Romans: In defense of Lasix
(The following is a counterpoint to the commentary by Lincoln Collins of Kern Thoroughbreds, calling for a ban on race-day medication.)
Thoroughbred racing is challenging; horses are urged to run as fast as they can, for distances up to a mile and a half, with a 125pound jockeys on their back. There is, however, one long-known problem that affects racing horses. Racing causes EXERCISE INDUCED pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH, respiratory bleeding) in 100% of horses.
Lasix/Salix (furosemide), a human blood pressure medication, has proven, over 40 years, to be the most effective preventative of EIPH. Claims that horse trainers use Lasix to shed water weight and gain a competitive edge, thereby putting horses at risk of catastrophic injuries, are simply unfounded.
Thoroughbred trainers and owners are committed to do all they can to prevent racing injuries. Lasix has no harmful effects, it is fair across the board because all trainers can use it; and it is a proven preventative of exercise induced pulmonary damage to Thoroughbreds.
Lasix research points overwhelmingly to its benefits for horses. On May 14, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) set forth that Lasix PREVENTS the pathological lung changes that lead to bleeding. Proof comes from the definitive 2009 South African study, which showed that furosemide administration decreased the incidence and severity of EIPH in Thoroughbreds. Furthermore, no competitive advantage comes from its use: all trainers have access to the medication, and the actual weight loss is but a fraction of the Thoroughbred's hulking frame.
The use of Lasix in racing is very tightly regulated. Assertions are often made that the ideal path for American racing is a sport without race-day medications. I question this claim: Is banning a medication that unquestionably protects the health and welfare of the racing horse putting the welfare of the horse first?
The AAEP letter, previously referred to, suggests that without Lasix trainers will withhold water from horses leading up to a race to produce dehydration – a clearly non-humanitarian practice. Before Lasix, herbal remedies, nutraceuticals, and ineffective medications of no scientific value for preventing EIPH were used, with side effects that jeopardized a horse's health. As the AAEP explicitly set forth, “None of the aforementioned products have any scientific merit for treating EIPH, and would only add to the industry's concern about overmedication in racing.”
Lasix is the only proven EIPH preventative. Trainers, in other parts of the world, are allowed Lasix in training but on race day may be forced to employ alternative medications that fall below the scope of regulation – perhaps including some of the treatments outlined above.
These facts are being ignored to the detriment of our magnificent Thoroughbreds. I have spent most of my life in the racing industry and I believe that horse racing must come down to what is in the horse's best interest. The welfare of the horse has gone by the wayside of late, for reasons too numerous to mention. It is my firm belief that one of the worst abuses that can be done to the racing horse is to ban Lasix.
I am not suggesting that racing does not require changes, particularly when it comes to stopping trainers illicitly gaining an edge, but banning Lasix will do no such thing. This prescription for racing would place countless Thoroughbreds at risk of catastrophic injury, where a humane method of relieving the duress of competition is cast aside in favor of mystery concoctions.
Our horses and our industry, looking to ensure the safety of Thoroughbreds through a unique preventative medication, Lasix, deserve better.