Final thoughts: What I learned – and didn’t – about race day Lasix

As I said at the beginning of this marathon endeavor, I went to the Race Day Medication Summit mostly to learn and without any prior opinions on the use of Lasix. And after nearly nine hours of presentations and panels, I do feel like I learned a lot, but I’m not sure that I’m any closer to forming an opinion on the use of race day furosemide than I was before.

I learned that bleeding is bad for horses not just during the incident itself, but that it has long-term consequences on a horse’s health.

I learned that what constitutes “bleeding” varies widely; some horsemen use the term to describe bleeding in a horse’s lungs, others to describe bleeding from a horse’s nostrils.

I learned that horsemen seem to agree that environment plays a significant role in bleeding, and that training environments vary widely in the United States and Europe.

I learned that at least one study shows that if administered as recommended/required, furosemide does not mask the presence of other drugs in a horse’s urine, and that it has no effect on the detection of drugs in a horse’s blood.

I learned that all the people who spoke at the summit, regardless of where they came from or what their stance on Lasix is, have horses’ care in mind, and that what constitutes “taking care of a horse” doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody.

I didn’t learn anything about the effect of furosemide on bone density, or whether using the medication has any long-term ill effects on horses. I learned that bleeding seems to be an inherited trait.

I learned that there are a lot of people out there, in the comments section here and elsewhere, who are willing to believe the worst of U.S. trainers, who imply that they’re liars and cheaters and that they don’t really care about horses, only about winning and money.

I learned that there are good reasons to use Lasix to treat bleeding in horses, and that whether horses that bleed should be allowed to race invites a number of opinions.

I learned that many of the people who spoke last Monday believe that eliminating Lasix will be an expensive proposition for owners, in terms of purse money lost, increased security, horses possibly taken off the track.

I learned that some members of the international racing community are concerned about U.S. racing isolating itself from the rest of the world, and that European breeders don’t seem to be as interested as they used to be in U.S.-bred horses.

I also learned that according to the panelists, international horsemen not currently using Lasix don’t seem particularly interested in doing so.

I learned that even in an all-day meeting, only a limited number of perspectives can be shared.

I learned that there’s a difference of opinion about whether lower level horses will be more adversely affected by a Lasix ban than will be more accomplished runners.

I learned that the use of race day Lasix is an emotional issue, and that it’s also a scientific issue, a medical issue, and a financial issue.

I learned that some U.S.-based horsemen are open to the possibility of talking about what it would mean to train without having Lasix available on race day.

I learned that race day Lasix, like so many other issues in racing, is multi-variable: that a variety of perspectives have validity, that it’s tough to isolate one factor as the cause of any phenomenon, that drawing cause-and-effect relationships will, and should, take time and money.

And that’s not going to satisfy anyone who wants major changes, made now.

20 thoughts on “Final thoughts: What I learned – and didn’t – about race day Lasix

  1. Teresa,
    THANK YOU! for all the work you have put into this. Your summations are concise and easily understood.
    This is a formidable task, but definitely a step in the right direction.

  2. Kudos to you also. Study that implies lasix doesn’t mask other drugs is dead wrong. Explain to me why a 2 year old filly, first time out runs on it? See, I know about compounding medications, and it is time someone speaks out.
    I know. I just know. Allow me to pontificate further. If Larry Jones runs Havre de Grace in the Delaware Hdc. against males, he risks the possibility of becoming the anti-christ to horse racing. He killed Eight Belles by neglecting to tell the jock that if she could not threaten the winner, not to punish her, which he did 18 times from the eighth pole to the wire. Does history repeat for this used car salesman owner and cowboy trainer?

  3. You’re welcome, folks. Thanks for hanging in there while I let the site be hijacked by Lasix.

    Motion said that he runs 2-year-olds on Lasix to prevent bleeding, given its deleterious effects on horse health. I’m not disagreeing with what you know, Alex; but if you have information that contradicts the study, I hope that you’ll share it. I don’t think that the conversation is strengthened by impressions, even ones from people as committed to horse welfare as you are.

