12/06/2012 2:55PM

Opinion: Rick Violette debates the facts on Lasix ban

Barbara D. Livingston
Richard A. Violette Jr. is president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

I know the Lasix debate has become tiresome, and I apologize, but I couldn’t sit idle after reading Mark Simon’s piece on the subject (“Deconstructing the ban: The sky didn’t fall,” DRF Weekend, Nov. 10). Mr. Simon is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts.

To start, it is not “estimated” that 75 percent of racehorses bleed. The South African triple-blind study, funded in part by the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation, reported that 78.9 percent of racehorses tested suffered from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. This study is widely recognized as the gold standard.

While we have cold, hard science proving that the vast majority of racehorses suffer from EIPH, there is absolutely no evidence, or proof from any recent study underwritten by The Jockey Club, that Lasix has had any effect on the breed. Horses race without Lasix in Europe, but it doesn’t follow that they have longer or more productive careers. In recent years, their Derby winners have headed off to stud at the end of their 3-year-old seasons at least as often as our Derby winners, and the average number of starts per year for U.S.-based horses, 6.1 in 2011, stacks up nicely against France (5.8), Germany (5.1), Great Britain (6.1), and Ireland (5.0).

Lasix is not a factor when it comes to unsoundness. The Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety, which investigated the spate of catastrophic breakdowns at Aqueduct last winter, found no connection between Lasix and the injuries. Dr. Mary Scollay, a member of the Task Force and medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, testified at the Race Day Lasix Forum a year ago that the medication does not contribute to fractures or fragile bones.

The number of owners who have pledged to race their 2-year-olds without Lasix is a fraction of those competing in the United States − and their number is shrinking. At least a half-dozen of those owners who made the pledge subsequently started 2-year-olds with Lasix.

The Breeders’ Cup ban on Lasix was hardly a “working test lab.” To purport that the small Breeders’ Cup sample, with no controls, has any real or scientific value at all is ludicrous. You can’t seriously point to the fact that we didn’t see blood gushing from a horse’s nostrils as indication that it didn’t bleed − that would be tantamount to saying fractures only exist if the bone pierces the skin.

Mr. Simon implies that Lasix is used to enhance performance, then goes on to say that the form of the Breeders’ Cup juvenile races held up well without it. It seems the horses hadn’t run faster on Lasix, but some, most notably Spring in the Air, performed below their ability because they bled. Horsemen don’t use Lasix to improve performance, we use it to protect our horses from EIPH. Why would we want to subject our horses, especially our young horses, to something that not only compromises their ability to race, but their health as well? That may be acceptable practice in Europe, but it is not acceptable in the United States.

If horsemen are upset by the prospect of a Lasix ban, it is because we do not want to expose our horses to EIPH unnecessarily. Not a single respected horseman has claimed the sky would fall or that there would be “an unending procession of horses” bleeding profusely in front of the fans. Our argument was, is, and always will be that the vast majority of racehorses bleed, the damage done to the lungs is cumulative and worsens over time, and Lasix is the safest and most effective treatment we have available to treat this condition.

None of the reasons used to support a ban on the use of raceday Lasix explain why it would be in the best interest of the horse, because it isn’t. Those are the facts.