Where’s the Reasonable Dialogue on Race Day Medication?

by | 08.05.2014 | 4:19pm
Terry Finley, West Point Thoroughbred founder, was recently appointed to the TCA Board of Directors

We live in an increasingly polarized world. Red State/Blue State. Pro-Choice/Pro-Life. Fox News/MSNBC.

In horseracing, it's been repeated many times that Lasix is our “abortion issue.” You're either for Lasix because it's good for the horse, and what's good for the horse is good for the sport, or you're anti-Lasix, because it's bad for the game, and what's bad for the game is bad for everyone, including the horse.

Positions have been taken, heels dug in, ears closed to dialogue.

That's not the way life is supposed to work.

No matter how you feel on this issue – whether you think American racing is right and the rest of the world wrong, or American racing is falling behind the international equine community because of our more liberal medication policies – you're not helping the cause by existing in an echo chamber, or by shouting and not listening.

That's why, when Todd Pletcher and 24 other prominent trainers decided last week to put their name behind a proposal to phase out race-day medications, we should all pay attention and especially respect the fact they had an open mind on the issue. They have owners who may disagree with them (does anyone remember Mike Repole boycotting the 2012 Breeders' Cup over the 2-year-old Lasix ban?). Many of their fellow trainers disagree with them. They may have struggled internally over whether or not to take a stand. This was not an easy decision for many of them to make, affixing their name to a position that almost certainly will subject them to criticism.

At the same time this group took this extraordinary step toward the elimination of race-day medication, another trainer, New Jersey-based Glenn Thompson, an anti-drug advocate who wrote a book called “The Tradition of Cheating in the Sport of Kings,” changed his position from anti-race-day Lasix to pro-Lasix. He had his reasons and I respect that, and I especially respect the fact he was open minded on the issue.

In the world of politics, changing your mind leads to being called a flip-flopper. This isn't politics. Horse racing is a combination of sport, science, and business all wrapped around living, breathing animals that have been bred, raised, and trained for a specific purpose: fair competition.

Over the next several days leading up to Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing (where medication issues will be discussed), there will be posturing and public statements from regulatory bodies, owners associations and horsemen's groups, all of which are likely to be from a heels-dug-in perspective. Let's hope the press releases, which are designed to stop the momentum of those who want to phase out race-day medication, do not make the kind of polarizing statements that came out of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association on Saturday.

In that statement, NYTHA president Rick Violette used terms like “archaic” and “barbaric” to describe the animal husbandry practices that would return if Lasix is prohibited on the day a horse races. It's the kind of fear-mongering we hear in politics and right-wing media that has convinced one-third of America that the current President of the United States is a Kenyan-born, socialist Muslim. It doesn't do anyone any good.

Violette's knee-jerk reaction is one reason Terry Finley, the founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, is running against Violette in an upcoming election to lead the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Finley, like the 25 trainers who signed the proposal, thinks it's time to try something different, to look at how the rest of the world conducts horseracing without relying on drugs being administered four hours before competition. He thinks too many people have tuned out NYTHA's leadership and, in turn, the voice of the horsemen is not being heard on other issues.

It's not time, Finley said, for horse industry organizational leaders to live in bunkers, lobbing grenades at those who don't agree with them.  “Unless they are firing heavy artillery at you, it's time to come out of the bunker and talk,” he said.

Wouldn't that be a refreshing change?

  • Sam

    Isn’t it interesting that the Jockey Club is behind Terry’s bid to become President of NYTHA?

    • Hamish

      Has TJC endorsed Finley in some public forum, or is this “private” knowledge? If Mr. Violette is not interested in any dialogue on Lasix, or reexamining the way we do business on countless other fronts, then it would make sense for TJC or any other individual or organization for that matter, to support someone else. Nice piece Ray, progressive and thought provoking.

  • Jay Stone

    This is a very divisive issue. It pits the highest end of trainers and owners against the rest of the group. There has to be intense discussions by both groups to come up with a workable plan. The claiming game, the middle ground of racing, needs Lasix to survive. If eight horse fields become five horse fields it will be the beginning of contraction which will leave many without jobs and many horses to feed. Maybe the middle ground is no Lasix in two year old races and allow it in all claiming races. Without proper dialogue this will get ugly.

    • kjoy

      I agree with Jay, and I believe there is a way to take care of the horses and racing. There could be 3 divisions for race day medication across the country, all with one ruling body and a commissioner. Look at the science and take into consideration where we are and how we got here. The ultra sensitive testing has put us in a situation without the science and data to understand the ramifications. I am about proper use of therapeutic medications for the betterment of the horse. Lasix is given wrong I believe the data would show that half the amount 2 hours out instead of what they given now at 4 hours to get the delusion in the urine, with less affect, would have a better affect and help horses, We are running from the truth and the horse and the industry is the looser. That or something like it would not hurt the lower tear horses and trainers. There are many discussions that need to take place to work this out let’s get something done and stop being two sided. Look at the mistakes of our past and change. We desperately need a national publicist to speak for the industry and use the correct wording for all of us, not the one sided self serving statements that don’t speak for the majority. Poly or synthetic tracks was mandated with the best of intentions and very little to no real data, and see what has happened?

