RSS Feed for this Blog

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Medication in U.S. is a U.S. Issue

Interesting to read of a respected trainer like Graham Motion speaking out in favor of the use of Salix (fka Lasix) as a race-day medication at the International Summit on Race Day Medication, EIPH and the Racehorse.

“I certainly know I would have horses in my barn who would not be able to race if we took away Lasix,” Motion said. “Is that right or wrong, I’m not sure.”
“I do think Lasix may be the lesser of the evils,” Motion said. “If we take it away, everyone is going to be looking for something else to control the bleeding. This is more controlled.”

During the veterinary panel, racetrack veterinarian Foster Northrop said he had a problem with people characterizing Salix as a “performance-enhancing drug.”

“I’ve never had a trainer come up to me to say I want to improve this horse’s performance, let’s give him Lasix,” Northrop said, noting that giving a horse too much Salix can hurt performance. “It’s hard to come up with right dosage. Too much can hurt a horse.” [Thoroughbred Times]
Not surprisingly, these remarks were not reported in the New York Times by Joe Drape in his article on the subject on Tuesday. Imagine, his golden boy Graham Motion, who he's repeatedly lauded for his squeaky clean record (and the trainer of his equine hero Animal Kingdom), actually coming out in favor of a medication which Drape otherwise holds greatly responsible for the industry's decline? Guess he'll just ignore that. All the News That's Fit to Print As Long As It Fits Our Agenda.
Veterinarians and racing officials here from England, Ireland and Hong Kong, backed by data from jurisdictions across the world, told their American colleagues that they were medicating horses who did not need it. There are not that many severe bleeders, and the ones who are are being kept on the track with Lasix and should be not be racing, anyway.
Dr. Anthony Stirk, the senior veterinary adviser to the British Horse Racing Authority, said that it would benefit American horsemen to get in step with the rest of the world, not only in medication policies but also in racing less frequently. [NY Times]
Matt Hegarty, writing in the Form, also emphasized the difference in medication rules between here and elsewhere, noting that The United States and Canada are the only major jurisdictions that allow for the raceday use of furosemide.

It makes me chuckle when I hear the notion that we should be more like the Europeans in this particular regard. Since when are we in the habit here of emulating our friends overseas? I mean, Europeans also have socialized medicine, and I don't hear much call for that these days; in fact, quite the opposite! I imagine roughly half of you equivocate that with the end of civilization as we know it.

Besides, our racing culture and industry is markedly distinct from that of other countries, and what might make sense there may not here - significantly less racing probably doesn't work; all grass racing is definitely taboo. Drape writes of Hong Kong:
Over the past five years, it has had only eight sudden deaths among 45,000 runners, or one per 5,692 starters. The American fatality rate is 2.14 per 1,000 starters.
However, Hong Kong has only 83 racing dates, so the economics of the industry is vastly different from that over here. So it just might be that a higher death rate constitutes acceptable collateral damage, unfortunate but necessary to keep the vast number of people who make their living in the industry employed. Oh, does that sound cold? The concept of collateral damage seems OK after all when it comes to innocent human Afghans caught up in NATO night raids.

In fact, this country seems to have a more callous attitude overall towards human life than in Europe. After all and for example, unlike in the vast majority of Europe, we execute convicted criminals over here, despite the fact that it's been proven that not all of them are actually guilty. And we've been known to start wars that led to tens of thousands of deaths for no good reason at all. So all of this sudden hand-wringing over horses seems rather incongruous to me. As I've said before, if you're a racing fan or participant, you've already checked your morality at the door and signed off on the fact that these animals are bred and brought to this earth for no other purpose than their sheer exploitation for our pleasure and commerce; and that some of them inevitably and unavoidably become casualties along the way.

None of this is to say that we should totally ignore feedback from overseas, especially when we're told by foreign buyers that they are shying away from American auctions "because we view the performances of U.S. horses with skepticism because of the medication policies." And I'm surely in full support of steps to make the sport safer - including the synthetic experiment that many have derided due to nothing but their own selfish interests and superfluous personal preferences. However, American horsemen need to figure out what works for them and for their industry in this country, and put the views of those from other jurisdictions in the perspective that they belong.


Figless said...

When these superior Euro bred horses ship over for the Breeders Cup most of them run on Salix.

Why is that? They suddenly bleed when entering our country? Is bleeding contagious?

Personally I favor elimination of all race day meds but the Euro superiority argument sickens me.

El Angelo said...

Here's the real question to me--what's best long term for the breed? Because if Lasix and other race-day meds are what is contributing to the decline in how frequently horses run, the discussion becomes something different.

steve in nc said...

Alan, while your skewering of Drape is justified, I just don't get the rest.

Are you really saying that because the US has capital punishment and acts as if war is always the answer, no one can raise any objections to racing's med policies? Why can't we object to capital punishment, wrong wars and overmedication of horses? I don't think anyone who posts here, even the haters, checks their morality at the door (the haters have none to check).

And you conclude by leaving this up to the horsemen only? What about the bettors whose churn provides the purses and the taxpayers who subsidize breeding more NY Breds that can't crack 1:13?

