NY Times Blog: Medication Continues to Stifle America’s Triple Crown Hopes

by | 06.12.2013 | 8:09am
The original Triple Crown trophy

Sid Gustafson, DVM, is a novelist and an equine veterinarian who specializes in Thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior.

Dr. Gustafson writes in the June 11 edition of The Rail (the New York Times racing blog) that he believes that “no horse can withstand the rigors of racing on potent medications while attempting to win three Classics in a five-week span.”

“It is no coincidence that there has not been a Triple Crown winner since the administration of race day Lasix became the standard for Kentucky Derby runners some 35 or so years ago,” Gustafson says in his post.

Read more in the New York Times

  • Figless

    Was Lasix the reason for the 30 year pre-Secretariat drought?

    • Noelle

      It was 25 years between Citation and Secretariat. Now it’s 35 since Affirmed. People I met in the saddling area at Belmont were talking about how gutted Orb had looked at the Preakness. I asked if they thought he looked better on Belmont day – they said possibly, but not as good as he’d been in Kentucky. Anecdotal, I know, but the way they described his post-Derby appearance fits with what the doctor is saying.

  • Ben van den Brink

    Lasix is in use for much longer, than the legal permittance since the eighties. Nobody is able to claim that 95% from the US population needs the stuff, other than making money out of it, it is what it is, AN RACE ENHACER. With more disadvantages in the long run, than advantages in short run.

  • Joltman

    Point made. Parallels the ‘revelation’ that everyone already knew that trainers administer Lasix because it is performance enhancing (per Dr. Pagan pres at NM Conference). Biggest joke was that Euro runners would show up and, all in the sudden, become ‘bleeders’ who ‘need’ lasix to run in the Breeders Cup. Prohibiting Lasix would cause short term pain, long term gain.

  • Cangamble

    When looking back to old charts from the 70’s, horses could run up to 5
    times a month. I’m not naive enough to think trainers weren’t using
    something, but whatever it was, it didn’t drain horses like horses seem
    drained today with whatever “legal” cocktails, including Lasix, is being
    used. It would be nice if we could get some death bed confessions from
    top trainers in the 60’s or 70’s on what they were using back then.
    Whatever they were using back then would be much better than what they
    use now. Even if 10-15% of horses can’t race without Lasix, the remain
    85% will be able to race over 150% more than they do today which will
    lead to bigger field size and more wagering.

    • Hoops and Horses

      Exactly, and why I would be phasing Lasix out of the sport over a five-year period.

    • FourCats

      I’m against any horse receiving any medication except for the health of the horse. However, while it is true that horses run fewer times a month now than the 70s, it is not at all clear why (or even if running less often is because the horses can’t do it or rather if it is a choice by the trainers not to). You obviously believe that drugs are the culprit. But I believe that it has more to do with training methods. Trainers noticed that horses often ran below their ability after a strong performance. So a few started trying to avoid the “bounce” effect by stretching out their races from the usual 1-2 weeks to 4-5 weeks. This accelerated when Bobby Frankel had great success doing just that. Other trainers then became copycats. Now, it is considered normal have at least 4-5 weeks between races and some even consider it abuse to run a horse more often.

  • Richard C

    The racing industry is essentially saying that nearly every equine athlete needs specific medications to succeed on the track. There is something tragically wrong with any sport when drugs become the first priority to compete — Lasix should be termed a gateway drug, with all the connotations available for scrutiny by the public.

  • Matt

    Who is this guy? An equine vet who specializes in Thoroughbred sports medicine based in Montana? Seems unlikely. Can’t imagine there are a lot of Thoroughbred’s around there let alone ones that race. His racetrack experience listed on his resume is limited to “Gate Vet of All-Indian Gate Crew at Missoula Fair Race Meet, 2005”, three months at Finger Lakes in 2004, and working at Playfair racetrack in Spokane, Washington in the early 1980’s. Not quite hands on with Triple Crown class horses. There are hotwalkers at Belmont with more racetrack experience. Surely the NY Times can find a little more relevant DVM to carry the line on medication issues.

