Reasonable Minds Can Differ

Recently, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) – a trade association made up of state regulatory bodies nationwide - issued a statement calling on the horse racing industry and member regulators to embrace a strategy to phase out drugs and medications in horse racing within five years. The release further called for a move to bring North American racing policies in line with other jurisdictions around the world. In fact, as it relates to administration of medications on race day, we are out of step with the rest of racing jurisdictions in the world in one respect:

Unlike the rest of the world, we permit race day administration of medications for treatment of one ailment--exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), a debilitating lung condition experienced by some horses during training and racing. The most commonly used medication to treat “bleeders” is furosemide (commonly known as Lasix). We allow this anti-bleeder medication because it has been established by peer-reviewed scientific studies to be “efficacious” in treating EIPH. Eleven states allow so-called bleeder adjuncts which are also medications used in treating EIPH.

Because of the performance enhancing (some say performance optimizing) qualities of furosemide, several years ago the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) – our industry’s drug and medication advisory body - recommended that any horse be allowed to use furosemide on race day regardless of whether that horse has ever bled during training or racing.  This policy, which was intended to level the playing field from a performance enhancement standpoint, has led to widespread use of Lasix in the U.S.  It is this prevalence of furosemide that is the basis for the RCI statement.   

Personally, I think that RCI missed an opportunity to address the single most pressing drug and medication-related issue facing our sport – the perceived lack of tough enforcement against those who use illegal performance enhancing drugs and therapeutic medications (PEDs) to cheat.  I wish the RCI chairs had challenged their members to do something that only their membership can do – aggressively punish PED cheaters and thereby send a clear message that we as an industry are serious about policing our sport. All major racing jurisdictions have the rules and penalties in place to do so.  Regulators simply need to be more aggressive in using these rules and penalties.

Nonetheless, the legitimate question raised by the RCI statement is whether the race day use of medications to treat bleeders is the best way to manage and treat EIPH. There is no question that it is an effective way to manage the condition but is it good for racing in this country. Europe and all other major racing jurisdictions outside of North America have decided that race day medication, however beneficial for the horse, must be banned in order to maintain the integrity of the sport and overall public support for the industry.  Whether we in the U.S. should follow their policies is the question before us.   

Given the many recent calls from groups like the Breeders’ Cup, The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Keeneland and others to revisit and/or revise our policies regarding administration of medications on race day, the NTRA joined with the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the RMTC in calling for an international summit on the issue of race day medication, EIPH and horse racing.

Our goal is to review the current practices in the U.S. with respect to race day medication including specifically the management of EIPH.  We will examine new developments in veterinary science and international veterinary practice.  We will also be looking at current scientific research and regulation both domestically and internationally. We are going to be gathering objective facts from around the world on which to base our discussions and decisions. It will be an open, fair process that includes all stakeholders in the discussion. No reasoned position will be villainized or dismissed. All we ask of participants is a basic respect for the various points of view on the matter because this is truly a case where reasonable minds can differ.
The summit will delve into two pieces of a complex issue—the current science and regulatory management of EIPH around the world. Issues relating to customer perception, industry economics and potential government action at the Federal level must also be factored into the equation in the near future, but they won’t be part of this summit. It promises to be a very busy summer.

Tell me what you think about therapeutic medications in competition?  Is there a place for race day medication in today’s sports world?  Let me hear from you.  I understand that this is an issue that has a lot of passion on both sides.  Please keep the comments respectful.  We all have the best interest of our equine athletes in mind.  Disagreement can be productive, but shouting matches and name calling won't get us anywhere.


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needler in Virginia

No race day meds, EVER. If a horse, for ANY reason, requires race day meds, it has no business racing. Period. If a horse requires Salix, it should not be racing; if a horse requires bute, it should not be racing; if a horse requires any analgesic, it should not be racing. There's no argument calling for race day meds that makes any sense to me. I'm all for the international rules, and to think the US horses are somehow different from Thoroughbreds around the world is audacious, arrogant and unrealistic.

Cheers and safe trips to all.