  • togahombre

    somebody with a reasonable stake in the sport has to moderate this issue to resolution, i would think a good cross section of respected trainers from the first and second division can be a start, have them work it out between themselves than they could take it everyone else for a starting point, then at least have a framework to start with, the trainers might be the best choice, their involved directly with horses, owners/breeders, vets, racing offices,media, they probably see the bright and dark side of all parties involved, the other groups on their own each have some good points but they also have their own piece of turf their looking out for,as far getting the feds involved think about this; fema,sec, amtrak

    • Hamish

      Many argue the reason our sport is in the condition it is in is as a result of the powers granted the horsemen, trainers for the most part if you will, via the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978. Trainer authority over decision making just hasn’t worked, although yes, they should have a seat at the table. Washington D.C. doesn’t want to run the horse racing business, but it does have an obligation to make certain that if interstate commerce exists, as it does in our sport via pari-mutuel wagering across state lines, that it is conducted to the highest standard and within the laws of the land, both state and federal. If the fear mongers and anti-government types would take the time to analyze what legislators in D.C are actually saying, they would understand that the feds are offering to help us do better not threatening a “takeover.” As Paulick suggests in this piece, this is another position that requires “reasonable” debate.

      • togahombre

        like i said, a good cross section of respected trainers from the first and second division would be a good start, i’m confident in saying i don,t believe the racing act has any bearing on how trainers like mott ,mandella and shephard treat their stock or approach their trade, but i may be wrong,washington, being the fine tuned machine it is, shouldn,t even be in the discussion,if the bureacratic lapdogs on the assorted state commissions were doing their jobs instead of answering to the elected officials who they owe their livelihoods, racing wouldn,t be in the position its now in, the legislators are offering their help, of course they are, once their on board you,ll never get them off, whole new problem, this approach only aids the high end breeders and owners since they have the resources to effectivly lobby the lawmakers

        • Hamish

          We will respectfully disagree as to trainers governance. If horse racing continues to operate in a dysfunctional manner, the feds will exert a different form of influence, one that you and I, and all the others have never felt. All of us, high end to low end must be concerned about the whole, not the parts. And yes, the state cronies and political pals governing the game must go away. On this we will agree.

  • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

    Wow politics and horses…perfect together…ummm not sure =P
    As for talking, sure there should be plenty of talking about the meds and how the industry can clean it up! However, I still stand by there should be qualifying races by time!
    Meaning if you can’t run in a certain time, you can’t run in that stakes race!
    I mean look at Tapiture got paid all that money and for what running almost a 1:51.
    That’s awful! I mean high end allowance company horses can do that!
    Lasix or no Lasix a crummy time is a crummy time! Then to pay all that money for it!
    The heck with that!

    • Tinky

      LOL! The average Thoroughbred starts less than 12 times during its career at present, so let’s make ’em run qualifying races! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

      • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

        This is to all.
        My real point is paying big purses to average horses really does nothing to improve the sport! Tapiture won what 500G’s for what?
        It Tapiture made the same move in the Whitney, it would have lost.
        We know this because Itsmyluckyday made the same exact move against Moreno. Anyway rich people are getting richer because tracks are making the purses bigger! Why they are doing that is beyond me! Because it’s certainly not making the horse any better!

    • Mike R

      Best stick to baseball Lefty!

    • Furley

      This makes no sense…..LOL So you will penalize a deep closer for a slow pace up front? Or penalize a front runner for setting fractions that would allow him to win? Or how about the horse that falls to his knees at the start and ….let me stop. I dont think you understand racing. Like track conditions, pace, etc……

      • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

        Now wait a second.
        I have seen Afleet Alex recover from his knees.
        Orb’s first start at Saratoga, when he got off to a terrible start.
        I have seen Zeyatta.
        I saw Honor Code break his maiden, where he came from the clouds
        Or least that is what Tom Durkin said.
        I thought Honor Code died, he was so far back.
        No, I disagree with you. These current crop of horses stink! And they are getting paid a lot of money to beat a bunch of chumps or boxcar willies!
        They are awful! That’s where the problems lie! Lasix may or may not be problem. However to me Racetracks overpaying with huge purses is disgraceful! If you have a 1.5 Miliion dollar purse for a race, you better be paying it to a true superstar! At least that’s how I feel about it.

  • Steven

    Jay Stone I believe u r right with your assesment of the issue. We r already seeing 5 and 6 horse fields with one or two that could win.If we r to survive we need 10 horse fields that r competitive. The list of trainers that r in favor of no lasix do not represent the vast majority. Those listed benifit from rapid turnover. The empty stall only makes room for the next possible stakes horse. The rest of us need horses to last as long as possible and b as productive as possible. How can breeders sell the next crop if the previous ones last 5 or more years. High profile owners , trainers and breeders have a vision of being like the rest of the world. Lets see if they want to talk about 2 year old in training sales. They r not practiced any where else. Those sales r responsible for the damage and destruction of countless young horses. Lasix is the last thing we need to protect these horses from.

