09/18/2015 4:30PM

Simon: Don't need more studies to know truth about Lasix

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Here we go again. Another study on the effects of Lasix will be undertaken. No, make that two more studies.

This time, the studies, to be conducted separately by Dr. Warwick Bayly at Washington State University and Dr. Heather Knych at the University of California-Davis, will follow up on preliminary work suggesting that the benefits of furosemide (Lasix) administered 24 hours prior to exercise may be equal to, and in some cases better than, furosemide administered at four hours pre-exercise. In other words, the studies will try to determine if Lasix is needed on race day.

The Jockey Club, which has staked out a position in opposition to race-day medication, announced Tuesday that it will fund those studies through the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.

Why two more studies are needed is interesting since the topic of Lasix and race-day use has had more analysis than a psychotic patient of Sigmund Freud.

Psychotic is the operative word here because when you mention the subject of Lasix, it turns many in racing crazy. The issue has been debated for 40-plus years, and the industry is no closer to unanimity of opinion on whether it should be used on race day than it was during the 1970s. This is to the detriment of the sport. Race-day medication has tarnished racing’s integrity since Lasix was first legalized, and in 2015, almost all horses are administered Lasix on race day – whether they need it or not – yet another sticking point.

Make no mistake: Permissive race-day medication is embraced by many owners and trainers. Survey results released Wednesday by the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association indicated that 90.5 percent of its rank-and-file members support the use of race-day medication for their horses. If it is simply a pocketbook issue (that is, if owners believe their horses require Lasix in order to race), then that philosophy will win out every time.

But that approach is an oversimplification since most of today’s owners do not know a world without Lasix and rely on their trainer for guidance on the issue. The drug is now as much a part of racing as a bit or saddle. Yet there are those who insist that horses do not need Lasix to race and, in fact, are better off without the use of race-day medication. The latest study to be done through Grayson should help shed light on the issue since a number of organizations, including the Thoroughbred Owners of California, have requested more research be done before final decisions are made – due to recent calls for federal intervention to resolve medication issues in racing.

We can throw the most recent studies on the research heap along with some two dozen others done on furosemide in past decades. To refresh your memory, here are some of the studies on Lasix:

◗ A 1996 study by Hinchcliff, McKeever, Muir, and Sams demonstrated that the administration of furosemide decreased the accumulated oxygen deficit and rate of increase of plasma lactate concentration of horses during brief high-intensity exertion. In other words, it acted like milkshakes, which are banned in racing.

◗ A 2009 study published in South Africa by Hinchcliff, Morley, and Guthrie on 167 Thoroughbreds found that prerace administration of furosemide decreased the incidence and severity of EIPH (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage) in Thoroughbreds performing under typical conditions in South Africa.

◗ A study published in 2006 by Zawadzkas, Sides, and Bayly concluded that improvement of performance in furosemide trials was due more to the weight-loss-related effects of the drug than its apparent alleviation of EIPH.

◗ A 2006 study by Cohen, Stanley, Arthur, and Wang suggested that Lasix provides a buffering factor on the production of lactate, and horses with better performance tend to have higher prerace total carbon dioxide (TCO2) concentrations.

◗ A study published in 1990 by Sweeney, Soma, Maxson, Thompson, Holcombe, and Spencer on the effects of furosemide on racing times found that horses without EIPH raced faster when administered Lasix before races than when it was not administered, the impact being greater for geldings than for colts or fillies.

◗ A study published by Velie, Raadsma, Wade, Knight, and Hamilton in 2014 suggested that EIPH is heritable, that study having involved some 117,000 horses in Australia.

◗ A 2014 study published by Preston, Riggs, Singleton, and Troedsson of racehorses in Hong Kong, where Lasix is not race-day legal, found that EIPH is common, but that there is virtually no difference in the longevity of the competitive careers of horses who are EIPH positive or EIPH negative.

All the studies have shown that Lasix is either: A) a performance enhancer, B) a performance neutralizer, C) has no effect whatsoever on racehorses, or D) can be used to mask other drugs.

No matter what camp you fall in, it is hard to argue that race-day use of Lasix has helped grow attendance and handle. The public’s perception of racing has long been tainted, at least in part, by pervasive use of race-day medication – just as drugs are shunned in all other sports – and many potential fans (bettors) have no doubt been turned away from horse racing as a result.

Owners and trainers who think their horses need a drug in order to race should take note: The number of starts per horse, both annually and lifetime, has plummeted since Lasix was legalized, falling from an average of 33 career starts during the 1970s to just 18 today. That lower total affects field sizes, the number of annual races and race days, and potential earnings. Lasix has not delivered on its original promise that horses would start more often if treated with the drug.

The fact is that most horses have EIPH to some degree, but only in North America is Lasix used on race days to “help” them. The purpose seems more to make them run faster than to treat actual bleeding problems. It has been argued that administering Lasix is a humane measure, but wouldn’t the most humane approach be to keep those horses who really need the drug in the barn or to turn them out for rest?