Industry Must Move on Race-Day Medications

(By Avalyn Hunter)

When the board of the Breeders' Cup announced its plans to phase out all race-day medication for Breeders' Cup entrants, discussions sprang up  on media outlets, forums, and blogs across the country.[Read The Blood-Horse editor Eric Mitchell's comments  in this week's What's Going On Here column.] Most of the responses can be described as cautiously positive, though the proposal to include Salix in the ban continues to draw some argument. But in truth, this was a move that was badly needed, and probably should have come sooner.

First, racing must move on the race-day medication issue or face the specter of government regulation. While Congressional oversight might solve some problems, the chances are excellent that it would create far more than it would solve. The interests of politicians are not necessarily those of racing or horsemen, and everyone involved in the Thoroughbred industry would do well to remember this.

Second, the Breeders' Cup's decision has forced other groups to not only acknowledge the elephant in the room but to consider what they will do about it. If racing's championship event will no longer permit the use of race day medications, state racing commissions have the choice of following suit or risking that the tracks and races they oversee may lose influence in the development and crowning of champions. One need only review the history of racing in New York, which for years held out against liberalized medication rules, to know what can happen when horses that have earned their reputations while racing on medication must suddenly do without. And while horsemen had the option of forgoing racing in New York if they did not wish to abide by that state's rules, one suspects that racing's elite will be far more reluctant to pass on the Breeders' Cup.

Third, the decision to eliminate medication from North American racing's top showcase is likely to resonate favorably with foreign horsemen, many of whom have viewed American form with deep suspicion in recent years. While the prevalence of dirt racing in North America sometimes has been blamed for this, it should be remembered that dirt racing was even more prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s, which saw both a flood of top American-bred runners in Europe and top prices paid for American bloodstock by foreign buyers. To be sure, the incredible success of Northern Dancer helped fuel the boom, but other lines, such as those of Hail to Reason and Never Bend, also adapted very well to European conditions.

The long and the short of it is that American racing's preference for dirt surfaces is no more of an issue that it was 40 years ago; it is the widespread use of race day medications that has been the biggest single change in American racing since then, and it goes against the grain of legal practices in the world's other major racing nations. We can either keep in step with the rest of the world, as the Breeders' Cup has decided to do, or we can risk becoming increasingly irrelevant.


Leave a Comment:


Ms. Hunter,

You are in favor of a race-day ban on furosemide (Salix/Lasix). One could offer many arguments both for and against its race-day use, so I must assume that the three offered (in your piece) were deemed by you to be the most compelling. Even should one grant accuracy/agreement with all three (which I don't), they are woefully insufficient to support your stated position. It is faulty reasoning such as yours (displayed in print) that has clouded and distorted the real issues. Not so unlike what often occurs in political discourse.  

25 Jul 2011 7:08 PM

The board can ban race day medications but that won't stop it.  How will this be enforced?  Cameras in every stall?  Who will be allowed to get close to the horse and who will be watching?

As this rule comes closer to becoming a reality, sketchy

trainers are already collaborating with their chemists and vets in an effort to develop extended release medications (performance enhancing drugs) that will not have to be administered on race day.

You can bet on it!

26 Jul 2011 11:35 AM


I am a bettor.

What I find disturbing about this subject is the way the facts get twisted depending upon people's agendas.

Reading some reports one would think that a South African study concluded that Lasix prevents bleeding.

To help set matters straight, here are 3 excerpts about the report taken from the Abstract version of

the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,

July 1, 2009, Vol. 235

1- "Objective—To evaluate the efficacy of furosemide for prevention of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in Thoroughbred racehorses under typical racing conditions"

2- Results—Horses were substantially more likely to develop EIPH (severity score ≥ 1; odds ratio, 3.3 to 4.4) or moderate to severe EIPH (severity score ≥ 2; odds ratio, 6.9 to 11.0) following administration of saline solution than following administration of furosemide. In addition, 81 of the 120 (67.5%) horses that had EIPH after administration of saline solution had a reduction in EIPH severity score of at least 1 when treated with furosemide"

3-"Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results indicated that prerace administration of furosemide decreased the incidence and severity of EIPH in Thoroughbreds racing under typical conditions in South Africa".

What I take from this is that Lasix helps roughly two-thirds of  horses with EIPH, but does not help the remaining one-third.

Since I,the bettor, cannot tell which ones are helped, this is enough reason why it should not be used on raceday.

Lasix does not eliminate EIPH. It reduces the incidence.

(Today at Goodwood was entertaining.

None of the horses were aided by the performance-enhancing qualities of the drug).

(saline solution=placebo)

26 Jul 2011 3:30 PM

another OP without one single solitary word about what's best for the animal.

26 Jul 2011 5:59 PM


I'll try to keep this brief. Firstly, where is it written that the "bettors" desires trump the health and well-being of the horse? Even if only 2/3rds of horses are helped (and, this help can sometimes be life-saving), isn't 2/3rds a rather substantial number? Secondly, just as you "cannot tell which ones are helped" (by Lasix), so too you cannot tell which ones have a propensity to "bleed" if none are permitted this race-day medication. If your answer to this is that their "form" will supply the answer, so too will the form supply the answer whether or not Lasix is permitted. Lastly, I suggest you find and read the full text of the S. African study.

26 Jul 2011 9:29 PM


Thank you for suggesting what my answer would be.

What makes you think I have not read the full text?

Nice red-herring that line.  

My position remains as stated, except that I would add that horses that need a "life-saving" medication to race ought to be retired. That is how concerned I am about " the health and well-being of the horse".

I enjoyed today's races at Goodwood.

I will be brief too.

27 Jul 2011 1:32 PM

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