  • Lexington 4

    As far as medical advice for my horses go, I take my advice from the AAEP and those veterinarians who I look in the eye and have literally had my horses’ lives in their hands. The day I switch over and start taking medical advice from the Barry Irwins and Ogden Phipps of the world is the day I should be fired. Right there on the spot.

    Now, as to other factors like public perception, feared economics at sales, decreased wagering revenue, etc.., well, all of that is for other people to decide. Whatever they decide is what I will have to live with.

    • Barry Irwin

      You are so proud of your stance, you don’t even have the courage to use your own name, so the credibility of anything you say is not worth much.

      • Lexington 4

        Just trying to do what is smart. I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with that.

        I think what I said was quite “reasonable”… the subject of this post.

        • Barry Irwin

          Bully for you pal, but unless you are willing to use your own name, your comments will lack any power. If you think that following the guidelines of the AAEP on medication is being smart than you are naive. How do you think we got ourselves in this medication jackpot to begin with? These guys led us down the primrose path. We all respect individual vets for their dedication, passion and talent, but as a group they have not done our sport or industry in general many favors.

          • Old Timer

            Wow, said like a true dictator!!!

            I hear ISIS is looking for a Caliph, maybe you should give them a call.

          • bob

            how long have you been in the game???

  • robert smith

    Its very simple I am for no race day meds. But we need uniform for whole country. Not rules one state and rules differant in another. Also if these trainers want to set a example the do not race on laxix know.

    • bruse federici

      I agree, look at the list again, 40% of those trainers have “very aggressive” vets=race day meds

  • biggar

    Reasonable debate! I am at a loss to remember when I have last read reasonable debate among the comments on here. Having said that, I think that is a great idea.

    • Hamish

      You are quite new here chap, so 4 comments into your life at Paulick Report and you suddenly know what has been going on here all along?

      • biggar

        I don’t comment a lot, but I have read the report for over a year. Certainly long enough to determine if most comments are intended to produce a reasonable debate or not.

        • Hamish

          Great, hopefully good comes out of spirited PR debate.

  • robert smith

    We just want a level playing field. Todd P has the best horses money can buy but he uses anything that he can. And why should’nt he. But what is legal in New York Is not in Philly. Or Del. We need all med. Rules the same.,

  • robert

    Also Terry is not the most upstanding guy. I was offered money at a sale for my horse before he sold and split the profit. I turned him down twice after he came back with higher offer

    • bruce federici

      I have “a very close friend” who had the same experience with Terry

      • Hamish

        So allegedly Finley tries to buy horses before they go into the ring and he’s deemed a bad guy? This happens at every auction, horse, real estate or art in the world so I’m still trying to figure out why this is a crime or unethical? If Terry promoted horse doping or race fixing, I’d say be sure and not vote for him.

        • Tinky

          It’s both unethical and illegal. You are misunderstanding the above claims.

          • Hamish

            Please explain why trying to but horses before they enter sales ring is both illegal and unethical.

          • Tinky

            Not trying to buy them and have them withdrawn from the sale, but agreeing on a price, allowing the horse to go through the auction, and taking a kickback on any hammer price above the agreed upon price.

            Again, both unethical and illegal.

          • robert federici

            it was not about securing a DEFINITE PRICE (probably lower), it was about a kickback on a HIGHER PRICE…read. think, re-act

          • Hamish

            Payments like that over and above a price on the floor do seen odd.

  • DJ Bryant

    (yawn) This discussion makes me very sleepy.

  • Mike

    History shows that any time anyone implements broad sweeping change there will certainly be consequences. Some of which will be negative and unintended. It stands to reason that “elimination of lasix” is going to create issues such as otherwise-capable bleeder horses being unable to race, more horses dumped into an already overburdened retirement system,
    smaller trainers (along with their staff), smaller breeders, small consigners, small pinhookers driven out of the industry, the associated ripple effect of less horses such as smaller fields, less races, less handle, smaller racetracks closing, etc.

    Perhaps Mr. Phipps and Mr. Pletcher and Mr. Assmussen would enjoy competing for lucrative purses because they can afford to discard their bleeders and painlessly absorb the financial hit. But the rank and file owners and trainers can’t. As such any buyer that was ready to pay say $100k for a horse will now only risk say $30k. You can apply any numbers you want. Bottom line is that the higher risk of a non-racable horse means lower price or value. That’s economics 101. Those economics will rumble through the entire breeding and sale side of the industry. Unless that’s addressed there will be a gigantic financial disaster.

