Crist on Lasix: Then and Now

by | 04.24.2012 | 1:54pm
Steven Crist

I have to admit Daily Racing Form publisher Steven Crist made a lot of sense when he wrote about Lasix. No, not the piece he authored last week when he said those who want to eliminate the raceday use of the anti-bleeder medication should practice what they preach and stop racing their horses on the drug.

And not the statement from the same article that called it deceptive and insincere thinking by those to want to phase out Lasix because of the perception among some in the general public that it is akin to “drugging up defenseless animals.”

No, I'm talking a 1987 article from the New York Times that seemed to take a decidedly different point of view, written by the same Steven Crist and making the rounds among the hay, oats, and water crowd over the last few days.

The article was written in connection with the 1987 Breeders' Cup, when at least 21 of 85 horses had been running on Lasix and, in Crist's words, were “perpetuating the sport's most unsavory aspect.”

His lead sentence reads: “More than anyone else, the nation's horse breeders should care about the medication crisis in Thoroughbred racing.”

Times have changed since 1987, I suppose. Back then, it was widely believed, as Crist wrote, that Lasix could flush “prohibited substances from a horse's system in order to elude post-race detection.”

Science now tells us that isn't true, at least when the Lasix is administered under strictly controlled circumstances. Drug testing has come a long way in 25 years. Science also has told us, through a study in South Africa that has been widely quoted of late, that Lasix does reduce the incidence of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

Yet the United States and Canada are the only major racing jurisdictions that currently permit the race-day use of Lasix.

But Crist also wrote in 1987 that “horsemen no longer even bother paying lip service to the fiction that they treat their horses with Lasix to keep them from bleeding. They say that it can only help, and that they will use it because it is legal.”

I think anyone has a right to change his or her mind, and Crist is as serious a student of the game as there has been in the modern era. In addition to his achievements as a respected journalist, he's worked for the New York Racing Association, served on blue ribbon panels, and sat through more Jockey Club Round Table presentations than he'd probably like to admit.

Back then, Crist called for the Breeders' Cup, Triple Crown, and all Grade 1 races to be run without medication. “Breeders always talk about ‘improving the breed,' and say that racing is merely the selection process for that goal,” he wrote. “The breeders, then, should be most concerned with the true ability of the best horses, whether they are really fast or just fast when on drugs.”

He concluded: “The Breeders' Cup was devised to increase flagging interest in racing and to draw new fans to the game. Instead, by continuing to permit Lasix on the year's supposed day of champions, the Breeders' Cup officials are perpetuating racing's worst image: that it is a shady gambling game in which drugs are as important as class, courage and talent. The sport is much better than that, and deserves much better from its self-appointed guardians.”

I couldn't agree more.

But that's just my opinion.  Read both articles for yourself.

New York Times, Nov. 20, 1987

Daily Racing Form, Apr. 20, 2012

  • Battlerbill

    I’m not hear to defend Crist or anybody, but I think you’re missing the points of his more recent article. Perception is not a reason to do anything. If you really believe it, then do it, but don’t pass a rule or a law or judgment on anything because of the way it looks or it is perceived. Do it because you believe it. And Nobody believes what they’re advocating when it comes to Lasix.

    Nobody in horse racing from top to bottom thinks that a) Lasix is detrimental to a horse or puts him in harm’s way. (Most people think the opposite but that’s inconsequential.) and b) Lasix is the overlying problem with medications in this country and the abolition of it will somehow turn things around, causing everybody to be playing on the same magical hay and oats level. (Most would argue the opposite, here, too, but that too is inconsequential.Everybody in horse racing is looking to create an honest fair playing field where the sport can thrive. Anybody disputing that is a fool, but that’s not the case here. In both of Crist’s articles, I think he’s consistent in making that point, but most importantly, he and everybody who cares about horse racing should not want actions done just because of perception, especially actions that are for the most part irrelevant to the real issues and possibly detrimental to the well being of the horse and the sport.

  • voiceofreason

    Crist wrote:  “That banning lasix will not suddenly bring new fans to racing.” He is right. In 1987 he wrote: “More than anyone else, the nation’s horse breeders should care about the medication crisis in Thoroughbred racing.” Right again.

    I don’t see the two related. Banning lasix has very little to do with the public. Making the sport fair and transparent? That has EVERYTHING to do with the public. Having leaders that speak the truth, refuse to hide cheating, enact laws that care for the horse… THAT has a lot to do with the Public. Making a level playing field. That’s good for some owners (the ones that play fair) and bad for others (the ones that have taken advantage for years). OK for gamblers too (although it was helpful to know the cheats and bet on them many races).

    Lasix is endemic of a much wider issue, so all the chatter about how it’s not important or it’s not the real issue is only partially right. It’s a tiny change with little effect. But what is resounding, like a cannon blast, is the fact that our industry cannot even legislate that away from the babies. We are so stagnant and wrought with corruption that we cannot regulate or legislate anything, unless forced.

    And if it costs the leaders of this industry a single penny, you can forget about it.

