Association Of Racetrack Veterinarians, HBPA: Curtailing Lasix Won’t Reduce Injury Rates

by | 03.19.2019 | 4:13pm

The following statements were released Tuesday by the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians (NAARV) and Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), regarding the recent breakdowns at Santa Anita and the issue of Lasix.

From the NAARV:
The membership of North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians, both on site at Santa Anita racetrack and across the country, is concerned over the threat posed to the well-being of the racehorses and to the subsequent developments in the regulation of veterinary medicine.

Any injury to our horses is unacceptable. NAARV supports all regulatory proposals that will bring us closer to our goal of zero tolerance for injuries. The recent cluster of injuries at Santa Anita Racetrack is a clear call for investigation and remediation of these tragic incidents. Each incident should be evaluated for the condition of the horse (including medication), the circumstances and location of the injury, the racing surface, the climate, and all persons responsible for the care of the horse and the racing surface. Comprehensive data collection, reasonable review and coherent conclusions can lead to modifications in training, track structure and maintenance, medication and regulation.

This process has the full support of the veterinarians responsible for front-line care of the equine athletes. The same process should be employed in this case and for all injuries on the racetrack.

The California Horse Racing Board has responded in an appropriate evidence based methodical fashion. Unfortunately, the ultimate response to these events was based on emotions and not on any scientific methodology.

The result is that it has been decided that appeasement of specific sectors of our society as well as a minority of stakeholders in our industry is more important than prevention of Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage in our horses. The message is that a tradition of the old world horse racing industry is more important than the health of the horse.

As set forth by Dr. Arthur of the CHRB and Dr. Allred of Los Alamitos, there is no coherent experimental or other evidence that the controlled administration of furosemide (“Lasix” or “Salix”) is in any way linked to breakdowns. Furthermore, there is no convincing evidence that the controlled administration of furosemide has any performance effects in any way other than by preventing EIPH. Many studies have been undertaken to address the effect of furosemide on performance. None of them have been successful. Also, studies have been conducted to disprove the benefits of furosemide for EIPH and they have actually reinforced the beneficial effects.

There is no evidence that reduction and ultimate elimination of furosemide administration will have any value whatsoever in the reduction of injury rates in racehorses.

However there is abundant evidence that reduction and elimination of furosemide administration will lead to increasing levels of EIPH and subsequent pulmonary disease in our horses.

On the other hand, there is evidence suggesting that the condition of the racetrack was a critical factor in the recent injuries. California has experienced an unusually wet and severe winter. San Francisco has received just as much rainfall as Los Angeles, and yet Golden Gate Fields Racetrack, while racing on the same dates, with larger average field size, did not experience a similar upturn in catastrophic injuries.

Consideration of weather patterns in other locations has shown that there can be fluctuations in racing injuries due to variations in severe weather patterns.

NAARV supports research into modification of all factors which could affect injuries to our horses. These factors may include medication regulation, racetrack structure and maintenance, training methods and patterns, race scheduling and conditions, and climatological influences.

NAARV also supports cooperation among private and regulatory veterinarians in prerace and prework examinations which might prevent injuries.

Evaluation of all of these factors may enable the elucidation of circumstances which are associated with higher risk of injuries, which should be the objective of all stakeholders in the horseracing industry.

The response to the events at Santa Anita Racetrack has established an unfortunate precedent for the regulation of horseracing. The ability of powerful individuals or organizations to arbitrarily dictate policy is a threat to the wellbeing of horses and horseracing. Over the years a regulatory framework has developed which insures that policy decisions are based on scientific, rational arguments and public discourse. It has served the industry well and protected and promoted the wellbeing of our equine athletes.

NAARV supports the dependence on publicly mandated regulatory bodies for the regulation of horseracing. Arbitrary and dictatorial decision making should have no place in the regulation of our sport.

From Eric Hamelback, CEO of the national HBPA:
The mission of the National HBPA, indeed the very heart of our mission, is to encourage the highest standards of horsemanship and continuously improve the care, health and safety of race horses.

The National HBPA encourages Santa Anita to continue a thorough, transparent review led by outside experts with no ties to the track or its owners that identifies the cause or causes of the recent breakdowns and resists optical-illusion quick fixes.

For example, the reaction to ban Lasix, a therapeutic diuretic that reduces risk of pulmonary bleeding in horses, is a red herring that puts our equine and human athletes' lives at risk. Lasix works to prevent horse deaths and has been used for over 40 years with no association to breakdowns.

The National HBPA stands ready to review the independent findings that come from this effort and will work with our fellow horsemen to maintain the highest standards for the care, health, and safety of our horses.

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