Gina Rarick: Lasix debate in the U.S. and Europe

by | 05.30.2012 | 12:36pm

Gina Rarick writes at New York Times' The Rail about the attitude toward Lasix in Europe compared to the attitude in the United States. One comment that keeps appearing in the debate is that Europeans do use the same drugs just not on race day, writes Rarick.

“This is completely, 100 percent false,” said Christiane “Criquette” Head, president of the European Trainers Association and a top name in French racing for years. “I don't use Lasix in training and no one I know uses Lasix in training.”

Head continued: “Racing is about natural selection. In the United States, there are stallions that shouldn't be stallions, but you never know because the performance was achieved with medication. It is seriously affecting the breed.”

Due to style of racing and breeding in Europe, writes Rarick, bleeding is less of an issue. If a horse does bleed it is handled by cutting out oats the night before a race and leaving half a bucket of water rather than a full bucket. If the horse has a more severe problem it is retired or sent to the United States to race.

Rarick writes: “It's interesting that a big argument for allowing the medication in America is that it keeps the little guy in business. In Europe, smaller owners are not willing to pay vet bills for unnecessary or prophylactic treatment.”

  • Cepatton28

    There is as much drug abuse in Europe as anywhere.   From what I have been told by people over there that it is a much more lax testing system. If no one is getting caught then no one is cheating ??

  • Stanley inman

    Thank you Gina,
    For taking the time to address a year’s worth of distortions and out right lies
    from American trainers who are hooked on the needle.
    The war is almost over;
    Kentucky will pass it’s rule outlawing raceday meds for 2yr. Old stake horses
    by the end of the month.
    You have played a big role in the effort to do right by the horse and sport.
    Thank you again.

  • Take that

    “a year’s worth of distortions and out right lies from American trainers”

    That’s a stretch – to call them “trainers”.  “Equine cost accountants” would be much more accurate. They don’t want to spend the time and effort required to get a horse fit. For them more horses in the barm means more day fees. Lasix use means lower costs. That’s all they are about.

    “Jerkens pointed to a fitter, sturdier animal as another reason why bleeding was considered atypical in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He said none of his good horses were bleeders.
    “Horses worked a lot harder in those days,” he said. “The strain on them in the race wasn’t as much as the strain is on them now. They trained almost as hard in the morning as they did when they ran.”
    The best horses would often work the full distance of an upcoming race five or six days before, breeze a half-mile two days out, and maybe even an eighth of a mile the morning of the race. As but one example, three days before Assault finished off the Triple Crown, Max Hirsch sent the colt out for a 12-furlong breeze in 2:32 at Belmont”

  • Tinky

    “Horses worked a lot harder in those days,” 
    If it were as simple as that, then Jerkens would have outperformed in NY for the past 25 years. He hasn’t.

  • Dave Parker

    Here is the point that everyone misses:  without lasix, we will have a race horse population here in the U.S. equal to that in, say, England, Australia, Germany, France–anywhere where they do not allow lasix.  In those countries, the race horse population and race horse industry is a FRACTION of what it is here.  And only the wealthy breeders will triumph–they and they alone can afford to market lasix-free stallions.  Also, compare the “handles” in Europe vs. here.  No self-respecting handicapper can make heads or tales of exotic bets (yes, you can still bet “win”) in lasix-free jurisdictions.  No lasix = no industry here in the U.S.  Say goodbye to the little tracks and the big raceday handles.

  • Dave Parker

    Meant to add this thought:  It was reported on NBC on KY Derby day that stallion fees had DECREASED 46% over the last ten years.  This explains the breeders’ (TOBA/Jockey Club)’s actions.  They want to decrease the supply of stallions, increase the fees. And, I bet you dollars to doughnuts, that the ONLY reason the Jockey Club/TOBA doesn’t just come out and say “no lasix in any graded stakes” is because their lawyers have warned them that this action is illegal–a restraint of trade–an antitrust violation.  Hence, they have to go through the state regulation boards, which are basically immune to such claims via sovereign immunity.  I’d love to get a look at the internal communications of Jockey Club/TOBA.  What a bunch of bums.

  • Stanley inman

    Your comments about drop in stud feeds illustrates that you were never in that market.
    Had you been you would know that Toba and The jockey club had nothing to do with that stat from NBC-the drop in stud fees.
    To cite it suggests that you are unfamiliar with the breeding business and are drawing conclusions from a false assumption- that these two groups control the breeding market simply because of the status and importance that some believe they have.
    Neither group makes the market nor has virtually any control over it.

