08/20/2009 11:00PM

Pros and cons of Lasix up for debate


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Lasix, the diuretic that is ubiquitous in U.S. racing but banned in every other major racing jurisdiction in the world, is once again set to form the crux of a debate concerning medication use in horse racing. But this time the stage will stretch beyond the borders of the U.S.

Whether Lasix should be legalized in foreign racing jurisdictions - or banned in the U.S. - will be a major topic of debate in this Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing, as part of a broader discussion among racing authorities about standardizing medication rules across international borders. Considering that the raceday use of Lasix is among the most significant differences between racing in the U.S. and the rest of the world, no discussion about standardization of medication has meaning without a serious consideration of the role Lasix should play.

Two speakers at the Round Table, including the keynote speaker, Louis Romanet, the chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, plan to address Lasix during their presentations, at a Round Table that will be heavy on the issue of medication use and safety issues in the sport. The lineup reflects the growing sense of unease in the racing industry about the public perception of racing's practices and policies in an era in which every sport is under intense scrutiny because of widespread doping scandals.

Coloring the debate will be a study released earlier this year that purported to demonstrate that Lasix plays a significant role in reducing the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, the term used to describe bleeding from the lungs. The study, which was funded by North American racing groups, found that horses that participated in races in South Africa conducted specifically for the purposes of measuring the incidence and extent of bleeding were less likely to bleed severely if administered Lasix rather than a saline solution.

North American racing groups that support the use of Lasix said in the aftermath of the study's release that foreign countries that ban Lasix should instead adopt the rules prevalent in all U.S. racing jurisdictions because of the study's results. But officials said it is still entirely unclear whether foreign jurisdictions will support a reversal of their longstanding ban on any raceday medications, in large part because a previous study demonstrated that horses that are administered Lasix also ran faster than untreated horses.

"The big thing that always seems to come up is that it's a performance enhancer," said Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, who discusses racing rules regularly with foreign and domestic officials. "That sort of begins and ends the discussion with [European] regulatory officials. Their opinion is that it's all well and good that it helps with [bleeding], but if it's a performance enhancer too, they want nothing to do with it."

Also scheduled to speak at Sunday's Round Table on the issue of drugs in racing are Dr. Scott Palmer, the chairman of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, a group that generally supports the use of therapeutic medication; Steven Crist, the chairman and publisher of Daily Racing Form, who in June and July received more than 500 responses to a question on his blog asking racing fans to give their opinions on drug use; Stuart S. Janney III, an owner and breeder who is the chairman of the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee; and Joe Gorajec, the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission and the past chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

Safety issues are scheduled to be addressed by Dr. Mick Peterson, a University of Maine professor who earlier this year launched the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, and Mike Ziegler, the executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance, which reviews racetracks for a voluntary accreditation program based on their safety procedures and equipment.

Scheduled to speak on the aftercare of Thoroughbred racehorses are Matt Iuliano, vice president of registration services for the Jockey Club, which provides funding to retirement programs through a check-off program, and Diane Pikulski, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.