    Any discussion about change needs to include a plan for how to handle the effects created by the change. Otherwise you go off half-cocked. Right now I only hear part of a plan.
    No one has discussed or even acknowledged the aftermath. Perhaps Mr. Violette could have been more eloquent but I’m sure this is what he meant.

    • Jay Stone

      What you said is the whole problem with this plan. All the ripple down consequences play to contraction in the industry and only the high end survive. That list of 25 trainers is mostly the high end.

      • Mike Oliveto

        Well of course. If these blue bloods can wipe out half of the competition with one stroke of legislation don’t you think they’re going to do it? This isn’t for the good of the game. It’s for the good of their pockets and egos.
        Remember when synthetic surfaces were supposed to be the holy grail of reduced injuries and lower track maintenance? See what happens when plans are implemented without proper research? Now after tens of millions of wasted dollars and lost handle they’re all abandoing the “plan”. This has disaster written all over it. And it’s the litte guy that will pay the price. Those “25 trainers” will go largely unscathed.

        • betterthannothing

          Drugs or no drugs, the “25 trainers” will always have an edge over the little guy. All horses should train and race with less or no drugs and should be protected by certified, transparent vet records so horsemen have to manage their horses better and replace drugs with horsemanship and patience. Big and small horses will tend to stay healthier, happier and last longer.

  • robert smith

    When Terry is buying for his syndicate and your money is in that syndicate and he is buying it and selling it to you at a higher price because he runs the price up over what he bought it for

  • Steve Zorn

    Ray: As someone who has a dog in this hunt — I am a member of the NYTHA Board of Directors and was the principal author of the extensively researched and voluminous report on the Lasix issue that we filed with the New York State racing and Wagering Board last year — I strongly object to your characterization of our position as a “knee-jerk reaction.” In fact, NYTHA has studied the Lasix issue, and the available science, as much or more than any other organization in racing. We know what the science proves, as well as what it doesn’t prove. Rick Violette’s brief response to the 25-trainer statement reflected the more than a year of study and debate that preceded NYTHA’s adoption of its position on Lasix.Others may disagree, but they haven’t yet shown us the science that supports their view. When, or if, they do, we’ll take a look at it. But for now, racing has issues that are far more serious than Lasix.

    As for your tacit endorsement of Terry Finley to replace rick as president of NYTHA, one hardly knows where to begin. For starters, it’s akin to the Koch brothers interfering in elections in states where they don’t live. Why not leave it to the 5,000 licensed owners and trainers in New York to make that decision.Second, I’ve worked with Rick Violette on the Board of NYTHA for 12 years, and was involved in the initial efforts to elevate him to the presidency. Rick has been the hardest working and most effective president in NYTHA’s history. Among his accomplishments are rescuing NYTHA itself and the BEST backstretch health program from insolvency, preserving some $20 million in owners’ purse funds during the NYRA bankruptcy, pushing through the uniform medication rules now in the process of being adopted in New York, and securing funding from the state legislature for additional benevolence activities, including backstretch health and thoroughbred retirement programs, and leading the way for increased thoroughbred participation in horse shows and eventing. That’s a significant record of accomplishment.

    Terry, on the other hand, served one term as a NYTHA Board member, and left no particular record of accomplishment, declining to run for a second term. He’s a fine fellow, and has made a great success of West Point Thoroughbreds, but that’s nowhere near enough to assume leadership of the most important horsemen’s group in the country.

    • Tinky

      The science to which you refer simply confirms that Lasix reduces the likelihood that horses will bleed. No one, including those trainers who support a ban on race day medication, would dispute that.

      There is also ample science to support the fact that morphine mitigates pain, but that doesn’t mean that either humans or horses should be given the drug promiscuously.

      There are several problems with relying on your simple premise, the biggest being that there are mountains of evidence to support the fact that Lasix is not needed in order for the vast majority of Thoroughbred racehorses to compete successfully. Two-thirds of the world’s horses, including plenty of lower level performers, have done so for decades (and centuries in some cases).

      So the question is not whether or not Lasix works in a narrow sense, but whether or not it is wise for the American racing industry to continue to allow its use on race days.

      There haven’t been any studies done on the long-term effects of Lasix use in racehorses, yet circumstantially, given that the average number of lifetime starts has plummeted from over 30 to less than 12 over a span of around 45 years, it is ludicrous to claim that, on balance, the drug has somehow protected the breed. Yes, there are other contributing factors to the degradation of the breed, but given that horses were far more durable prior to being promiscuously treated with Lasix, there should be serious concerns about its impact on long-term health.

      No one disputes that a high percentage of racehorses bleed, yet the vast majority are able to compete successfully without the use of Lasix on race days, proving that the condition is, in fact, manageable without such drug use. Given public perception and the American industry’s pariah status, the onus is on the Lasix supporters – including you and Rick – to come up with a compelling case as to why its pre-race use should continue.

      Fear-mongering is not a serious argument, either. Those horses that are bad bleeders should not be racing, and rather than mask the symptoms and draw them back into the breeding pool, they should be culled.