  • Tinky

    You haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

    Both handle and exotic wagering in (Lasix-free) Hong Kong dwarf U.S. per race numbers. Total handle on UK and Australian racing are also huge.

  • voiceofreason

    “Racing is about natural selection. In the United States, there are
    stallions that shouldn’t be stallions, but you never know because the
    performance was achieved with medication. It is seriously affecting the

    And “If the horse has a more severe problem it is retired or sent to the United States to race.”

    Hahahah. We suck.

  • Ron Crookham

    Better to reign in Hell, than live in Europe.  Apologies to John Milton.

  • Arazi

    Dear Criquette
    You are wrong .many top European trainers and Australian trainers are using Lasix in training today.Judmonte farm ,arguably the most successful owner-breeder operation employs some of these trainers.
    Lasix is not such a big deal,other medications are much worst.
    Criquette’s Dad Alec Head did rather with American progeny Riverman,Lyphard,Green Dancer,

  • Tinky

    Let’s see, where, exactly, did Riverman, Lyphard and Green Dancer race? Oh yes – Europe, and without medication.


  • Owner

    Owners in the us have no clue…

  •  For everyone’s edification:

    Australia: 19,281 races – $14.9 billion handle
    France: 4,778 – $12.6
    UK: 6,309 – $10.2
    Hong Kong: 767 – $10.2
    Japan: 17,563 – $33.7
    US: 46,220 – $11.3

    More data is available from the Jockey Club:

    Evidently, despite running far fewer races, the US handle is very close to other major countries’ handles, aside from Japan, of course. The no Lasix / no handle hypothesis has been debunked.

    The US population is five times that of the UK and France, ten times that of Australia. Half as many horses are raced in Australia as are here with a population one tenth of the size. Arguments against Lasix based on an admission of a breed flaw, namely bleeding, fail in the same fashion as other ‘conservative’ lines of thinking. There will be an effect on the thoroughbred population as we know it, but it will be in the name of breed-wide improvement. In Australia, there are far more thoroughbreds per capita than in the US, all racing without raceday medications. Also, with ten percent of the US population, the Australian handle is several billion dollars greater than ours.

    I would be very curious to see what facts were employed in bridging the gap between ‘no Lasix’ and ‘no racing industry’. I believe banning raceday medications would create a stronger breed and a stronger industry. I am not one to care about public perception, and I am fine with my niche sport, but I would like to see the industry thrive, and some of these tracks improved. There was a statebred maiden race at Hoosier Park yesterday in which 8 of the 9 entrants had received zero speed figures in their most recent starts. For some, it was their seventh in a row.

    Clearly what the US thoroughbred industry needs to survive is a stubborn attitude towards progress and an unwillingness to admit that if a practice is good enough for the rest of the world, it may be good enough for us. We can stand still, cling to medications, curse the condition of our tracks, the takeouts, the field sizes, the ever-diminishing handle, and the criticism from around the globe, to save our $6,000 statebred maiden claimers at Hoosier Park, our pride, and the adulterated performances of our racehorses. Or, we can evolve. It isn’t difficult: just let go.

  • Show me the Money !

     You made a good point even though you don’t realize it.   We don’t need the bevy of crappy tracks we have in America.  I’d be fine with 2-3 circuits running at one time in the whole country.   The sport would thrive and the breed would come back to the sturdiness they once had.  It is the SPORT OF KINGS, not he sport of  Sam Houston Race Park (no disresepect meant to all the hard working folks at smaller tracks).

  • Show me the Money !

     Let me put it another way.  As Rarick noted, if a horse is a bleeder in Europe it goes to America or is retired.  In America, a horse goes from Saratoga to Tampa to Charlestown to Fonner Park to Beulah before someone finally says “enough.”   Sure, there are perfectly viable horses who just need easier spots and aren’t fast, but far too many are sent down the United States racing ladder with issues that would force them to be removed from racing in other countries where racing is conducted the right way.

  • Take that

    “If it were as simple as that, then Jerkens would have outperformed in NY for the past 25 years. He hasn’t”

    That’s correct. He became just another ‘equine cost accountant’ because he is financially incentivized to do so. He is not saying that he trains today the way he did 30 years ago. Revenue coming from a full barn outweighs the uncertainty of trying to win races using old time training methods.
    Lasix and other medications are the oil that keeps this machine moving. Read Preston Burch’s book on race horse training. He had virtually no need for vets at all. They made very rare visits to his barn. This is what horsemanship is all about.

  • Jimculpepper

    Are these the same “trainers” who geld a colt to calm it down and then bill the owners for testosterone etc. to fire them up?

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