Yes we can.
As managing partner of horse racing partnerships, we are often asked to explain current issues to both experienced and soon to be experienced owners. The biggest hot button issue in horse racing today is what to do with the race day medication Furosemide aka Lasix.
Let’s start at the beginning - What is Lasix? When horses move in excess of 40 mph they sometimes suffer ruptured blood vessels in their lungs. According to the data, this bleeding can be, at worst, very dangerous and, at best, simply cause the horse to stop running. Lasix was approved in the 1970’s as a safe drug which prevented this type of bleeding.
Is it really safe? According to the two renowned experiments conducted in Australia in 2005 and South Africa in 2009 by Dr. Ken Hinchcliff, there is no data to support any long term (to the horse or breed) effects with taking Lasix.
Then what’s the problem? According to the Australian study only about 33.33% of horses bleed to the extent that it effects performance. However, in America almost 100% of horses race with Lasix.
Excuse me? Over the years, it was discovered that a nice side effect to Lasix is that the horse urinates in crazy amounts prior to racing. This causes the horse to lose up to 30 pounds and according to the experts allows the animal to run 5 lengths faster than without the drug.
Wait. Trainers give Lasix to horses who don’t need it? Exactly.
Isn’t that cheating? Here’s where it gets tricky. An unintended side effect of Lasix turns a legal and effective drug into - say it with us - a performance enhancing drug aka PED. But, with no known chemical enhancement or no long term effects, proponents of Lasix say “Who cares?”.
Do we care? According to the experts, the Australia and South Africa experiments are nice starts, but not conclusive. They are calling for more studies before outright determining Lasix is completely safe with no long term effects to the horse or breed.
So, why the divisive fighting? With limited data, organizations like WHOA are saying 66.67% of horses in America are taking a race day drug, they don’t need, solely to make them run faster. We don’t need a study to tell us this isn’t OK. America is the only jurisdiction in the world that allows Lasix on race day. Opponents, like the Thoroughbred Owners of California (who represent owners and thoroughbred partnerships in California) are calling for more studies and keeping the status quo until new data contradicts old data.
What would happen if the U.S. banned Lasix tomorrow? All owners would probably say WHOA. Banning the drug essentially ends the careers of 33.3% of the horse population in America. This would be disastrous, some say catastrophic, for the horse racing industry.
What about this notion that state vets should administer the Lasix? Entirely separate topic. Let’s stay on point. You can read about that in our next blog.
What happens next? Congress has introduced not one but two bills which calls for the US Anti-Doping Agency to oversee medication in horse racing and all but bans race day use of Lasix. Some believe the bills are a wake up call and have finally forced the industry to tackle the issue and a compromise is forthcoming.