The Lasix Debate

By Evie
Lasix. Salix. Furosemide. The most common form of legal raceday doping worldwide.

I can safely say I know a fair bit about Lasix and the Lasix Debate, having done a speech about it for my GCSE English Speech.

From there I discovered the facts that lead to my almost complete separation from American Racing.

Before I begin my view on the Lasix debate, we first need to know what Lasix does.

On raceday, or before training, American horses are injected with the drug which can often lead to horses losing up to 30 pounds of weight in fluids.

The point of Lasix is to prevent bleeds, or exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhages and is used by up to 95% of racehorses in America. 

American trainers are all too willing to rely on this drug, to the point where it prevents them sending runners abroad, where their horses would not be allowed to run on the drug.

A fair few of American trainers are under the impression that without Lasix their horses would collapse in front of millions of people.

Using statistics of equine deaths in racing in Britain from last year, it can more than easily be seen that out of 133 equine injuries on racetracks only 11 death came from a collapse of sorts. Of course this doesn’t take heart attacks into account, so the figure for haemorrhages may, in fact, be lower. 

This figure doesn’t mean much to American racing, unless put into a figure that can be scaled up, so let’s put it into a percentage. 8%. Of all deaths on British racecourses in 2016, only 8% were from a collapse. And with every new enhancement in racing the total number of deaths goes down.

So its clear that haemorrhages are rare, and don’t often happen at racecourses. So how come Americans are still hanging on to this medieval drug?

2012.The Breeder’s Cup banned Lasix from all their races. By 2013 this ban had been pulled back, limited only to the Juvenile races. And by 2014 there was no ban. Trainer’s were free to dope their horses.

American trainers raised a ruckus, complaining to the Breeder’s Cup that their horses would die of haemorrhaging. And without a singular racing authority to manage over the 50 states, the trainers managed to get their own way again. 

This was not the first time they had complained about advances that worldwide would be commonly seen as improving the sport for the horses.

In 2007 Santa Anita replaced their traditional dirt track with a synthetic material, much like the secondary surface at many European dual surface tracks. Of course many trainers complained that their horses would not be able to run on this ‘foreign’ surface, which included preventing super mare Rachel Alexandra from the Breeder’s Cup. By 2010 Santa Anita authorities gave in and returned to their dirt surface.

Trainer Dale Romans was one of the many who objected the Breeder’s Cup’s ban of Lasix, and he certainly has a very strong view on the use of Lasix in America.

Some of the phrases he’s used include

-“they’re bled inside and it causes lung infections” Factually incorrect, as in Britain (where you would assume horses contract more lung infections due to not using the drug) horses make twice as many starts [12] as American horses [6] per year.

-“… one of the worst abuses that can be done to the racing horse is to ban Lasix.”

-[Quote from his colleague Rick Violette] “horses bleed. that is a fact. to force an animal to race without it is premeditated, borderline animal abuse.” It can be argued that forcing horses to be administered with shots that aren’t needed for them to live is animal abuse. Banning Lasix is in no way animal abuse is.

A level of bleeding that adversely effects a thoroughbred is rare, and a fatal level of bleeding is even rarer. So the question still remains. Why are Americans using Lasix, now more than ever?

Perhaps it is the weakening of a breed as a whole, due to Lasix. A theory that has been passed around by multiple people is that one of the reasons War Front’s don’t commonly train on as three year olds could be due to the use of Lasix, weakening the lungs of American breds. 

This means bleeds are more likely as horses have become so use to running on Lasix that they simply couldn’t go on without Lasix and their risk of haemorrhages have- ironically- increased.

This ‘Lasix culture’ has also had an adverse reaction on races worldwide too. 

American trainers aren’t willing to send their horses to European races as it would mean running without their beloved Lasix. 

There are some lights in the dark. Barry Irwin, owner of Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom wants the use of raceday medication banned saying “95% of horses are given a medication only 5% of horses need.”

So the real question is how can we try and stop the reliance on Lasix?

Something that I believe would help improve American racing as a whole, massively, would be the introduction of one stable (pun intended) horse racing authority to cover all 50 states. This would make the rules surrounding Lasix the same no matter where in the country you are. This would also help impose stricter sanctions for people that do break the weak drugs laws.

Its my personal belief that Lasix use shouldn’t be stopped all at once. If that were to happen I think it would cause more harm than good. I think a safer bet would be to ban Lasix from low grade juvenile races and increase from there. That way, horses who have run on Lasix their entire careers wouldn’t have to face the repercussions from being thrown into the deep end. More willing trainers could be chosen to stop the use of Lasix in their horses, and prove to the disbelievers that it is perfectly normal for horses to have careers without drugs.  

The Breeder’s Cup should ban Lasix from their races and not back down from outcry. It may be bad for their races for a short period of time, but in the long run it would be beneficial.

Even then Lasix shouldn’t be banned 100%. Horses that are proven bleeders should be allowed to run on it, but with a sanction. They should’t be allowed to breed this weakness into foals, and bleeders should be barred from breeding. It may sound harsh, but I do believe it would be for the greater good.

So now its up to the Americans. For the sake of their sport I think all across the world hope they see the truth about Lasix, and the fact that they really don’t need it. 

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