06/18/2014 3:09PM

Jockey Club seeks support for Lasix study

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Jockey Club has begun seeking support for a multi-million-dollar study that would assess the efficacy of the diuretic furosemide in treating bleeding in horses’ lungs when it is administered 24 hours out from a race compared with the current regulatory limit of four hours, opening up a new debate in a deeply controversial topic.

Jockey Club executive director Matt Iuliano introduced the idea for the study at a meeting of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council on Tuesday afternoon outside Lexington, where the proposal received a mix of lukewarm support and outright hostility from some council members, including an equine veterinarian and the president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

The Jockey Club has long been involved in efforts to roll back the legal raceday use of furosemide, a diuretic most commonly marketed under the brand name Lasix, citing North America’s isolation among most of the world’s major racing jurisdictions in allowing for the raceday use of the drug. As a result, any proposal from the organization is usually met with a jaundiced eye by supporters of the drug’s raceday use.

“I don’t want to support this because of who it’s coming from,” Dr. Andy Roberts, a practicing Standardbred veterinarian who owns horses, said bluntly at the meeting. 

While many of the details of the proposal have yet to be worked out, the Jockey Club hopes that it will be the largest study of the efficacy of furosemide since a 2009 study in South Africa examining bleeding and furosemide use in 167 racehorses. The Jockey Club was one of the North American organizations that provided funding for the study, which concluded, contrary to the Jockey Club’s hopes, that furosemide, when administered four hours prior to races, was effective in both decreasing the severity and incidence of bleeding. The study is considered the most scientifically rigorous evaluation of furosemide ever conducted.

According to Iuliano, the Jockey Club study would involve upwards of 100 horses, many of whom have bled in the past. The horses would be divided into two groups, with one group receiving furosemide four hours prior to a simulated race and the other group receiving the drug 24 hours before the race. The groups would then be swapped for at least a second simulated race, with tracheal examinations following each performance to score the incidence and severity of bleeding.

The administration time of 24 hours dovetails neatly with the Jockey Club’s goal of prohibiting the raceday administration of the drug, leading to suspicions from detractors that the study is being proposed by the organization only to press its case for restricting the drug. Those suspicions were heightened when Dr. Gary Lavin, a council member and Jockey Club member, said: “All we’re trying to do is support the notion that [furosemide] is not as important as we think it is.”

The study, which may require the Jockey Club to claim more than 100 horses off the track and pay for the horses’ upkeep and training for more than a month, would be enormously expensive, and Iuliano told the council that the Jockey Club would need to find “widespread industry support” to fund it. While the proposal is still in its formative stages, Iuliano asked the council whether or not it would support a further exploration of the study for the purposes of a more formal consideration down the road, including devoting council funds to the study.

The council, which receives its funding from parimutuel receipts and has funded studies in the past to determine withdrawal times for drugs that have benefited the entire racing industry, eventually conducted a vote on whether the Jockey Club should return to the council with a more detailed proposal. The motion passed by a voice vote of 7-2, with Roberts and Rick Hiles, the longtime president of the KHBPA, voting no.

But despite that show of support, there also seemed to be some ambivalence from at least one of the yes votes, that of Michael L. Kilgore, a professor of pharmacology and nutritional studies at the University of Kentucky who has authored numerous scientific papers. Expressing some exasperation with the prolonged debate surrounding tangential issues to the study, Kilgore said that to conduct a proper scientific study of the issue, the proposal would first need to ask “why would you want to give [furosemide] to a horse 24 hours out, and what reason do you believe would justify that?”

“We’re doing this all backwards,” Kilgore said.