      • kyle

        Notice no response from Mr. Zorn.

  • robert smith

    Also you have vets that are consignors that treat their own horses. The whole game needs a over haul. Bloodstock agents do not have a license, consignors, so why do you need a trainers license

  • robert smith

    So I made some comments know they can not be viewed because of a metator. The truth hurts

  • Barry Irwin

    New York racing has the unique ability right now to eliminate all race day drugs and not suffer any loss of horses, because the size of the purses is so astronomical. Unlike when NY caved in to use Lasix in an earlier era because it was losing horses, today no other state can compete with NY’s purse structure.

    Now is the time to take advantage of this strength and eliminate all race day meds.

    Additionally, the entire Chicken Little predictions of horses racing fewer times because Lasix is taken away is not supported by the facts. Here is the one simple fact: until such time as Lasix is eliminated, nobody knows if horses will run more or less.

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that horses will compete more often instead of less often, because they can recover quicker without all of the fluid and trace mineral loss.

    This is the perfect time to find out.

    • jazz mania

      For every question you eliminate, you can also eliminate at least two answers and… I will readily admit I don’t know enough about specific meds etc to have a relevant opinion. I do know that the ongoing debate does nothing to make me think racing is an above the board, clean, fair game. It’s a no brainer that most everyone involved would benefit if racing did whatever needed to clean up the common perceptions.

      I agree, NOW is the time.

    • Richard Schosberg

      My fear is that you bay be correct, Barry and the lucrative purse structure in NY may lure owners and trainers to remain are ship here and do whatever they can to prevent their horses from EIPH should proper Lasix use be eliminated. Whatever it takes as opposed to the one PROVEN safe and monitored method known. It’s not likely to be the hay the oats or the water. And the horses that fail on this ‘experiment’ will pay with pain and suffering should they experience EIPH. Not on my watch. Not if I can help it.
      I’m a trainer and a NYTHA board member.
      Richard Schosberg

      • Richard Schosberg

        Forgive the grammatical errors please. I’m on the tail end of a Sar-Bel-Sar 24 hr trip.

      • David H.

        Point made. To the article above that is. Dig your heels in, and don’t listen. You support giving a drug to a horse before a race to dehydrate them quickly without regard to the side effects, or the public perception. You’ve been in this game long enough, and are a good horseman, to know the detrimental side of race day medicines for the horses themselves, and our business in general. At least show respect for both sides of the argument as a board member. Your members that put you there deserve that, or maybe it’s time to replace you with someone less biased.

        • Richard Schosberg

          I have asked for open discussion on the topic in an open forum. I’ve asked whether their is a viable scientifically proven alternative to prevent EIPH. The fact is bleeding occurs and Lasix has been proven to control it. Of this there is little argument. I’m all for stricter regulations as to certification of true bleeders but I feel that taking away the only proven method of control we are doing these horses a disservice and causing them undue distress and disease. Theses horses would have to be rehabilitated and retrained for alternate careers. We do this now for a large number of horses already. Finding homes for a new huge population of forced retirees would be a daunting task. I’ve always stood for a clean sport and a level playing field and added security measures along with proper monitoring I feel that Lasix is still our best alternative to protect the athletes from an episode of EIPH. As for my position on the NYTHA board, this is an election year and the membership will choose their representatives as always in a fair and proper manner.

          • kyle

            Obviously, you’ve thought deeply on the matter and have decades of experience (terrific job with Affirmed Success ) and you’ve done the cost-benefit analysis. Just to demonstrate the process, tell us the negatives of promiscuous lasix use. That way we can get a better handle the tremendous positives.

          • Ben van den Brink

            I did have had an bad bleeder once, gave her away as an pasture ornament, an took the financial burden ( some 100k). Most strongly believing that, so was not capable carrying the stress anymore.

          • Ben van den Brink

            Bleeding occurs from absolute zero to bad bleeders. How on earth will anybody able to draw a line in the sand and say this gets the stuff but the other does not? 95% from the population is using the stuff, american racing can not be so bad, that 95% requires medication.

          • takethat

            “but I feel that taking away the only proven method of control we are doing these horses a disservice and causing them undue distress and disease”

            It’s not the ‘only proven method of control’.

            Furosemide, a high-loop diuretic, decreases plasma volume, cardiac output and pulmonary vascular pressures reducing EIPH up to 50% (Kindig et al. 2001a).
            The Flair nasal strip decreases EIPH a similar amount by preventing nasal passage narrowing on inspiration thereby lowering airway resistance
            (Poole et al. 2000; Geor et al. 2001; Kindig et al. 2001a; Holcombe et al. 2002).

            Contact Dr Stephen M. Reed at Root & Riddle for more information.

          • betterthannothing

            “The Flair nasal strip decreases EIPH a similar amount by preventing
            nasal passage narrowing on inspiration thereby lowering airway

            So if a nasal strip can decrease EIPH, will Pletcher and his copycats have to run horses without a strap tightly wrapped around nostrils to counter-balance the absence of lasix?

