04/20/2012 3:27PM

Crist: On Lasix, practice what you preach


By a single vote, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission last week failed to pass a resolution that would have banned the use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, in Kentucky racing. The 7-7 vote within the commission – a majority is required and a deadlock is a failure – surprised and frustrated proponents of the ban, who have vowed to renew their efforts in the months ahead.

In the meantime, here’s a suggestion for them: If they really believe that furosemide is bad for horses and racing, why don’t they just stop racing their horses on it? By failing to do so, the small but vocal group of owners and breeders who are crusading against the use of furosemide come off as being opportunistic at best and hypocritical at worst.

The furosemide debate in American racing has become downright bizarre. At one time, there was widespread uneasiness about the use of the diuretic because of its masking qualities. A generation ago, administering it could flush illegal substances out of a horse’s system and make them undetectable in post-race tests. Now, though, more precise testing and a greater reliance on plasma than urine has made that argument moot. Objections now focus on furosemide’s being part of a so-called “culture of drugs” that is allegedly diminishing public support for the sport.

“Perception is reality today,” said one of the Kentucky commissioners, explaining her vote for the ban. Others have argued that it doesn’t matter whether or not furosemide is a humane treatment that allows horses to race without choking on their own blood – if the public believes it has something to do with drugging up defenseless animals, it must be banned.

The problem with this approach, in addition to its inherent deceptiveness and insincerity, is that it proceeds from a highly questionable assumption – that if furosemide were banned tomorrow, people would suddenly believe racing is squeaky-clean and they would begin attending the races in greater numbers.

Perhaps some owners and breeders actually think this is true, but I have yet to meet a racetrack operator, horse trainer, or horseplayer who believes this. Banning furosemide will have no positive impact with civilians, who barely know what it is, and who will hardly be reassured or attracted to the game once it has been explained to them that racing has banned a medication that is used to keep horses from hemorrhaging during a race.

It is very tricky to crusade against a medication while simultaneously acknowledging its usefulness. The Jockey Club, which supports a ban, could not have made this clearer than it did in a presentation at its annual Round Table last August: It put up two slides, the first of which read “Lasix is good for horses,” followed by one reading “Lasix is not good for horse racing.”

I think they were trying to say that the drug has its efficacious properties but is being overused and has contributed to misperceptions about the sport. But by following up the “good for horses” declaration with a call for a ban, it seemed to be proposing that we stop doing something that is good for horses.

You can’t have it both ways. Most ban proponents continue to race all of their horses on furosemide, and over 95 percent of runners are treated with it on race day at every level of the sport, from claiming races in New Mexico to next month’s Kentucky Derby, where every entrant is expected to have an “L” for Lasix next to his name in the program. Some of those owners say they support a ban – so why not put some teeth in their position and impose one on themselves?

It just doesn’t cut it to say you want to ban a medication from racing but that you will continue to race your own horses on it until it becomes the law of the land that you may not. Every time a furosemide opponent races one of his own horses on the medication, he is tacitly approving of the drug and confirming its efficacy. Obviously furosemide is being overused when 95 percent of horses race on it and no one believes that even half that many horses have a legitimate bleeding problem. So who among the country’s most prominent owners races even less than half of his horses on furosemide?

