04/18/2011 10:52AM

National HBPA urges more study before prohibiting raceday medication

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Battle lines are re-forming over the race-day use of the diuretic furosemide to treat bleeding in the lungs, 16 years after the last U.S. racing jurisdiction legalized the drug.

On Monday, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association released a statement taking issue with recent calls to eliminate the race-day use of the drug, becoming the first major national organization to urge caution in embracing the effort. In the statement, which was endorsed by the organization’s board on Friday, the National HBPA said that it was open to dialogue on the recent proposal, but said the call needed study and input from additional racing constituents before it could be seriously pursued.

The race-day use of furosemide has long been a topic of debate in the racing industry, but efforts to repeal regulations allowing the race-day administration of the drug have consistently failed to gain traction. Horsemen have contended that a rollback of the laws would be inhumane to horses that suffer from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and lead to a further erosion in the number of starts a horse makes per year.

But in late March, the outgoing and incoming chairmen of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for U.S. racing commissions, renewed the call to ban furosemide on race day. Since the remarks were made, a handful of influential industry organizations, including the Jockey Club, Breeders’ Cup, Thoroughbred Racing Associations, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, have endorsed the call.

To supporters of a ban, the use of furosemide on race day has gone well beyond the desire to treat bleeding, with the majority of horsemen using the drug so that their horses will not be at a perceived disadvantage.

“The vast majority of trainers are not racing on it for a legitimate medical need anymore,” said Ed Martin, the executive director of the RCI, pointing to recent studies that show that more than 90 percent of all horses receive a race-day administration of the drug. “Instead, they are using it because of its performance-enhancing effect. That’s where we’ve crossed the line. We need to put that horse back in the barn.”
Studies of the use of furosemide have shown that the drug is effective in reducing the incidence and severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, though no studies have determined a definitive cause for the drug’s efficacy. Other studies have also shown that horses receiving furosemide on race day run faster than horses that do not receive the drug, but those studies also have been unable to nail down a definitive cause for the performance-enhancing effect.

The National HBPA’s statement indicates that any effort to rollback furosemide use will face clear hurdles. Through its local affiliates, the National HBPA possesses significant political clout at state racing commissions, and many horsemen have become increasingly frustrated with efforts over the past several years to limit the use of anabolic steroids and therapeutic painkillers.

For its part, the National HBPA said it will devote its summer convention, scheduled for July 21-24 in Seattle, to discussion of the impacts of eliminating furosemide, including speaker forums that will consider “unintended consequences” of the proposal; alternate means of addressing bleeding in the lungs; the impacts of the current drug policy on public perception; and the economic impact of the new proposal.

“The National HBPA feels it is not unreasonable for our industry to allow the time needed to allow voices to be heard from other industry stakeholders beyond those who have weighed in thus far, including jockeys, some in the veterinary and scientific communities, racing secretaries, casual fans, dedicated horseplayers (and their organizations), and the racing media, among others,” the statement read.


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