A Turning Tide - By Eric Mitchell

The debate over race-day Salix in America is at a logjam that puts the federal government shutdown to shame. Both camps are entrenched, Breeders’ Cup has backed off its race-day policy, and the American Graded Stakes Committee is waiting to see how state racing commissions will address the issue.

Any more forums, workshops, or summits are not likely to change any opinions. Ultimatums have not been persuasive, but hopefully more research is being conducted that will shed light on the causes behind exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging and also on the physiological toll of giving Salix regularly to racehorses.

In the meantime, any progress from here is likely to be shaped by the one factor that drove us to widespread Salix use in the first place—competition on the racetrack.

An owner will pay attention if his horse is getting beat by someone else who is paying lower medication bills. A trainer will note whether the horses in another barn are recovering more quickly following their races.

We got a small sample Oct. 27 at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs as to how this shift in attitude could occur. Both racetracks ran cards exclusively for juveniles. Most of the races were maiden special weights ranging from six furlongs to a mile on the dirt and a few turf races from six furlongs to 11⁄16 miles. Belmont offered three stakes—the Sharp Cat Stakes, a 61⁄2-furlong contest on dirt for fillies; the Chelsea Flower Stakes, a one-mile turf race for fillies; and the Awad Stakes, a one-mile turf race for males. Churchill Downs offered two stakes, one for males (Street Sense Stakes) and one for fillies (Rags to Riches Stakes) that were both one-mile races on dirt.

Out of 86 starters at Belmont Park, 20 juveniles (23%) raced without Salix. At Churchill Downs, 15 (14%) of 110 starters raced without Salix.

The results should get some attention.

Juveniles running without Salix won races 2 through 7 on Belmont’s nine-race card and two of the three stakes. Tea Time, owned by Helen Groves with Jon and Sarah Kelly, won the Sharp Cat Stakes. The Pulpit filly was bred by her owners and is trained by Michael Matz. Tea Time was the only one in the four-horse field running without Salix. The Chelsea Flower Stakes was won by Recepta, a daughter of Speightstown owned by Phillips Racing Partnership and Pam Gartin. John Phillips and Hank Snowden bred the filly, who was one of two horses racing without Salix in a 12-horse field. The other filly racing without the medication finished second. Recepta is trained by Jim Toner.

Among the other winners at Belmont Park, three are homebreds for Darley Stable and are trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. They are Penwith (by Bernardini), Macaroon (by Tapit), and Fingers Crossed (by Elusive Quality). The sixth winner was Peace Mission, a colt by Harlan’s Holiday who is owned by Bill Farish and trained by John Shirreffs.

At Churchill Downs, horses racing without Salix won three of the 11 races run and one of the stakes. Clever Beauty, owned by Green Lantern Stables, won the Rags to Riches Stakes as the fourth choice in a seven-horse field. The daughter of Indian Charlie is trained by Rusty Arnold and was bred by Tony Holmes, Breffni Farm, and the Indian Charlie Syndicate. As in the Chelsea Flower, the only other horse in the race not running on Salix finished second.

The other winners sans Salix at Churchill included a Tapit filly named Playful Love, who won the first race on the card. She is owned by Narola Racing and is trained by Ian Wilkes. A colt by Kitten’s Joy named Sly Tom won a MSW for Jim and Susan Hill. The colt is trained by Brian Lynch and was bred by Scott and Elise Kendall.

Clearly, the majority of juveniles race on Salix, but only four races on this day (three at Churchill and one at Belmont) had fields in which every horse was running on Salix—a small but not insignificant shift.

No sea change occurred Oct. 27 and U.S. racing still has a long way to go toward addressing its medication use, but assuredly the tide is turning. 


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Lise from Maine


Hopefully performance enhancing drugs are not allowed any more.

Horses should come first meaning their health and care.

Doping them without a medical issue is absolutely wrong. I love these horses, and they should not be used to "just" win.

I make every effort not to bet on horses whom I believe has been doped without a medical issue.

I bet on horses not dope.

It is an exciting race to see a horse win on his or her own merits.

Owners: Love your horses and don't dope them needlessly.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

31 Oct 2013 11:23 AM


The focus of your article misses the point. EIPH has cumulative effects. The 2 yr. olds are least likely to be impaired, performance-wise, by EIPH, but many will bleed as the cascade of future long-term damage begins. The fact that many of these 2 yr. olds competed well says more about its relative lack of performance enhancing characteristics, and less about the ravages of EIPH...Let's at least be honest about the factors involved.

31 Oct 2013 10:27 PM


I always appreciate your perspective but if 2-year-olds are least likely to be impaired then why are the majority running on a medication they don't need? As to the performance-enhancing aspects of Salix, I think the number of studies done that illustrate the advantage of the lost water weight speak for themselves.

01 Nov 2013 8:42 AM

Dear Eric,

Thanks for your comment, and your question, albeit likely rhetorical, allows me to, hopefully, clarify this essential point. The answer is well known from the literature which stresses the cumulative injurious effects of EIPH. This very fact--that it's cumulative--should alone answer your question as to why it's necessary to dispense it to 2 yr. olds. Yes, for them the damage (from EIPH) is generally more minimal (since its effects are cumulative), but in general there is damage nonetheless--at that stage less likely to be evidenced by their performance. But, even minimal damage will set them up for progressively greater damage in later racing and training. Said another way; the damage itself enlarges the physiological consequences from subsequent EIPH insults- it exposes them to cumulatively greater damage. On your other point; I didn't suggest that Salix cannot be performance enhancing, but rather that your anecdotal data could make a case for it being less "enhancing" than some might expect. My main point, however, was that your data should not suggest that horses don't need (for their well being) Salix-the "rest of the world" notwithstanding. Should future research refute my remarks, so be it, but the present scientific literature supports my view. This issue and our decisions should be guided solely by science, and not by anecdote or the long winded rhetoric offered by some (I'm not here referring to you).    

01 Nov 2013 2:51 PM

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