    I think that the last few years – if not the last few centuries – have shown that fillies racing against males is no more dangerous than either sex racing against itself.

  4. First, thanks for taking the time to attend and summarize for us. It’s been fascinating and informative and it seems the industry is no closer to resolution than it was before.

    That said I will admit I am stunned by some of the comments posted here today.

  5. Thanks Teresa! I’ve really enjoyed reading all this. It really was not that long ago when New York had it banned and racing was fine here. If there are no long term effects and if it really does not mask other stuff why not allow it though I guess. Focus should be on reducing breakdowns and thoroughbred retirement issues. Thanks Again!

  6. Urine obtained from spit barn, sent to the lab is centrifuged, decanted, and tested with reagents to determine illicit drugs. This is an expensive process. These detention barns are often attended to by folks who for a small sum of money will substitute urine. There are several species of animals indigenous to several continents, whose serum from particular organs make t-breds light up like a pinball machine. This crap is smuggled in and you can imagine who uses it. Everytime the good guys test for a substance the bad guys find an alternative. Until these most magnificent animals learn to speak, we must continue to advocate for them.

  7. When I started doing this (mid 60s) not only was Lasix prohibited, but the NYRA banned any horse that had twice bled in races.

  8. Teresa, Again terrific reports.

    Perception is reality and the world perceives to include the US fan base that American racing is on the decline because of drugs and poor stewardship.

    I agree with an earlier statement that Belmont Park is one of the worlds great racing arenas but lets compare Belmont Stakes day with the any day at Royal Ascot. No comparison. The Belomont was won by a horse who didn’t exist until he crossed the finish line.

    To compound our image Todd Pletcher and a BC Champion filly, owned by short order cook Bobby Flay finished somewhere near last in her white bridal at one of Ascot’s most important races.

    Right or wrong as long as drugs are used in American racing the sport will decline.

  9. Oh, Larry, such a good point! Thanks for reminding us.

    Alex, that certainly sounds like a problem, but I’m not seeing the connection to Lasix. If Lasix were outlawed, would the same problem of avoiding detection exist?

    Joe, we have a certain mutual acquaintance on the backstretch who’s trained in the pre- and post-Lasix era, and I’ll be stopping by his barn on Wednesday morning to get his thoughts on this.

    ML, thanks for that perspective. Will be interested to hear from some of the NYRA “old-timers” about their thoughts on this.

    Bob, I think it’s dangerous to allow perception to dictate decisions. Too much of racing is based on anecdote and impression, too many decisions made without the benefit of research and science; we need look no further, I think, than California’s hasty decision to eliminate dirt tracks.

    Rather than accept perception as reality, I hope that racing will find ways to research its questions so that stakeholders can make decisions based on fact and not on perceptions.

  10. Teresa, I agree, it’s never a good idea to base important decisions on perception alone. My impressions are certainly not the same as anyone elses, therefore I wouldn’t make a decision for a group based only on what I perceive to be a problem.

    Bob, I’m not sure what your point is about Pletcher, Bobby Flay and More Than Real’s loss at Ascot. Not every horse can win but I’ll give them credit for trying.

  11. Fabulous job following this for those of us that couldn’t be there. Should the determination be made that race day meds have to be banned, it can’t be done tomorrow, it should be phased in as proposed by many. A good start would be the foals of the next breeding season since this one is over.

    That way any breeder that goes ahead and breeds – or owner that buys into – bleeding families stands fully warned that there is a good chance they’ll never race. Hopefully that will start to remove these lines from the breeding population.

    As a result, in three years, there would be no race day meds allowed for all 2YO races. The next year would be 2YO and 3YO races, etc. until that crop is four when all races would be drug free. To wake up one morning and have all race day meds illegal will put a nail in an already financially teetering proposition for many. By rashly jumping in would do more harm than good. I think there is middle ground here somewhere, I hope we can find it for the good of the industry.

  12. I find it very interesting that in the wake of his KY Derby win, G. Motion was quoted saying a Salix ban wouldn’t affect his barn at all, and now he’s saying he’d have to retire some of his best horses.

