Polo team hit by loss of horses returns to play

A Venezuelan-owned polo team that endured the deaths of 21

horses from a mineral overdose earlier this year is preparing to

start a new season next month with a fresh fleet of horses.

The season in Florida starts Jan. 3 and Lechuza Caracas, one of

the world’s top teams, plans to come back with a new resolve to not

let the past keep them from a sport they love.

“We have a tight knit group and we’re all happy to be here

again,” team manager Esteban Scott said Wednesday at the

International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, about 70 miles

north of Miami, the same site where the team’s horses began

collapsing in April.

“Recovering all those horses and replacing them will take more

than a year,” Scott said. “We’re far from it yet, but we have

enough to play.”

He said some of the team’s horses were brought over from England

to allow them to compete in Florida this season.

“What happened is very tragic and obviously you don’t just get

over it, but we’re trying to put it behind us,” Scott said.

“Lechuza is looking to have a fun season. We have worked really

hard for the past year to recover.”

Meanwhile, the United States Polo Association announced in

November that random drug tests would begin in January for all polo

matches in the U.S., something that has been occurring in England

for years, players say.

“The trigger for this whole thing was the unfortunate event of

last” season, said well-known Argentine player Nacho Figueras, who

has been the face of Ralph Lauren’s Black Label line and the

designer’s Polo fragrances.

While he said he doesn’t see a need for drug testing in the

sport, he supports anything that will better the game.

“Our horses are our tools. Without them, we can’t work, so we

take very good care of them,” Figueras said Wednesday.

Figueras has been working hard to promote the sport, often seen

as a game for the rich and elite, to larger audiences, and said the

“unfortunate” deaths of the horses actually boosted the sport’s

visibility by gaining more mainstream media coverage.

“Unfortunately, that event gave us a starting point for

promoting the sport,” he said. “Ten years from now, we’re going

to remember that day as maybe one of most important starting points

for polo to go to the next level.”

Horses from the Lechuza team began collapsing April 19 by the

edge of a field at the polo club as they were unloaded from

trailers before the match. Some died at the scene, others hours


Florida’s top veterinarian later ruled the deaths were caused by

an overdose of a common mineral – selenium – that helps muscles

recover from fatigue.

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 in a dramatic scene

that unfolded before hundreds of shocked spectators gathered for

the match.

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