    There may be a point to be made about medication but it would carry more credibility and more weight if written by a veterinarian who had some pertinent experience.

    • circusticket

      Such a vet would be making a lot of money off the trainers, that he/she wouldn’t want to “disagree” with his/her clients.

  • Hoops and Horses

    What I wrote two years ago on this: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php/324

    What is needed (as noted) is a five-year phaseout of Lasix. We didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight.

    We also need for Thoroughbred Racing to follow the lead of Jeff Gural and take what he is doing in Harness Racing one step further: Make it so top horses have to race through their five year old season AND make more starts. That would force horses to be bred for durability and stamina as opposed to speed and precociousness, which over time would improve the breed to where we probably will again have a Triple Crown winner.

    • moi aussi

      the only thing that dictates how long horses race is economics.

      • Hoops and Horses

        The new rules Jeff Gural has block horses from being retired after their three year old season, and it’s having it’s desired effect in Harness Racing, with all of the top three year olds back for their four year old seasons. Such rules in T-Bred racing (which would involve as I would do it would prevent horses sired by stallions who were five years old or younger at the time of conception from being eligible for ALL Graded Stakes events in the US, with Woodbine likely following suit as they did for Harness Racing once Mr. Gural started this with this year) would force top horses to race through their five year old season and make it impossible for top horses to be retired at three.

        • Red Rider

          I have long hoped that someone would come along and pay the training and vet bills for my racehorses. Since Mr. Gural and friends believe they can tell me how to utilize my property, they will not mind paying $35-50k per year per horse for the privilege.

          I vote for the sensible approach of having a third party tell me when I can retire my horse(s) and providing the funds to keep them in training. New rules RULE!

          • Hoops and Horses

            The rules are designed to keep top horses in training through their four year old seasons in Harness Racing. In thoroughbred racing, as I would do it it’s to keep more horses like Animal Kingdom (2011 Derby winner) racing into their five year old campaigns, something that is needed to help grow the sport amongst casual sports fans (when the sport was in its heyday, especially in New York fixtures for older horses were much more important than fixtures for three year olds, as evidenced by the Belmont never drawing big crowds even when the Triple Crown was on the line prior to the 1990s).

            The plan as I would do it is to keep the stars of the sport racing past age three and in this case past age four. If breeders knew horses had to race into their five year old seasons, they would return to breeding for durability and stamina as opposed to speed, precociousness and the quick buck, getting more sportspeople back into the game and more of the commerical breeders out unless they are willing to adapt and take a longer approach with making money. That would over time make horses more robust than they are now.

          • Red Rider

            Sorry, good intentions and even positive results do not justify confiscation of a horse owner’s property. Maybe harness people don’t mind, but I don’t know one tb owner who would permit this, even if they think the result would be positive.

      • maryland

        Gee, quite the mistake. I thought at first they meant Theelin too, again, I know this is often used for stifles, and I have heard it has a muscle-relaxing effect as well.

        Here is what Theelin is and does:

        Theelin – General Information:An aromatized C18 steroid with a 3-hydroxyl group and a 17-ketone, a major mammalian estrogen. It is converted from androstenedione directly, or from testosterone via estradiol. In humans, it is produced primarily by the cyclic ovaries, placenta, and the adipose tissue of men and postmenopausal women. [PubChem]

        Pharmacology:Theelin, a synthetically prepared or naturally occurring steroidal estrogen obtained from pregnant equine urine, is the primary circulating estrogen after menopause. Theelin is naturally derived from the peripheral conversion of androstenedione by an aromatase enzyme found in adipose tissues and is converted to estradiol in peripheral tissues. Estropipate is piperazine-stabilized estrone sulfate. Theelin, and estropipate are used to treat abnormalities related to gonadotropin hormone dysfunction, vasomotor symptoms, atrophic vaginitis, and vulvar atrophy associated with menopause, and for the prevention of osteoporosis due to estrogen deficiency.

        Now should we be giving these colts a form of estrogen as physical therapy for sore joints? Do you think there could possibly any long term breeding effect? is this common sense or mere opinion. Is Theelin regulated by any racing jurisdiction?

