An active license suspension for a period of ninety (90) days starting on March 15, 2023, including a prohibition to work on animals in the capacity as a veterinary technician or veterinary assistant during the period of suspension. This includes a provision that Dr. Wharton shall cooperate with the Board in monitoring and ensuring compliance with this provision.

Wharton’s reckless behavior killed Laoban. He doesn’t get a second chance, as she does. We hope the suspension and the other terms of the settlement are enough to persuade her to change her ways.

Who Was Laoban? How Did He Die?

According to The Jockey Club’s breeding statistics, Laoban was one of WinStar Farm’s most frequently bred stallions. In 2021, he was bred to 126 mares. Veterinary staff may have injected him with the “black shot” in an attempt to maximize breeding profits in order to satisfy the request or expectation of the owners, even though reports show that he was displaying signs of breeding fatigue just a few days prior to this incident.

While it appears that Wharton bears responsibility, the influence of the breeding manager and others at WinStar as well as that of the owners, McCormick Racing LLC and Southern Equine Stable LLC, should also be examined. It’s well known in horse racing that veterinarians are expected to follow the instructions of the owners, managers, trainers, and others who are responsible for horses. The role of these individuals and their specific instructions regarding veterinary care should be investigated.

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