  • Owner

    His piece last week was about “perception” and that eliminating lasix wasn’t going to help that. I think Christ still believes strongly in what he wrote back in 1987.

    And rightfully so…the blame falls squarely on the few major owners, breeders who are making decisions for our industry…they’ve done nothing to improve the american racehorse, breeding practices.

    The Breeders Cup is strictly financial for the operators (handle), owners participanting (prize money, value added by being a G1 race)…

    No one anywhere around the world would classify it as deciding a “champion/ship” of any sort.

  • Jimculpepper

    Those  who earn their living with thoroughbreds need to remember that it is a sport and therefore, mere entertainment to everyone else.  Serious sports fans are scornful of what they consider doping in human athletes, horse racing gets a pass because most sportsmen in the USA have almost forgotten it exists unless some scandal sheet squawks about it.

  • Marshall Cassidy

    I’m not sure I can improve upon the comments that precede, all of which are generally both reasonable and sympathetic to the many issues Steve Crist writes so well about in the referenced articles, but one sentence in the final paragraph of his April 20, 2012 Daily Racing Form piece might warrent attention.

    Steve states among other things, “… 95 percent of horses race on (furosemide) … nobody believes that even half that many horses have a legitimate bleeding problem.”

    I can’t quibble with his suggestion of people’s belief, but I can question why the breeding industry would obviously endorse by any means the support of that many (heck, any!) probable legitimate-bleeder competitors in its vaunted Breeders’ Cup races. Think of it: “half” of 95% of a Breeders’ Cup card of say 114 racehorses is probably in need of medication to control organic hemorrhaging. Possibly 54 of “the world’s best thoroughbreds” — as stated with great admiration during the many Breeders’ Cup marketing advertisements — will suffer pain and risk death because they are physically inferior to the other 60 horses racing on that card. And these are the “the world’s best thoroughbreds?”

    What a sham!

  • Turnbackthealarm

    I think that lasix is detrimental to the horse. The tendency to bleed is genetic and it puts horses in harms way………… it leeches calcium out of their bones and masks other drugs.

  • Black Helen


  • James Staples

    most sportman along with “80% OF THE AMERCIAN PUBLIC” don’t really know “THE GAME” exists…EXPOSURE…EXPOSURE…& MORE DAMN EXPOSURE is what we need…GET BUSY!!!…ty Mr. Culpepper…

  • Barry Irwin

    You are absolutely 100 percent incorrect about everything you just wrote.

  • Hossracergp

    Do you have any proof to back up your opinion? What is damaging to the breed is 3 yr old colts that win the “right” Grade 1 races before and after the Derby that are immediately sent to stand at stud after they suffer some minor injury.  Hoping to cash in on a sales yearling, breeders line up at the gates to breed to said stallion who is neither proven or sound. Those  offspring are treated as sales horses from the time they are weanlings and put into “sales prep” routines and surgeries to make them look the part. Because now we have horsemen that need weanlings to look like 2 yr olds because they can’t actually look at a foal and predict what kind of athlete he will turn out to be. He needs to look like the finished product as a baby. That is what has sent the breed down the crapper, not some 5K claimer getting a shot of lasix to prevent and control his bleeding.
    How many horses are retired due to minor injury? Take our recent HOY mare…..was lasix her undoing? Did she get lasix often enough to “leech” the calcium from her bones? Is that what caused her to have ligament damage? Get real or get a clue.

  • Joe

     James, expose that toxic mess at your own risk: it’ll bite ya in the A$$!

  • Good to see you aren’t biased Ray.  As several people have noted already, the (2) articles were focusing on different aspects on the lasix debate so I don’t understand why you or anyone else would try to compare them in the 1st place.  You are clearly trying to discredit Crist and show his as a flip/flop in a passive aggressive article.

    You have said in several threads that you are not biased in the lasix debate and I assume you are trying to deny bias based on some form of journalistic integrity.

    Whether anyone agrees with lasix or not, I don’t see how anyone could argue that you are absolutely in favor of banning race day meds.  Don’t deny it and embrace your position.  It would be nice if you got some hands on experience with horses and could make an informed decision rather than going off tidbits from articles that generally include 1/2 truths and biased viewpoints.  But your site, your rules.

  • Joe

    MC: “And these are the “the world’s best thoroughbreds?””

    Yes, these are the best (drugged) thoroughbreds in the world because American racing, breeding and sales are all about money… Except for HOW (hay-oats-water) people who are ethical, caring, confident horsemen, genuine sportsmen and lovers of horse racing who desire to improve equine welfare and safety, face fair competition and save the breed from chemical man-made destruction.

  • Alex

     You really take a narrow view here, Hossracergp. You cannot use the argument that because there is one thing which is not right in the TB industry (too much emphasis on KY Derby, 3-y-o production &c.) means that there aren’t other things which also aren’t right. That point is completely inapposite to the issue here. Certainly breeding solely for speed and disregarding stamina and soundness is a major problem. But is is unrelated to the issue of Lasix.