        And are you implying we shouldn’t be concerned?

      • maryland

        sorry moi aussi, replied to wrong post, that was intended for RP.

  • maryland

    Incognito received Thelin as a pre-race injection. That needs to be addressed before we think he, too, ran unmedicated.

    • Matt

      Looks like Incognito had a lot more than Thelin for the Belmont. In 48 hours before the race: bute, Adequan, Legend, Thelin, banamine, and vitamin jug.


      So just because he didn’t get Lasix doesn’t mean he wasn’t medicated. He had more meds than the three that finished ahead of him.

  • maryland

    p.s. Ray, could you please look into and address Incognito’s pre-race Thelin injection before that too becomes a sugar-coated whitewash?

  • Big Red

    I think the real reason there hasn’t been a recent triple crown winner in global warming. Horses are forced to race in much higher temps. than previous years and the heat can really hurt a horse, especially a young one. The T-Crown should be moved to Emerald Downs where it is much cooler.
    OK, this is a crazy talk just like the Times article.
    What if a great one came along but didn’t make it the races because he bled? How would this help anything ?
    Lasix is here to stay, get over it.

    • Cangamble

      A horse that needs drugs (including Lasix) to compete is not a great one. Do you consider Lance Armstrong a great cyclist now?

      How do you explain why horses could run 5 times a month in the 60’s and 70’s, and how that thought is laughable today?

  • its post time

    Have any of you read Steve Haskin article on the history of drug use since the beginning of racing? If you haven’t you should… then go and check out the field sizes of the Triple Crown winners… too many horses in the Derby!!!!! There is a new product coming out… a girth channel that actually “bridges” over the main arteries of a horse! We have not had any new equipment in all these years.. Tony Black used it and his filly stopped tying up…. imagine trying to work out with a rubber band around your chest… pulled as tight as possible.. you wouldn’t get to far… its about time someone thought about something other than another medication!!

    • panamaone


      • Red Rider

        Not really. “not had any new equipment in years..” is complete crapola.

        • its post time

          Tell me what new equipment we have had… besides the nose band. and how do you know that it has nothing to do with tying up??? The girth channel was sent to UC Davis and they are very impressed…. tracks are already starting to order them for their paddocks. Funny… you’ll try a new drug but automatically put down a new piece of equipment… better study up on horse anatomy!!!

          • Red Rider

            rhabdomyolysis is thought to be caused by metabolic problems resulting in electrolyte imbalances; not restrictive girths. More comfortable girths are a good thing and I am happy that the left coast vets are impressed. I am married to a biogeneticist who taught mammalian physiology as a graduate student. She has also bred, bought, sold, and raced horses for twenty plus years. She says there are no major arteries that girth pressure would restrict. I believe her over you.

            As for equipment, start with shoes and pads and work your way up, including new materials for everything from saddle pads to ear muffs; including channeled girths.

            Yes, I will try new drugs. How do you know me, and do you have any I might like? I could use some after reading your response.

            Is your name Jim? I know someone by that name who makes goofy statements on other blogs.

  • DCW


  • panamaone

    no horsemen no horseracing

  • 2hoursfromsaratoga

    Afleet Alex was stopped, running up onto a horse. He recovered nicely but Giacomo was flying along unimpeded. And then, Alex went on to win the Preakness and The Belmont. I’d say poor racing luck deprived him of the Crown

  • jttf

    bravo, bravo. very well written, sid. did you see how intelligent this man writes ? at least i know there are a few good, caring for horses, vets out there. there is so much information out there that points out the bad side effects of lasix. but the horsemen still let the horses run while cramping. did you see how badly the belmont stakes horses looked in the final quarter ? 54 seconds to complete the last half mile. the best harness horses close in 54 seconds. the longer the race, the more problems dehydration creates. dont bike racers and long distance runners take in fluids throughout the race ? do they purposely get dehydrated before the race ? this crazy horse racing world sure doesnt care about the horses.

  • Sally

    Or maybe we haven’t had a Triple Crown winner since med testing became more sophisticated and we cracked down on some meds, like anabolic steroids?

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