An Opinion Changed: Lasix Benefits Outweigh Downside?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Dick Powell of Brisnet…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Handicapping Insight

I have the pleasure and luxury of attending just about every horse racing conference held in the United States. Clients of my consulting business send me to every HBPA event, RCI, International Simulcast Conference, University of Arizona Symposium on Racing, Albany Law School Racing Conference and New York Gaming Summit. I attend all the sessions even though some of them do not directly affect what I do.

One topic that many of these conferences have covered is race day medication. I have sat through numerous panels discussing medication issues and have learned a lot.

For years, I was against Lasix being allowed on the day of the race. Back in 1994, I was still a consultant for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) reporting directly to the president. When Gerry McKeon retired and was replaced by Kenny Noe, my days were numbered. Being an adviser to Kenny Noe was like being a deckhand on a submarine. I’m not saying Kenny didn’t listen to his staff but his idea of a suggestion box was a paper shredder.

So one night at dinner the subject of Lasix came up and Kenny was adamant about changing NYRA’s stance against its use on race days. His point was how can the rest of the country be wrong and NYRA be right? We discussed the pros and cons of legalizing it and I came down on the side of keeping the policy of banning it. Big mistake; at least, for me.

But as time has gone by and I have not only had the luxury of attending conference sessions on the topic but having numerous discussions with many horsemen and veterinarians, my stance has changed.

Exercised induced pulmonary hemorrhaging (EIPH) is what happens when capillaries burst in a horse’s pulmonary system. At best, the blood from the hemorrhaging is insignificant and has no effect on the horse’s performance. At worst, it can result in sudden death to the horse and not every horse that dies from it has visible evidence of the bleeding coming out of its nostrils. In between, the severity varies. Nearly all horses racing suffer from it in some form.

Just about all horses performing in any form suffer from EIPH. Quarter Horses, Standardbreds, barrel racers, etc. suffer from it in addition to Thoroughbreds. What makes Thoroughbred racing different is how it is anaerobic in nature, meaning the horse goes into oxygen debt for lengthy periods at the end of the race. Anyone that has ever run a 400-meter race on track knows the feeling. Running hard for long periods of time results in lactic acid being secreted and muscles tying up. We used to call it rigor mortis.

Not only is the Thoroughbred asked to go into major oxygen debt but often times has to do it in bad air quality. Throw in heat and humidity and you have all the ingredients of asking horses to do things that border on being inhumane.

Lasix can relieve the symptoms of EIPH in most horses. Considering the positive therapeutic effects, it’s hard to understand that it has become the source of controversy that it is.

I used to think that giving two-year-olds Lasix was a big mistake and that all two-year-old racing should be devoid of it to see who the best horses are. However, I learned that the earlier you treat horses with Lasix, the less permanent damage is done to their lungs.

Lasix, because of its effect of being a diuretic, used to be used as a “masking agent” for other drugs. But, what everyone seems to agree upon is that today’s sophisticated drug tests are good enough to detect the banned medications whether Lasix is being used or not.

The rest of the world bans Lasix so why don’t we? All of the United States, Canada, most of south America and Saudi Arabia allow race-day Lasix. While that is still a minority, the fact is that the entire racing world with the exception of Hong Kong and Singapore allow horses to train on it.

In conversations with many people that have international experience, there is a feeling that the drug testing that other jurisdictions brag about are not up to our standards. They test urine, not plasma, and they have high thresholds that trigger a positive. Adjunct medications are allowed and one trainer told me he would love to take samples of international horses and run them through our testing procedures to see who is really “clean.”

We all bemoan the drop in average starts per season in America. Many blame it on our addictions to race-day medications. Yet, the data shows that the entire racing world has seen the average number of starts per starter each year has dropped.

Twenty years ago, the United States was third in annual starts per starter. Japan was number one and Italy was number two. Now, Japan is still number one, even though their average starts per starter each year has dropped, South Africa is number two and the United States is still number three. How can that be? That’s not what we hear from the Lasix opponents but the statistics are from the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA).

Steroids were banned from most jurisdictions a few years ago. While that may have been the right thing to do, we haven’t seen a jump in starters since it went into effect. Will we see a jump in starts per starter if we ban Lasix? I sincerely doubt it as you are removing a therapeutic medication that keeps horses racing.

As a bettor, we have all had to adjust to the presence of Lasix. First time Lasix can be a powerful indication of expected improvement. Sometimes second time Lasix is a big move since we don’t really know how big the dosage was the first time. For me as a bettor, I don’t want it to be a factor at all. But rather than ban it, I think we should mandate it.

Nearly all Thoroughbred race horses bleed. If you think we can breed our way out of this by separating the horses that bleed from those that don’t and breed a new racehorse that doesn’t bleed and doesn’t need Lasix, you would have to ban it in training as well which nobody wants to do.

And, how do you explain banning it to the animal rights activists that view our sport as being cruel and inhumane? We went nuts after Eight Belles broke down in the 2008 Kentucky Derby (G1). Task forces were formed and racetracks and their maintenance procedures were examined in order to show the general public that we were doing everything we could to protect the horses that are racing.

If we mandated that all horses that are racing be treated with the same dose of Lasix, we take it out of the handicapping equation. We show the general public that we continue to diligently look out for the welfare of the horses that are racing. And we do the right thing by the horse by reducing the severity of EIPH.



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