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.