Brian Parker More than 1 year ago
Stupid article! The reason they keep running their horses on lasix is because it enhances performance. If they don't run their horses with lasix they are at a disadvantage because everyone else is running their horse on this performance enhancing drug!
James Mindel More than 1 year ago
So what approach to the use of lasix do you endorse? Limiting its use to horses with documented bleeding issues, an outright race day ban on the use of lasix , no limitations on the use of lasix?
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
2:45 on 4/23/12... There's an interesting post re new Hall of Famers that leads right back into this discussion. The "Life at Ten" mess at the Breeders Cup mess is brought up which led me to a comment by Pletcher (!) which appeared in The Bloodhorse. Where was google when was a schoolboy???
milezinni More than 1 year ago
I am not sure who first posted it, ( the idea never occured to me ), and I believe, of everything I have read, it is the best fix, can be done immediately (if Tracks co-operated) and the whole world can find out the effects of Salix......write weight allowances into the conditions for trainers/owners that don't want their Horses on it!! No furosemide, 5-8 lbs, no drugs of anykind...10 lbs.......after all isn't lowering the weight the primary accusation with horses that don't need it? And isn't that the idea behind Handicap Races? Whoever posted that idea you should send it to the various racing comissions, because I believe they might go for it......
Travis Banks More than 1 year ago
I am not sure if anyone else pointed this out yet or not, but Bill Casner has made the decision to race his horses strictly without lasix. Hats off to him for both being a proponent of banning lasix while at the same time backing his talk up.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
That he won't use it on babies in training at the farm is big. A large number of people early on in this discussion were worried about altering, weakening the breed. If meds on race-day only were bad, then what about many, many doses per year? If it's true that breeding bleeders gets more bleeders then where does this take us? We'll end up with giant jockeys pushing horses on gurneys around the track.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
most of you are missing the point,no one tests to see if a horse that is listed as on lasix actualy is on it,so i can run a horse that does not need lasix medicaly,but is moved up performance wise when on lasix,and simply pick and choose when to have him run well or not,and bet accordingly,simply one more way to cheat.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i can have him listed as on lasix always,charge the owners for the treatment,and only give it to the horse when i decide to have a little wager,the betting public will not know if the horse ran on the stuff or not,the owners will pay for it and not know,the trainers are the only one who benefit,no wonder they are against this gravy train ending.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Ray...Lasix is administered by Commission Vets or under the supervision of Commission Vets, in a secure receiving barn. One thing I can see coming, if the Feds get involved, is that all administration of drugs and Veterinary services will be controlled by each racetrack's own Vets, as is the case in Hong Kong. So, if anything fishy shows up, it has to have been administered by a third party and the trainer is very severely dealt with. Just ask Patrick Biancone about what that's like.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
now you have touched on the real solution to the problem,in hong kong a trainer is severly dealt with,they ask them to leave permenantly,and then they come here and we end up with the snake venom.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Ray..you're a dreamer if you think that Patrick Biancone was the first trainer to use Cobra Venum. I held the twitch, while two very well-respected horsemen (a trainer and a Vet) administered CV over thirty years ago, and I can assure you that worse things have been done before and continue to be done every day. The fact is that every one is trying to get an edge, and, on the backstretch (supposedly a happy place) jealousy is rapmant, with anyone who wins too often being accused of cheating. The only way to stop this is to enforce strict rules across the board and back them up when someone is caught ' speeding '. Anything else (like what's happening at the moment) would be a joke.
Jenna Smith More than 1 year ago
FYI, horses sent to the test barn post-race are tested not only for substances that are not supposed to be there, but for listed medications that are: Lasix and Bute. Trainers are fined when a Lasix horse tests negative for Lasix or when a Bute horse tests negative for Bute.
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
If Lasix is administered to 95% of racehorses, then the playing field IS level.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
how do you know the horse you bet actualy got the lasix even if it says so on in the form,theres no testing going on for that,so if 20% need it and 95% get it why are the other 75% getting it other than to enhance their performance,and does it not put those that need it at a disadvantage in relation to those that dont and are using it to hide other stuff.
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
True, we don't know if a "Lasix horse" is truly running on the stuff. But why wouldn't the horse be given Lasix? (either if the horse needs it or if the trainer believes it will enhance performance). There are better ways for trainers to manipulate a horse's performance in order to score big the next time out. As for hiding other drugs, as Mr. Crist stated, "Now, though, more precise testing and a greater reliance on plasma than urine has made that argument moot."
Shannon Gulliford More than 1 year ago
Nicholas, you are exactly correct. There is a very high chance that a horse that Primarily runs on Lasix (required or not) will bleed if taken off of it due to the restriction of blood pressure through the capillaries. A sound horseman would not risk it as once they bleed in a race, they have a mandated wait period, and any successive bleeding will eventually lead to the horse being ruled off the course for a year or life. Messing with it is simply not a good method of skewing races. Almost any horse who races on Lasix will also be given lasix prior to 5/8 or longer works too to prevent minute weakening and fissures in the lungs. Often these horses are also scoped routinely post work to make sure there is no bleeding that is not visible.
Shannon Gulliford More than 1 year ago
If your horse is listed to run on Lasix, it gets it's shot. You cannot decline it, and you can't pick and choose without disclosing to the betting public that a horse is off lasix...same as blinkers and bandages, it;s noted on the form. A horse has to be approved as a lasix horse prior to the race, is put on the list and Lasix is administered by the course vet. A specific amount at a specific time only. Some tracks may have other rules, regarding administration etc but at the end of the day Lasix isn't something that a trainer can choose at will to run on or off of. Paperwork has to be filed, and if it isn't, disqualification follows. Now, as with the case of Mr. Dutrow, the track may not be keeping up with records on their end and yes, some may slip through the cracks. But this is the rare occurrence vs common dirty tactics of screwing with the betting public by listing a horse as Lasix without administering it.
cynthia diltz More than 1 year ago
Why not just write up a race a day with no " L" allowed for starters? This would put the horsemen on even terms and give them a chance to put there horse where there mouth is.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Because the races wouldn't fill.
frank More than 1 year ago
Performance enhancing drugs in horse racing and the subsequent punishment guilty trainers receive is preposterous. Let us advocate no substances are off limits,no lab-coat police, and may the best chemist win. Let the horses eat, drink or have injected anything that will make the run faster, or grow stronger. Dicks Drugstore/Aqueduct/
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
Ben, Just because of the fact, that lasix is an legal diuretic in the US, and therefore an race enhacer, one puts himself at an disavantage by not using it. The best would be an race program for anybody that would accept the new medication rules set up by the grayson jockeyclub