If Motion is right about this, then why haven't the Europeans been scrambling to find something else to control bleeding? Probably because it's not such a big problem.

Pre-lasix, I don't remember seeing "bled" in the running lines very often. But now 99% of US horses are on it. I think Motion's just arguing for doing what he knows how to do, and he may not be using Lasix to flush out illegal drugs but others may well be.

And I can't imagine why you're defending the status quo when it comes to how many races are run here. We should have fewer races which would give us bigger fields and better horses competing. To thrive in the long run, this industry needs to thin out a little now. Your argument sounds like the old failed argument that Detroit needed to keep churning out gas guzzlers to protect jobs.

You like the NYRA races now? Compared to a decade ago, the field size and quality sucks.

Whether you want to describe cutting back on all the bad races as emulating Europe, or simple common sense, is up to you. Same for socialized medicine. Why reject one because we don't have the other? I vote for both.

Should we support big agribusiness in poisoning like mad and abusing the soil because it's easier and cheaper for them? Leaving things up to the horsemen without considering consumers is essentially the same thing. At least concerned food shoppers can vote with our dollars and buy organic. Until they start carding races in this country for horses with no lasix or bute, we players have no such option. We need one and I'm really disappointed that you're letting pique at Joe Drape turn you away from advocating for a cleaner sport.

Anonymous said...

Just to clear up a few has been well proven that, when administered four hours before a race, as it is in the U.S., Lasix has no significant affect on the detectability of other drugs in a horse's system. And it NEVER affects detectability in blood samples, which are also drawn during testing. That argument for banning Lasix has been put to bed. In fact, the argument seems to be that Lasix levels the playing field--back in the day when it was not permitted in New York, trainers were all over the map when it came to treating bleeders, and many used methods that were not strictly legal. Do we really want to go back to those Wild West days? Finally, if horses don't bleed, then why do so many international horsemen use Lasix during training? Because, as was revealed at the medication summit, they do use it...

Steve Zorn said...

Well, to start with, I'm definitely FOR socialized medecine, since the US capitalist variety is on the verge of bankrupting the country (Medicare and the Veterans Administration, btw, are the lowest-cost major health providers in the country.)

Now, if anyone wants to go further, I was at the medication "Summit" Monday, and found it extremely useful. Some things are pretty clear about Lasix> First, most horses bleed. Second, only a very small proportion (under 1%) bleed so significantly that it impairs performance. Third, Lasix reduces both the incidence and the severity of bleeding, though it certainly doesn't eliminate it. Fourth, Lasix makes horses run faster, both because they bleed less and because they lose 20 pounds or so. So, Lasix is BOTH a "performance enhancer" as the critics say, AND a "performance enabler" or "optimizer," as US horsemen prefer to say. That's why the Euros run on Lasix when they come over for the Breeders Cup. It's legal and, in general, it makes horses run faster.

Anon. is right; modern testing can pretty much look through the Lasix; it doesn't mask other drugs. Still uncertain is the long-term effect of repeated Lasix use, especially in leaching calcium and other minerals, with the possible result of more brittle bones.

Lots more on this issue, including the science behind these statements, on my blog,, with a final installment to be posted tonight.

Anonymous said...

Weiner just pulled out of Congress. What a slug - but the perfect representative for New York City. Now he can get together with Ginger Lee and make a porn movie. After that he can run for mayor of NYC.

steve in nc said...

Thank you Steve Z. I'm glad to stand corrected on the masking issue, and glad to learn why horses do seem to do a little better with lasix. If the 20 pounds would stay off, I'd take lasix myself.

Figless said...

At a bare minimum Graded 1 and Grade 2 races should be run medication free, with super testing procedures on every entrant, including pre race testing.

In a race with a 250k purse there is no monetary excuse for using anything less than the most aggressive testing technigues, the cost should be deducted from nomination fees.

A horse that will be bred needs to earn its black type to prevent a long term decline in the breed.

Rick Violette said...

Steve Zorn, you keep getting this wrong. What was clearly said was that about 1% of horses ABROAD bleed through the nose and are determined to be bleeders over there. Most do not use endoscopic examination to determine if a horse has bled. Even in Hong Kong if a horse bleeds a four out of four but isn't scoped within ten minutes after the race the horse is not deemed to have bled. D. Robinson made it very clear that bleeding even at the lower level of two out of four affected performance. Dr Robinson also stated that even minor episodes of bleeding had a cumulative effect on the lungs, significantly changing the structure and efficiency of the dorsal part of the lung. What the international community refused to address was the crude method that they use to identify a bleeder. In this day and age of nuclear scintigraphy, digital scans, digital exrays, in order to discover even the infancy of injury and illness; how do they justify using such a primitive method of the horse bleeding visibly through the nose to determine that a horse has bled. It's barbaric, it's irresponsible and certainly is their; don't ask don't tell.

race said...

I agree with Figless--At least Grade I and Grade II up the testing, eliminate Lasix for those races. It would be a start. But we still don't know the long term effect on Horses, and what they throw off to their young, it may not make a damn difference--r