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The real dope? It's the spleen

What does it take to be a Triple Crown winner? Good genes, good luck, a good jockey - and a great spleen.

By DAVID SCHEIBER
Published April 29, 2007


What does it take to be a Triple Crown winner? Good genes, good luck, a good jockey - and a great spleen.

"One of the things we've found is that the very, very top horse that goes beyond a sprinter's distance, they have a tremendous spleen, " says Billy Turner, trainer of the only unbeaten Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. "What happens is when they're put in a highly competitive situation, their spleen dumps. It dumps all these extra red blood cells into their system, which helps them go on farther."

It has the same maximizing performance effect as blood doping, what some elite athletes "such as the cyclists and distance runners did in the Olympics, and they finally got in trouble for it, " he explains of the illegal practice. "They were 'cell-packing' - the practice of manipulating the blood of the athletes and adding red-blood cells in high concentration.

"It's the same idea of having a big spleen, " he says. "The point is, horses do it themselves. Nowadays, with ultrasound, they can tell what kind of a spleen a horse has. That's a major factor."