    You seem to have a concern for the state of breeding. You say that breeding unproven, unsound horses contributes to genetic defects in the breed – unsoundness.

    By the EXACT SAME logic, it is being argued that breeding horses who bleed excessively contributes to genetic defects as well. Just as unsound horses should not be bred, excessive bleeders should not be bred.

    Surely you do not support running unsound horses on pain medication just so they can race better, and thereby increase breeding value, and thereby contribute to breed flaws. So why do you adamantly defend running horses who bleed on Lasix just so they can race better, breed, &c. See the parallels?

    Also, I like how you use one example – Havre de Grace – on which to say get a clue. That’s a weak argument , one suggesting you should take your own advice prior to derogatorily espousing it.

    And BTW, 5k claimers are sending the breed “down the crapper” and Lasix is helping! You want to save the breed? Get rid of 5k claimers.

  • RayPaulick

    Stewart. I have opinions, and they are based on being closely involved with this industry for more than 30 years. I have heard all the arguments, have been a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners board (as its non-veterinary member) and understand the point of view of the equine veterinarian very well, have close relationships with numerous trainers (most of whom believe race-day Lasix should continue, have read scientific papers on the subject of Lasix and other medications going back to the 1980s, have studied numerous public opinion surveys, attended veterinary, regulatory and industry conferences for decades, and probably talked to just about every industry leader on this issue. Perhaps we don’t agree on this.

    I think it is time for horsemen in the United States to show what a great country this is, how resourceful its people are, and prove to the rest of the world that we can race our Thoroughbreds without giving them a drug on the day of competition. I am not willing to admit that Hong Kong, or Japan, or South Korea, or Australia, or France, or England, or Germany, or Dubai have superior horsemanship to us. Horses play a role in this country’s history and growth that no other nation can claim.

  • We don’t agree but that is OK.  I was just pointing out that you had previously not stated a firm position and in fact have stated that you are not biased.

    I personally think a site that covers racing should not have a bias on a topic such as this because it tends to skew the coverage.  But that is just my opinion.

    I would add that I wish you had hands on ownership experience to aid in your overall analysis of the medication issue, especially when it comes to lasix.  And while I appreciate the fact you were a board member for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, for the life of me I will never understand how someone who has never even owned a horse finds himself in this position.

    Either way I appreciate your detailed response.

  • McGov

    I think all stated versions are correct, plus quite a few other modern day factors.  I believe it is the combination of suspect factors that have resulted in the current status.

  • McGov

    Very much true.

  • McGov

    I wonder in 25 years from now what I’ll think about Lasix.

  • Rachel

    Well, 25 years ago, I believed I’d live to see my 4th Triple Crown winner and that my Red Sox would win the World Series…well, one of those two hopes has come true, twice…yeah, go Red Sox.

  • Alex

     Having an opinion and being biased, especially being biased in objective media coverage, are worlds apart.

  • Battlerbill

    As far my interpretations of Mr. Crist’s articles, I think I am spot on and I think Mr. Paulick was trying to be sensationalistic in comparing the two articles, but I don’t think that’s what you and a few others are disagreeing with me about. Personally, I let my actions speak for themselves, and if I had an opinion that a medication was detrimental to my horses, I would NEVER put them at risk to win any race, whether it be the Kentucky Derby or the Arc D’e Triomphe. 

    I think that the banning Lasix movement has the right intentions at heart, but their presumptions about the effects of Lasix are misguided and the notion that the rest of the world is drug-free (because they don’t have Lasix) is farcical.  Sheikh Mohammed, himself, got a positive test in an endurance riding competition. Patrick Biancone was caught on two other continents before he was suspended for a year, here in America.The lessening the breed argument has no merit, whatsoever. I will give you that Lasix does allow horses to run further distances, more effectively, so it has absolutely changed the breed, but that’s a big leap to say it’s weaker. Sires like Unbridled, A. P Indy and Sunday Silence all raced on Lasix and along with Danehill, they are undoubtedly the best sires in the world over the last 20 years . My gut feeling is that if one of these nameless medications proponents hadn’t sold the greatest sire of all-time to Japan, we may not even be having the argument, but that’s another issue.Besides a few veterinarians and an even lesser few rogue trainers, we all want better and fairer racing. I feel those opposed to Lasix would be better served to tackle the threshold issues of more potent drugs that are used for pre-races like clenbuterol, EPO, TCO-2 (milkshakes), banamine, and others that we know about and some others that we don’t. Eliminate threshold levels and you’ll see real changes. Incorporate that with stiffer penalties (and no trainer transfers to assistants or non-assistants for horses of suspended trainers) and you’ll see real some differences. Maybe, then, some of these owners would start giving their horses to different trainers, and we wouldn’t just have a handful of trainers getting all the good horses, and for the most part, break them down for the good of their barn, instead of what’s good for the horse and their development.If you just ban Lasix and Bute, it’s just more of the same. Trainers will start using even more pre-races and inject even more joints, and the difference between the haves and have-nots will grow even farther, and the general public will be just as disappointed. 

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