11/08/2012 2:23PM

Simon: Deconstructing the Lasix ban


It has been estimated that up to 75 percent of racehorses bleed in some manner during competition – yet approximately 95 percent of all U.S. horses perform on the diuretic Salix. The math here clearly doesn’t add up, perhaps belying the oft-defended notion that Salix, also known as Lasix, is a “humane” treatment required to “normalize” performance. Opponents of race-day medication suggest Salix is more of a performance enhancer, used by trainers largely to keep up with their peers.

Drug dependency is a big problem for our sport, one that weakens the breed genetically and turns off fans by the thousands – this according to a recent study underwritten by The Jockey Club. A growing number of prominent breeders have come to agree with this assessment and argue that race-day medication should be eliminated, especially from stakes races. Earlier this month, Breeders’ Cup Ltd., a breeder-driven organization, took the first steps to do just that on its marquee program.

This did not sit well with many horsemen, for whom medication has become central to their training regimes. In fact, the notion that drugs should be banned on race day has sent some of them apoplectic, leading to some hyperbolic, end-of-world predictions. Without drugs, they’ve warned, an unending procession of horses would pull up bleeding in front of grandstands across America, and thus destroy our sport’s otherwise pristine image − or, at the very least, our Thoroughbreds would suddenly become puny, frail, and unable to perform at top levels. Of course, horses racing in Europe have long competed free of race-day medication, a fact largely ignored in North American racing circles. Frankel, anyone?

Breeders’ Cup, to its credit, took the initiative and banned the use of race-day medication in its 2-year-old races this year. This gave both sides of the argument a chance to observe a working test lab at Santa Anita on Nov. 2-3.

While it was a small sample, results suggested that when horses are asked to race sans Salix, the sky would not fall, babies would not be snatched from the arms of their mothers, the world would not spin off its axis – and the homestretch would not be filled with distressed horses pulling up, unable to finish their race, bleeding in front of distressed fans.

Simply put, the absence of race-day medication appeared to have little effect on anything and, more important, may have actually demonstrated that far fewer horses “require” race-day medication than we presently see.

In the five Breeders’ Cup races for juveniles, 38 horses ran without Salix for the first time from 50 total starters. Daily Racing Form has reported that at least three of the 38 bled. There may have been more, but it does not appear to be a large number. If only three bled from that group of off-Salix starters, that would be 8 percent, a far cry from the 75 percent number normally kicked around.

Postrace scoping was not done on every juvenile starter, which might have given us a better handle on the actual instance of tracheal bleeding. Quite possibly more than 8 percent bled at some level or another, though that oft-quoted 3-out-of-4 guesstimate seems unlikely.

Despite 76 percent of juvenile starters racing without Salix for the first time, those five races turned out to be just as formful as the other Breeders’ Cup events: One juvenile favorite won, three favorites ran second, and one ran off the board. In the 10 events for older runners – where Salix was allowed – three favorites won, two were second, two were third, and three finished off the board.

Next year, Breeders’ Cup plans to prohibit race-day medication in all of its races, and it will be interesting to see if the betting public appreciates this, or whether it views the change apprehensively, not knowing how well their selections may run without Salix. This is surely a crossroads for the sport – indicating which direction we may ultimately go in addressing the all-important issue of medication.

While the debate regarding same-day medication will continue, results from a handful of races on America’s championship stage last week showed that the sport can do just fine without it, thank you very much. 