22 Apr 2011 6:14 PM

Yes, Salix (Lasix) has been shown (by scientific studies) to be efficacious in REDUCING/MINIMIZING, or PREVENTING EIPH in the thoroughbred racehorse. Until a better (and cost-effective) substitute is found, it would seem immoral to withhold it from the racehorse on race day or otherwise. It has been widely accepted that the vast majority of US racehorses experience EIPH-a lung damaging condition-its best remedy, to one degree or another is Salix. The fact that most/all other racing jurisdictions ban Salix on race day is alone not proof that their position in preferable. It's highly unlikely that their runners are less prone to EIPH. What are their Tx protocols for EIPH? ?? far more expensive??, less efficacious? Doubt they use "better science". The horse's health and well-being trumps all else-including potential negative public perceptions. Gastrogard-type meds are another that should be permissible on race day. Our racehorses already experience too great a risk. Let's not cause them even more harm. I agree, this issue needs calm, thoughtful, and well-researched approach from "experts"-with the proviso that the best interests of the horse are paramount.  

22 Apr 2011 6:33 PM

Please, no therapeutic medications in competition--animal or human, period.  Both horse and jockey are put at risk, as well as the rest of the field. Only oats and water, please.

22 Apr 2011 7:25 PM
John T

I totally agree on the banning of

all drugs and medications in North

American racing to bring it in line

with the rest of the racing world

because drugs no matter if you are human or a racehorse means addiction.It,s as simple as that.

And addiction means poor performance.Let,s make North American racing a better sport by getting rid of all drugs and medications on raceday and they should only be used on a horse with a specific ailment who does not intend to have a race for a long period of time.

22 Apr 2011 9:30 PM

The use of drugs/medications in horse racing only undermines the sport.  I have heard people upon hearing the words, thoroughbred racing, the first thing that is mentioned is the use of the medications. The Breeders Cup (Life At Ten) was a nation wide diaster. For the people that I watched it with (not regular race followers) it was more confirmation of the use of medications in the sport. Sad to witness actually. If the industry wants to retain a fan base it needs to regulate the use of medications. If the horse doesn't need it for a medical reason, they don't use it.

22 Apr 2011 9:59 PM

<sigh> yet another "summit," conference, meeting..what have you. Just another opportunity to look like you're doing something while putting off the inevitable.

No disrespect intended, Mr. Waldrop, but international racing authorities and the court of public opinion have already adjudicated the issue of race-day medication - and the verdict is clear:  American racing is guilty of endangerment to the sport of thoroughbred racing.  Fans and lovers of horses are put off in dismay by horses drugged to perform beyond their physical abilities (chronic "bleeders" shouldn't be competing); handicappers' bets are compromised and often result in unfairness to them when medications go wrong (Life At Ten). Even breeders are at a disadvantage when it is so well known that their champion studs and broodmares were subject to and enhanced in their racing careers by Lasix and possibly unknown substances.  The rest of the world frowns and/or turns away from breeding to these drug-induced performers.  Every other sport dissociates itself from performance enhancers and has real penalties for 'users.'  Isn't that something that Racing should emulate?  

NTRA needs to stop spending meagre funds on useless conferences and simply align itself with the RCI position, which is the correct and acceptable position to global racing authorities as well as to the long-term health of our horses.

As for RCI missing an opportunity to address the enforcement of rules regarding illegal drugs, let's be clear they're illegal for a reason and no-one should have to beg individual racing authorities to enforce the rules.  I'm a little encouraged that KY has taken a good step in that direction (Dutrow); but until there's a National authority, no committee will be able to override a State Jurisdiction.  All of you - Committees/Commissions, Associations and whatever else you call yourselves are powerless vs the individual State or Track Authorities.

In the end, only the Owners and Trainers can stop the use of drugs - Lasix or otherwise.  Let the Industry organizations such as NTRA and RCI, the various states and racetracks, put the pressure squarely where it belongs.  You won't eliminate drugs?  You don't race here. That simple.

22 Apr 2011 10:14 PM
Mike Relva

Hello Alex:

The other drugs should be punished harshly,but the lasix should remain. In my opinion,it's cruel to ban this.

22 Apr 2011 11:28 PM

Lasix sould not be permitted for two reasons. The first is that it works. What seems humane in the short term, helping bleeders run better, is bad for the thoroughbred horse. There is almost certainly a hereditary component to bleeding because running at top speed saves horses from predators. A med that helps bleeders win and spread their genes weakens the thoroughbred. The second reason is that Lasix, a diuretic, makes it harder to detect other drugs that also level the playing field between fit and unfit horses and enable other bad genes to spread. (Lasix is a multiple whammy.)