          • Ben van den Brink

            There is no prevention to EIPH, as it is an man made situation.The more stress your putting on an horse, The more chance there is that the horse will show eiph, but not all of them, and not all of them will become bad bleeders.

          • Tinky

            I’ve asked whether their is a viable scientifically proven alternative to prevent EIPH.

            Rick, your question suggests that you are stuck in a typically American mindset when it comes to (both human and equine) health, seeking a magic pill or injection to relieve a symptom, rather than looking for a way to either eliminate, or at least mitigate the core issue.

            The promiscuous use of Lasix has, without question, increased the bleeding problem in the U.S., as the symptom is masked, and bad bleeders are retained in the breeding pool. Furthermore, and for the umpteenth time, two-thirds of the racehorses in the world compete successfully without Lasix. Your counterparts around the world don’t require a “scientifically proven alternative” to Lasix in order to keep the vast majority of their runners healthy, and your predecessors right here in the U.S. did the same for many decades, with horses that were far more durable than those racing today.

            You are correct that there will be some challenges if a transition is made, and there will also be a learning curve, as most active trainers in the U.S. haven’t trained without the Lasix crutch. But this issue is, in an extremely important respect, a metaphor for the American racing industry, as it challenges the status quo to make a decision that is in their long-term interest, but with the understanding that there may well be some near-term pain.

            If you want this once vibrant industry to begin to reverse course in a meaningful way, then it’s time to break out of the myopic business practices that are at the root of so many of its serious problems.

          • Not necessarily true Mr. Schosberg. I’ve got a retired race horse, and he bled right through the Lasix. Didn’t help him at all, not one bit. So,… I went to my herbalist who put a mixture together for me, which I ran my horse on, that worked on him without any problems. I retired the horse anyway for personal reasons.

            When you say there’s no alternatives to Lasix, it’s because you’ve not done research to discover that there are indeed alternatives out there that are safe for the horse, and do indeed work to prevent EIPH.

          • davidinD

            Richard, shouldn’t we consider the ethics of a sport in which the athlete needs medication to be safe? If most trainers believe their horses need Lasix to perform then perhaps we need to think about whether horse racing is a legitimate and appropriately humane sport. If the overwhelming majority of horses cannot run without assistance then there is a fundamental issue in the industry and no amount ‘science’ will convince future racing fans that administering drugs (across the board) is appropriate. If there are no fans, there is no industry.

            While I understand that the issue is complex, the question needs to be how (not whether) to move away from drugs of all types except in the minority of closely regulated circumstances. With drugs in the sport, we will have a difficult time attracting new fans to racing; without a steady stream of new fans, the sport is dead.

      • Mike Oliveto

        Richard, anyone that believes that in the days of “hay, oats, and water” that those were the only things that were given to horses to make them run is living in a dream world. Those people need to take off the blinders (or sunglasses). We operate in the real world.

        And can somebody remind me why Lasix is the issue where battle lines are being drawn? When we have trainers like Jorge Vargas getting stalls all over the east coast and Steve Asmussen rehiring a patholocical sadist as his assistant why is anyone arguing over the use of a proven therapudic medication?

        • circusticket

          Why does the pro-Lasix crowd always say it’s a proven medication? It’s only been proven to help when used once. Nobody has ever done a study on the long term effects of using Lasix on horses because that’s exactly what happens. Perhaps it becomes less effective when used all the time. Perhaps there are significant side effects when used long term. No human I know would take a drug that’s been proved to work when taken once. Why do we do it to the horses? That South African study was flawed from the start.

    • GIna Powell

      Agree. There should be no needle going into any racehorse on race day. Period.

    • Elliott ness

      New York racing, chicken little, lasix, big purses, horses run more or less. If you believe it will happen. Maybe not.

  • Belinda W

    I am for no meds. Used them bc I wanted to keep up with the Jones’s, stopped using them bc I never felt right using them in the first place.
    That said I don’t care if someone wants to therapeutically treat their horse to race ( a position that I personally find full of irony), but I’d much prefer the opportunity to race with other non medicated horses. Why is it so hard for racing secretaries to write a drug free condition?? I guess I’m naive in thinking that while all of this gets sorted through tracks could have some self initiative and appease both sides momentarily….. not to mention it would be a side by side real time comparision of sorts.

    • Jeff Zielinski

      That is one of the better questions that I have seen on this topic. “Why is it so hard for racing secretaries to write a drug free condition?”

      It would be interesting to see the demand for this from horsemen and customers, and as noted, it would provide useful data for future policy based on side-by-side comparisons. Participation/field size and handle would indicate if “drug free” races are viable at this point in our country.

