Supplement prepared incorrectly caused polo pony deaths

Excerpted from MiamiHerald.com:

(Palm Beach Post) – The head of a Tallahassee-based pharmacy admitted Thursday that it incorrectly mixed a medication that was given to 21 horses that mysteriously collapsed and died before a polo match over the weekend.

Jennifer Beckett, chief operations officer for Franck’s Pharmacy, said an internal investigation revealed the strength of an ingredient in the medication was flawed. In a written statement, she did not name the medication or the ingredient involved.

”We will cooperate fully with the authorities as they continue their investigations,” she wrote. “Because of the ongoing investigations, we cannot discuss further details about this matter at this time.”

The news came as the politically-connected Venezuelan multimillionaire who owns the 21 horses indicated he suspects his team’s own veterinarian may have played a role in the deaths of some of the polo ponies, according to a letter from a Philadelphia lawyer.

In a letter to polo team veterinarian Dr. James Belden, an attorney representing an insurance company says its investigation revealed that Biodyl was administered to 12 ponies prior to their deaths before a match at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Sunday. Attorney William Gericke wrote that Belden ordered the compound from Franck’s Pharmacy in Tallahassee.

”Since you ordered the Biodyl from Franck’s Pharmacy that was administered to the horses, I believe there may be a possibility that my client may look to you as a party who has some responsibility for the loss,” Gericke wrote.

Biodyl, a vitamin supplement that is banned in the United States, emerged as a possible culprit in the deaths when Lechuza Caracas’ team captain polo told a Venezuelan newspaper it was administered to the horses.

Belden, who was not immediately available for comment, has said he is one of the team’s vets and worked under Argentine team veterinarian Felix Crespo. Crespo is not named in the letter.

State labs, which conducted inconclusive necropsies of the 21 horses, said they are still awaiting results of toxicology tests to determine what caused the deaths. Sarah Carey, a spokeswoman for the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, said she expects results “very soon.”

Gericke represents an insurance company for Quorum Management, one of several companies owned by Victor Vargas, an oil magnate turned banker who owns two mansions in Palm Beach. The company owns 12 of the horses that died, Gericke said.

In the letter, he asks Belden, who is a team vet for Vargas’s Lechuza Caracas polo team, to “preserve any and all quantities [of Biodyl] so we may have it tested.”

A spokeswoman for the pharmacy wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Mark Fagan, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, which is investigating the deaths, said he was unaware of any investigation by an insurance agency.

Determining whether Biodyl played a role in the horses’ deaths is complicated because many of the ingredients in it are also found in legal compounds, he said.

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