Speaking as a geneticist, ban race day drugs - all of them.

22 Apr 2011 11:32 PM
Ed Brockman

To the fan and the public at large race day medication can be a troubling issue.  Do horses in the U.S. have a more common and pronounced problem with EIPH than those in other race jurisdictions ?  If not, then why do we need to use medications that others do not use on race day ?  Lasix is a performance enhancer, and so it is used on horses that do not suffer from EIPH.  This just does not seem right to the general public, especially with all the press re: performance enhancing drugs used by human athletes.

Is EIPH highly heritable?  If so, the industry should be taking reasonable steps to produce a population of horses that does not commonly have the defect.

There needs to be uniformity in all U.S. racing jurisdictions as relates to regulation of those in the industry, and violators should be dealt with on a national basis.

23 Apr 2011 5:51 AM

Neither Bute nor Lasix are performance enhancing drugs.  In 20+ years of training racehorses, I cannot recall ever running a horse on Bute.  I have had several bleeders who ran on Lasix.  Not every horse needs raceday meds but the ones that due should have them.  IMO, it's drugs in training that cause the most problems.

23 Apr 2011 8:29 AM

I have a hard time believing all horses running are bleeders. But if you look at the entries at any given race/track here in the states pretty much the norm is all are on lasix.

I personally do not believe if a horse/human/dog/etc have to have drugs to race then they should not be running that day.

I believe the meds we pour on the horses cover up problems that help to cause catastrophic break downs. As in all living creatures there will be some health problems from time to time. But where the race day drugs are prohibited over seas they do have less breakdowns than the US does.

23 Apr 2011 10:10 AM
Warren Ward

Your balanced view of race day medication in the USA is appreciated. Equiwinner, a non-drug ten day course of dermal patches has been widely available in the US for the last seven years, and has successfully treated over twelve thousand horses with EIPH.

Equiwinner prompts the equine cell signaling system to reset to normal, ending the high blood pressure which causes EIPH. The success rate of Equiwinner is over 96 per cent and a single treatment normally prevents EIPH for a year, at a much lower cost than race day medications. Numerous endorsements for Equiwinner can be found on the US website

It is to be hoped that this natural method of reversing EIPH, or any other similar treatments that may be developed in the future, will gain much wider acceptance so that horses in North America can compete on merit alone, as in the rest of the world.

23 Apr 2011 10:22 AM
Phil in Nebraska

I see no reason for any use  race day medications. We need to follow the path of the rest of the world and ban any race day medication. The casual race fan does not understand why race day medications are used and it just serves to give racing a black eye.

23 Apr 2011 10:28 AM
Anonymous Racing Fan

You're right, that Lasix was proven successful in treating EIPH, when used ONCE on a horse!  Would you take a drug yourself after it was proven to work once or would you prefer to wait until long term use was proven to be without side effects?  The case on Lasix is not open and shut, yet.

23 Apr 2011 11:25 AM

I would like to see the elimination of all race-day medications with the exception of Salix.  Salix has been proven to reduce the severity of bleeding episodes.

The vast majority of racehorses bleed--and they have always bled--why deny them some help with this condition?

While we can look at the rest of the world through rose-colored glasses all is not as it at first appears.  North American testing is far, far more sensitive than anywhere else in the world to not only the drugs, but the metabolites.

Thresholds for some therapeutic drugs (and their metabolites) need to be set at reasonable levels.

Many drug positives are at levels that have zero impact on the race and are more to do with the sensitivity of the testing equipment and a horse's individual physiology at being able to clear the drug (and the metabolites) from their system.

These positives are not the positives of "cheaters," but can be the result of the lab changing things at their end with more sensitive equipment.

I would like to see more out of competition testing looking for the real cheaters in the sport, not the guy who misjudged a withdrawal time or whose groom didn't clean the feed tub well enough, leaving trace amounts that the horse ingests and comes up with a positive.

it is nice to think that horses of yesterday ran on  hay, oats and water, but I think that is a fantasy.  Things just didn't get tested for back then.