      • guest

        The rules of racing are set by the racing commissions, state organisations, NOT by the tracks that operate racing. Obviously both the tracks (who the racing secretaries work for) and the horsemen have input into crafting and approving the rules of racing, but the state racing commission is the final arbitor

        • Peyton

          Yes and the rules would have to be revised to allow a conditioned race for non Lasix users. Racing commissions are not likely to ask for a revision of the rules. Status quo is good for them. I do want to bring up another point since these statements are flying around about Lasix being a proven medical fix for bleeders. What is the requirement for a horse in NY to be added to the bleeder list. Is medical evidence of bleeding required?

        • Steve Barham

          Not sure that it is correct that rules would have to be changed to allow this type of race. I have not read every state’s rules on race conditions, but those I have read appear to allow the racing secretary to set the conditions of the races. Seems like a pretty broad rule to me. If you specific rule that you are looking at I’d be interested in looking at it to see what you are referring to.

  • Figless

    Compromise is missing in our country and our sport. The trainers pledge is a positive way for nudge the sport toward compromise. I have proposed on here taking it a little slower, such as banning Lasix only in Graded Stakes to get the ball moving, then gradually phasing in at all levels, at major, tracks, over time. But if these trainers want to jump start the process, and are willing to sacrifice by running at a perceived disadvantage, then by all means go for it. As ssome have suggested, NYRA, and other major meets, should support this by writing Lasix free races, maiden and open allowance, at least for two year olds in 2015 and older in 2016.

    • Barry Irwin

      I mostly care about elimination of drugs in black-type races because the point of racing should be to identify the best horses so that breeders know how to improve their own stock and hence the breed. By eliminating drugs in Graded races, it would help the breeders, but continue to do a disservice to the game as a whole, because issues with the bottom rung of the sport are what is dragging our game through the muck. We need to fix the entire enterprise, not just the top rung.

      • Ben van den Brink

        It,s easier to start from the top and than down to the bottom, as graded stakes races makes stallions. It would have an effect within four yrs.

  • Jack Frazier

    As the Chinese saying goes, racing is killing itself by death of a thousand cuts. With Dr. Arthur stating that up to 90% of the catastrophic breakdowns occurred in horses that had routinely injected joints it calls to question why inject instead of fixing the problem. It is a known fact that after the fluid is tapped from ankles, knees, hocks or stifles, they must be tapped again and again. If a horse needs to be injected it probably needs time off to recover. Mother Nature is the best medicine. If medicines are used they should be therapeutic and the horses should given time off to recover, not just to get one more race out the horse.

  • togahombre

    The one argument over lasix and the decline in average starts I feel is not entirely relevant because of so many other important factors that have either changed or surfaced in that time;the changing motivations of the owners, its more of a business than a sport, race records and stats really matter, beyer #’s in stallion ads and in editorial discussion, race less for a compressed record of fewer preps and only meaningful efforts,as far back as 30 years ago I started hearing about trainers being aware that owners were shopping for trainers using win/place %, so if they couldn’t run 1-2, they scratch, fewer starts, shorter field size, now before we get a pile up here I’ll say lasix use is a contributing factor, but its not by any means the sole factor

    • Tinky

      That was a heartfelt straw man argument. No one has suggested that Lasix is the sole factor!

      • togahombre

        no one?really, big assumption, doesn,t leave much slither room

        • Tinky

          Feel free to cite a single example.

          • togahombre

            what are you, the amazing kreskins backup

  • Mike R

    The one fact that no one will argue with, regardless of their stance on the race day use of Lasix, it makes horses urinate. By urinating, the amount of weight they propel around the track is reduced. Simple laws of physics tell us it requires less energy to move a lighter object than a heavier object. Urine weighs approximately eight pounds per gallon. If a horse urinates one and half gallons it will be carrying twelve less pounds when racing. Instead of Lasix free races how about the horses racing on Lasix carry twelve additional pounds. Better yet, lets have the horses weighed the morning of the race, pre-Lasix,(three or four strategically placed scales in the barn area would make this simple enough) and then have them weighed again, post-Lasix, when they are on their way to the paddock. The difference in weight will be added to their carded weight and the weight information can be transmitted as it is with all other changes. This is simple to implement, and could be done with only a minor investment (I don’t own a scales sales or manufacturing company-no hidden agenda) and would allow those that don’t want to use Lasix to feel confident they are not spotting the field an unfair weight advantage.

    • Lane Hutchins

      That is an excellent idea. I raced at Remington Park in its early days. The weights of each horse was shown on the screen.

  • onlythebest

    What kills me about this debate is why isn’t anyone talking about the fact that with all of the race day meds being given to these horses a breeder has no idea what they are really breeding to. It is no small wonder they say we no longer have “the Iron Horse”. If a horse is such a bad bleeder, should it really be racing or make it to the breeding shed? Could it be so many horses are bleeders is because we have been breeding to bleeders? What about about covering up bad feet? Do you think Thorn Song or Nehro would have an opinion on that?