Ann Mitchell Adam More than 1 year ago
Mark ~ Sorry to say but Breeders' Cup has reneged. Perhaps an article about the whys of this. What pressures (blackmail) were brought to bare?
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
Public relations issue for those using meds: If a medicated animal dies, it is blamed on the meds resulting in PR issues for meds. If an un medicated animal dies it is blamed on "natural causes" resulting in zero PR issues. Our world is rapidly becoming "all natural/organic." Society is adopting this world view in greater numbers each day. I would call your attention to the industry wide onslaught on Lasix discussed in this article. Kentucky and the Breeders Cup have figured out the way the wind is blowing and they are going to win. Right or wrong, the general public is pissy about meds of all kinds now...ask Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong. It is the trend live with it.
john muir More than 1 year ago
Mark -- Have any US trainers tried adding pissenlit (a French term meaning "piss in bed") for Dandelion greens to their grass and oats? It's known for its diuretic properties, so maybe French trainers are already doing it.
Kevin More than 1 year ago
“Simply put, the absence of race-day medication appeared to have little effect on anything…” “Despite 76 percent of juvenile starters racing without Salix for the first time, those five races turned out to be just as formful as the other Breeders’ Cup events:” ----------- So, how does this play into the oft hurled yet NEVER proven accusation that Lasix is a “performance enhancing” drug? I mean shouldn’t the Lasix form have collapsed in its absence? Shouldn’t the Beyers of those horses coming off of this “juice” have substantially regressed?
Jack More than 1 year ago
We need to close many tracks so that this sport can support itself once again.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
It is unfair, to weaken an whole breed by using medications in large numbers that are simple race enhacer because of the proven diurectic . Proven is also that less than five percent will ever be bleeding through the nostrils and that an true bleeder will do this no matter how lasix you will administer. In hong kong btw they train and race without lasix, and it can be real hot down there.
Jeff More than 1 year ago
If you think that 'the public' is going to become more enthralled with racing by taking away Lasix, and that they will wager more money... then all I can say is wake up and face reality. It is unfair to horses to train on a medication that keeps them breathing well, and then to take that away when their pulmonary systems are taxed the most. And I'm TIRED of hearing about horses in Europe not racing on Lasix. There is a big climate difference. When's the last time that it was 95 degrees and humid in Ireland? And, if you haven't noticed, the population of racing horses in Europe is far smaller than here in the U.S. Are you proposing that about 1/2 of all U.S. racetracks close? That's what will happen if Lasix is banned, and far fewer horses are able to race.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Jeff--It's not unfair to "train" on a therapeutic medication. But do you really think that 99% of our modern Thoroughbreds are so fragile that they must "race" on it? That two minutes or less of physical exertion without pharmaceutical sustenance would ruin them? And do you really think this impresses the hell out of the general public? Please. I'm saddened that you're tired of hearing about European horses not racing on Lasix ... but let's be honest here. How many racetracks in this country, outside of Florida, routinely card races in 95-degree heat and humidity? Not many. Certainly not New York or California. ... What a sad, sad statement your implication is, that if Lasix is banned, tracks would close and horses would be unable to race. If that really is the case, maybe this feeble, weak-sister, drug-addicted sport shouldn't survive after all. Drugs are a precarious and pitiful pedestal upon which base an entire sporting industry.
Robin Cardoza More than 1 year ago
Should we eat horses too because they do that in Europe? Your response is just as pathetic as this article is.
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Robin, you are precisely what's wrong with this sport--a fool who thinks that the mass use of drugs, necessary or not, is somehow good for racing. Grow a brain-cell, why don't you? Instead of calling names, why didn't you explain what in the blue blazes you were talking about. ... I'll give you this, though--at least you've got the gonads to put your name to your ridiculous commentary. Bravo!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
all race day lasix does is mask other performance enhancing drugs and that is a fact.we dont need any more evidence theres plenty of research out there on how lasix and other diuretics work,and there have been many studies done on how athletes use diuretics to mask other drugs.this is like arguing that the sun orbits the earth and not the other way around.maybe people should consider that some of the bleeding that occurs in 2 yos is actually caused by the all the medication that allows a horse to go beyond is physical capabilities and causes the pressure in the lungs.diuretics help remove liquid from the blood wich aliviates the problem,but it also removes the remnants of other drugs and reduces weight wich is why all horses use it even the non bleeders.
Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
This article is as poorly researched and written as there ever was. Are the DRF editors asleep ? Hey Simon, don't let truth and facts get in the way of your writing. No wonder you are unemployed. Publishing propoganda like this does nothing for your credibility
Mary Simon More than 1 year ago
Jon Cohen--Great editor, writer, and researcher that you seem to think you are ... please be more specific on your above-stated points. Explain to me how a commentary on the routine use of race-day drugs weakening an entire breed and destroying a sport's reputation is "propaganda?" Please, do tell. You've done a great job of tossing insults, but have failed utterly in defending whatever argument you're clinging to. ... Explain to me why racing continues to lose its fan base year after year? Explain how, within the last decade, 99% of our horses suddenly "required" a diuretic as part of their race-day diet--and how that is somehow "humane" and "OK" ... and why that fact should be embraced or ignored by the public. Explain to me how racing can afford to ignore the sentiments of fans and would-be fans, who are largely disgusted with the rampant use of drugs in their sport--therapeutic or otherwise. ... Then explain to me, exactly what your expert credentials are that allow your rude commentary to be taken seriously?