23 Apr 2011 11:28 AM

I think that allowing race-day medications should be phased out.  I'm glad somebody had the cojones to recommend it.  There is several reasons why this would be good.  Yes, Mr. Waldrop, I agree wholeheartedly that penalties and sanctions should be swiftly applied and firmly enforced upon those trainers who cheat.  They tarnish the reputation of the sport and defraud the wagering public, NOT to mention damaging the equines under their care.  BUT, if race day medication was banned, it would meke it a lot easier to detect the cheaters.  Another reason this would be a good policy is for the long-term benefit of the Thoroughbred breed.  WHY is EIPH so common among racehorses?  Why are we sending to the breeding shed animals who have this condition, only to pass it on to the next generation?   It seems that other interests, such as money and ego, drive a great deal of the care and training of racehorses, rather than sound livestock management principles.  Please, please, let's get on equal footing with the rest of the civilized world who do not drug up their horses before racing.

23 Apr 2011 12:24 PM

Race day lasix is only "good for the horse" if you accept the premise that horses with this disorder be allowed to race (and worse, breed).  It's rather obvious that it is not good for the horse in the long run, it is only good for whoever might benefit financially from the horse running and breeding.  Our industry will take another hit as these horses are culled from the breeding pool (and where will they end up??), but in the long run, this is what is best for the horses.  

23 Apr 2011 1:10 PM

Lasix also leaches calcium and can predispose a horse to ulcers and other gastro-intestinal disorders, etc. How humane is that?

PS Isn't bute allowed on race day so sore/cripple horses can run?

23 Apr 2011 3:54 PM

It seems that many of the posters here and, no doubt, much of the racing public are missing the forest for the trees. Racehorses, on a regular basis, are asked to perform at speeds well beyond what is innately "natural" for them-they are also honed into a state of "fittness" well in excess of what would be their normal state. Yes, they are bred to accommodate this better than other breeds, but not better enough to sufficiently withstand such excesses. This being the case, there are but two reasonable courses. 1. Offer them some protection (albeit insufficient) or, 2, perhaps the far more moral approach, ban the sport. Given this dynamic, it seems rather improbable that we can selectively breed out EIPH, just as we will be unable to prevent, or appreciably diminish "breakdowns", etc. through better selective breeding. Face the music, folks, horseracing, as presently practiced (meds aside), is, in reality, the true "bitter pill".        

23 Apr 2011 5:15 PM

I think race-day medications mask whatever the horse's problem is, and allow him or her to run in a way that risks worsening the issue at hand.  Pain is designed to "speak."  If a person or an animal has a pain, there's a reason.  If you just mask it, it doesn't solve the problem, and in some cases has allowed for catastrophic breakdowns.

I'm glad the steroids have been done away with, at least.  I had been "away" from racing for awhile before Big Brown's 3-year-old year; and I remember being very startled to find out BB was on steroids.  

24 Apr 2011 1:12 PM


Is it really a good idea to ban a multibillion dollar industry? I mean we are in the middle of a recession right now and banning a multibillion dollar industry will crash the economy and put millions of people out of work. Great idea. Also how would that law be worded. If it is worded as any sport where horses race against each other then barrel racing, endurance racing, harness racing, quarter horse racing, and most gymkhana sports would all be banned. What if it is more vague than that. Why not ban all horse disciplines? Then horses can all be free to run in the pasture. That's what PETA wants. On another note where does all the research come from that benefits all horses? Oh yea the horse racing industry. Research takes substantial amounts of money. Because of horses like Barbaro there have been advancements in laminitis and breakdown research. The Barbaro fund continues to donate money towards research for laminitis. There is good that comes out of this industry. Face the facts horse racing is not the only sport that has problems. In the reining horse and working cow horse world horses are pushed at a young age to compete in futurities. At these events there are horses that limp into the vet tent and walk out to go compete in their class. Many of these horses have arthritis at an early age. In the halter horse world horses are bred to be carriers of the HYPP gene because these horses have more muscle mass than horses that don't. Horses that are carriers of this gene can still have paralysis attacks. Every industry has its problems and controversial issues but there is no talk about banning the reining or halter horse industries. There are good owners and trainers in the racing industry. The Jacksons who owned Barbaro did everything humanly possible to save that horse. When they knew he could not go on without pain, they did the best thing for the horse. Rather than face the music why not face the cold hard facts. Horse racing may have its problems but saying it should be banned is both nieve and ignorant.