    • RayPaulick

      Though there are a few exceptions in states (i.e., Florida, Ohio), Lasix is the only LEGAL medication that can be given on the day a horse races. Not sure what you mean by “all of the race day meds being given.”

      • DJ Bryant


      • LilBit

        Perhaps they are referring to all medications that are allowed at a threshold level on race day but not necessarily given on race day? I wouldn’t mind seeing these medications gone along with Lasix. If a horse needs some of these medications on a regular basis I question whether it is healthy for the horse to be racing in the first place.

    • betterthannothing

      “with all of the race day meds being given to these horses”


      What is given to horses on race day is just the diuretic icing on the toxic cake. “Race day” is either being used as a first step toward less or no drugs in training and racing or as a ploy to divert everyone’s attention away from a far bigger problem: the use and abuse of legal and illegal substances and treatments days and weeks before a race to enable and enhance performance.

  • Mark

    Relying on medication for racing goes against attempts to breed better sturdier horses. It doesn’t make sense to me to breed bleeders in the first place! time for a change.

  • Tory Chapman

    Would like to know what Pletcher et al have planned for managing eiph; they wouldn’t have gone here unless they had discovered an alternate method. Make sure to mention that most of these guys breeze on Lasix. The public probably perceives the ban as total.

  • MaryAlice Nelson

    Kind of interesting human runners (and everyone else) are being told to ‘stay hydrated” “drink lots of water” then we dehydrate our race horse before computation. Human players are shown downing gallons of Gatorade -then we strip both water and electrolytes from our horses.. A real “bleeder is pretty obvious – the trickle ‘minor nose bleed in the external nostril “that is used as a Lasix excuse doesn’t make much sence.. unless it has another reason such as clearing out drugs from the bladder

  • Ed Martin

    Good article, Ray. FYI – the regulators are not putting any releases out about the lasix debate as there is no new science that has come forward to warrant a change in public policy. Those who don’t believe in it don’t have to use it and if people wish to voluntarily remove it from their horses there is nothing stopping them. Lasix is the only race day medication allowed under controlled parameters. It is disclosed in the program and it’s use over time has become almost ubiquitous, meaning that if all the horses in a particular race are running with it common sense is defied if one thinks any horse has somehow been given an unfair advantage as a result of it.

    I, for one, support non-lasix racing opportunities for those who don’t believe in it. But that’s between them and the tracks.

    Many have asked me if those who don’t believe in it and race their horses with it nonetheless are hypocrites and whether their motive in using it is not an attempt to enhance performance. I think that’s for them to explain. Certainly no medication should be given a horse that is not in the health and welfare interest of that horse. Unlike other sports, we take the position that if a horse needs a medication it should not run and this is why racing regulators do not have a sweeping Therapeutic Use Exemption policy like the one contained in the USADA enforced World Anti-Doping Agency Code that permits undisclosed narcotics, stimulants and a host of other performance enhancing drugs in competition for some athletes.

    Lasix is the ONLY therapeutic permitted on raceday and many use it prophylactically as an equine welfare measure. Perhaps the perception among some that it is necessary may be overblown. The only way to change that is for all of those who don’t believe in it to race their horses without it and continue to succeed nonetheless.

  • Wilma Jean

    Mr. Finley, you need to realize that Rick Violette, as President of the NYTHA represents the majority of horsemen, not the list of 25 trainers that train for the elite owners in the industry.
    I would encourage you to take a look at how the rest of the world conducts horseracing without relying on drugs and you will find that European standards are not nearly as stringent as those in the U.S., you’ll find a much more relaxed atmosphere for the horses to live and train, with cleaner air and horses that do not race nearly as much as horses in the United States.
    If you are elected to the NYTHA board I certainly hope you will go in with an open mind and blinkers off.

  • LilBit

    My problem with Lasix that I don’t hear argued too often is that it is a diuretic. How is being dehydrated before an athletic event healthy for anyone? Not only does it cause increased water loss but also increases salt loss in the body. I also recently read that NSAID’s (aka bute) may interfere with the blood pressure reducing effects of Lasix, which is the medically accepted reason for using Lasix on race day (to reduce blood pressure and thus EIPH). RESPECTFUL thoughts and opinions are welcome.

  • Adrian Monk

    While I agree with no race day medication, the people who signed this proposal may be doing so for their own selfish reasons.
    Similar to COSTCO and WAL MART not fighting an increase in the minimum wage.
    They can afford it, their competition can’t so the competition goes out of business.

    Also, Ray, the current inhabitor of the White House, might not be Kenyan-born, nor Muslim, but he is a Socialist.

  • Birdy2

    Oh, law. It’s not true that “prior to lasix you could pretty much run on anything.” I’m not going to waste my type citing the dates various tests came into use (for example, saliva tests to detect alkaloids and opiates), blah, blah, blah. It is absolutely absurd to say that back in the day, horses routinely ran on narcotics. I grew up at the track. I’m old. I’ve always been nosy. I know what I’m talking about… and you are flat-out wrong.

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