    I also feel strongly that there were American trainers and veterinarians out there, active and retired, that probably would have presented a much different viewpoint than those that were asked to participate. As it was, the “Summit” as it was set up already appeared to have an agenda.

    Bottom line, at least for me, is that American racing is continuing to be a national embarassment, and an international joke.

  13. Btw, thanks Teresa, for this most thoughtful and comprehensive overview of the meeting that I’ve been able to find. I’m surprised that I had to look this hard to find it.

  14. Horses bleed during workouts and thus can run on lasix as first time starters.

    I am guessing Bob had a bad experience at one of Bobby’s restaurants. LOL!

    Also, I don’t think that it is fair to keep throwing Larry Jones under the bus. I don’t know what the Eight Belles tragedy has to do with this discussion of lasix.

    Larry Jones is NOT one of those trainers that does not care about his horses. They are out there at every track, but Jones is not one of them.

  15. Umm, Matthew, unless you live in a cave, ALL trainers care deeply about their runners; likewise, ALL trainers provide care in different, sometimes profoundly psychotic ways, especially in regards to medicating them.

  16. Pletcher and Flay demonstrated really poor jugement in shipping the filly to Ascot after an 8 month lay off without the race day meds to run in a tough Grade 1 in a white bridal.

    Actually Teresa, race day drugs have become a crutch for a great many trainers. Without them they wouldn’t be able to lead a horse over. The trainers who have the skill to run clean are forced to use them so the playing field stays level. Remember, a significant number of our most cherished greats were able to compete without and L next to the name.

    I spoke recently with a Euro trainer pard who I met years ago when he was just a stable lad on a learning sabbaticle in Kentucky. He commented how many American trainers were so fond of white bridals,head gear[blinkers], and drugs.

    There was a time when blinkers on classic calibre horses were frowned upon. That changed with Secretariat. Blinkers and a blue and white bridal. Seretariat like Mohammed Ali was the greatest and when you are the greatest the rules change.

    ome a crutch for a great many trainers, without them they wouldn’t be able to lead a horse over. The trainers with the skill to race clean are forced to use them so the playing field is level.

  17. Just a few years ago, the hot topic was steroids. Certain trainers, who raced at Aqueduct/Belmont/Saratoga, used and abused them with their horses. Almost everyone, who worked in the backstretch, knew who was using them. It became a running joke, a mockery of the level that racing/racing authorities had allowed the sport to descend to. This was tolerated, and allowed to go on far, far too long, that even though curbs were eventually put in place, we and the sport are still trying to recover from it. It was a period in racing, when it wasn’t about who had the best racehorse. It was about who had the best chemist/vet.

    New York was one of the last of the states to allow lasix. It had held out for a very long time. Some people were happy, when it was sanctioned. A lot of people were disappointed. Is it any surprise that a lot of people are happy with it and, a lot of people are disappointed that it’s a drug that a lot of horses depend upon in order to be able to race? If they didn’t have it, there is a good chance, that they wouldn’t be able to race well or as well. People are very resourceful. We are constantly focusing on how to improve things, and make things better. And, sometimes, less is more. We need to go back to the future for our sport!

  18. August Song,

    One of the best posts I’ve read. After Dale Earnhardt was killed NASCAR cleaned up it’s act with regulations. This industry has lagged behind for so long it is pathetic. Chemists/vets…yeah you see the connection…know of some.
    In the end there is a dichotomy between the givers and takers in this sport. I have made a lot of enemies by telling the truth snd seeking the absolute truth. And Oh btw, speaking of steroids, many farms use them to prep yearlings for auction. Once home they typically deflate and in a week you can’t recognize the horse you purchased. Lasix has allowed inferior and I say that with most respect t-breds to participate when they should be grazing and enjoying life. Some folks get it. Others don’t.

  19. Teresa, I re-read your entire superb presentation and following illuminating comments. My conclusion. Race day medications do not benefit the horse and are utilized to enhance the goals of trainers and their connections.

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