24 Apr 2011 1:55 PM
Diane in Los Angeles

My concern about lasix encouraging the breeding to horses that bleed has already been raised, but it has a subtler effect even on those who did not need it for EIPH:  the significant shifts in body fluids from rapid diuresis increase the time it takes to recover after a race, and that means fewer starts and smaller field sizes.  Not good.

24 Apr 2011 5:42 PM

You all quote other jurisdictions, but have no real clue what goes on in those jurisdictions.  Did you all know that Amacar came from oversees.  It was used for EIPH.  So is there really a ban on all drugs.  Or only ones that are tested for.  You are all asuming things.  T-breds only show bleeding less than 3% of the time externally.  Only until endoscopy was it discovered the widespread problem.  Was it not there before, or just going undetected.  Most of the people judging and making comments sit on the sideline with no real information.  The people who work with these animals everyday care for them.  Yes there are some bad eggs, but that is the case in any industry.  Weed them out one by one.  

24 Apr 2011 10:47 PM

There is a very simple solution to this: ban race day meds.  Track the horses that bleed.  REQUIRE that horses that are proven bleeders be gelded or struck from the breeding population, depending on sex.  Horses that are CURRENTLY breeding and were bleeders or have been proven to pass on the condition need to be either removed from the breeding stock, or they need to be better matched with those that do NOT have a history of bleeding foals.

Will that piss off everyone in the breeding industry?  Absolutely.  Will it create an incredible shortage of racing stock in the future?  Absolutely.  But SOMETHING has to be done to improve the breed and change the viewpoint from breeding to sell back to breeding to race.  

Cap the stud fees.  Cap the stud BOOKS - this breeding to 150 mares a year is obscene.  Max them at something reasonable, like 80.  Give incentives for stallions or mares that breed outside of their "class" (ie, Giant's Causeway breeding to a claimer, or some unknown stallion gets to cover Zenyatta) so we still get the class that top horses possess, along with the durability of these claimers that run 70 or 80 times in their career - publish something like a public, sliding scale on the stud fees.  On the same note, REQUIRE that some of these stallions like Giant's Causeway or Bernardini or whomever set aside 10% of their covers per year for claiming mares for a nominal fee.  

The breed HAS to be improved, and the only way to do that is to level the breeding playing field - the medications are borderline secondary to something like this.  The more we push these horses that have hereditary issues like bleeding, the more they get passed on, and the weaker the breed becomes.  Not only should bleeding be addressed, but horses that continually produce foals that have chronic soundness issues at an early age - how often have you heard of a horse breakdown, the sire be someone like Unbridled or Unbridled's Song, and a fan or fans that keeps up with racing go "No surprise there, typical Unbridled"?  That's yet another black mark on the industry.

24 Apr 2011 11:10 PM

I agree with those who are opposed to race day use of any medications, including Lasix/Salix.  Those who state EIPH is widespread in the breed may or may not be correct, I have not seen any evidence proving or disproving that, but it is certainly MORE widespread than it once was BECAUSE of race day use of Lasix/Salix.  Several others have pointed out the genetic component of this error - horses who win are used more widely in breeding programs, and horses who win only because they are allowed to use medication are perpetuating the need to use medication.  I quite disagree that EIPH cannot be bred out of horses.  Perhaps if more stallion and broodmare owners proudly advertised that their horses always won without medications, and/or owners of those who used it were required to disclose it in all advertising including sale information on offspring, breeders, buyers, and agents would have greater awareness of whether they were contributing to the problem.

Anyone who believes genetic characteristics cannot be bred into or out of breeds should study further.  Many breeds of various animals have been bred with an eye toward specific traits, speed included.

25 Apr 2011 6:55 PM
Mary in VT

The biggest danger is that the breed is gradually being weakened by generations of horses running on race day meds thereby clouding the true picture of which horses deserve to breed on. Secondly, the public trust in this industry is at an all time low, and medication issues plays a large part in public awareness.

A better question might be "How long will it take for the Thoroughbred race horse to recover it's natural strength and vitality once we stop the use of race day medications?" Another good question "How long will it take horse racing to recover the public trust once we stop the use of race day medication? "

25 Apr 2011 8:15 PM

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