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August 16, 2011
By Kent H. Stirling, FHBPA Executive Director
A lot has happened in the last few months dealing generally with race day medication and specifically with Lasix/Salix.  Lasix, I can’t bring myself to call it Salix after all these years, is permitted to be administered to race horses three to four hours before post time in all United States racing jurisdictions.  It is also legal on race day in Canada, South America and Saudi Arabia.  It is trained on in virtually every country in the world with a 50 nanogram threshold in urine, or in other words, don’t work a horse on it within two days of your race or your horse will be “positive” for Lasix.  Since bleeding is a progressive condition that gets worse with age and every bleeding incident, one would be well advised to train on Lasix for speed works in those countries that don’t permit its use in racing.
The Udall/Whitfield bill was proposed to end all race day medication in this country. A top aide to Udall, another frustrated horse player much like Representative Bobby Rush’s aide in 2008, who was responsible for the sham Congressional hearings of that year, was responsible for this legislation.  Again, remember that Congress is a group that now has a 14 % approval rating and would be hard pressed to teach Lassie to bark, let alone instruct the nation’s most drug free industry on how it can further improve.  At first it seemed there was some uncertainty as to whether Lasix was an innocent bystander and that the adjunct bleeder medications and whatever illegal drugs that were also supposedly administered on race day were the targets of this poorly written legislation.  The Jockey Club and ARCI and later The Breeders’ Cup and Frank Stronach then piled on making it clear that they also wanted Lasix to disappear on race day so that the U.S. could be “harmonized” with Europe, Asia, Australia and South Africa, who obviously do everything the right way.
The RMTC then called for an International Summit on Lasix to be held at Belmont Park in June to be organized by the NTRA, AAEP and the RMTC.  Well over 100 industry leaders attended and listened to presentations by researchers, trainers and veterinarians on Lasix.  After listening to a full day of presentations on what a good medication Lasix was both anecdotally and as further proven scientifically by the research contained in the 2009 South African Lasix Study of over 160 horses, I turned to Virginia Executive Director, Frank Petramalo and said, “This was a good day for Lasix!”  Talk about speaking too soon.  The day’s closing panel, consisting of the moderators of the previous panels which were all supportive of Lasix, essentially started off their moderators panel by asking how can we best get rid of Lasix in the U.S.
The second day of the Summit, the invited attendees met under the direct supervision of a facilitator and we came up with a number of suggestions for the industry to explore.  They included: tougher penalties, better security, phasing out Lasix use with the next two crops of two year olds and permitting only regulatory vets to administer Lasix on race day while banning the use of all adjunct bleeder medications. Committees were formed from Summit attendees to explore in depth the four areas mentioned above. These committees were to report their findings to the RMTC and the RMTC would then decide what action/s to suggest for the industry to pursue on August 4th.
After the Summit, the Breeders’ Cup and the Stronach Group immediately banned Lasix in their races or at his tracks.  I needed a researcher to discuss Lasix at our National HBPA summer convention along with Dr Tom Tobin and Dr Don Shields who both attended the Summit, and that’s when I stumbled on the fact that one of the authors of the South African Lasix Study lived in the United States.  I had just assumed they were all from South Africa.  I felt the Summit was a little bit organized in, shall we say, one direction, but now I find that the presentation on this famous research could have been given by one of its three authors, Dr Paul Morely, who was hidden in plain sight At Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
It turns out the Jockey Club had many conversations with Dr. Morely about his research which they weren’t too happy with and apparently less happy with him when he refused to reexamine it or to look at it from a different perspective such as increased performance for the horse which the study wasn’t set up to do.
The South African Study clearly displayed that “pre race administration of furosemide markedly decreased both the incidence and severity of EIPH in the Thoroughbred race horse racing in South Africa.”  The authors were quoted about their study as follows:
“The challenge will now be for countries such as Australia, England, Hong Kong and South Africa that do not currently permit race-day use of furosemide, to balance the  animal-welfare aspect of being able to prevent or reduce the condition against the imperatives for drug-free racing.”
Apparently those countries mentioned in the above quote felt that just because Lasix was proven efficacious in preventing EIPH, there was no reason to remove their heads from the sand they were buried in, and worry about the health and welfare of the horse (and admit those damn Yankees were right all along about Lasix).  Dr Morely stated that he was surprised how their research had been received, “Their conclusions (from around the world) don’t seem to follow science.”
At the HBPA convention in Seattle, Dr Shields gave an update on what went on at the Summit and an update on the bute threshold being dropped from 5 to 2 mcg/ml, and Dr Tobin gave a presentation on the expected increased risk to horse and rider from acute/sudden death EIPH due to the banning of Lasix.  This risk was fairly obvious, because when New York permitted Lasix in 1995, the incidence of epistaxis (visibly bleeding from the nostrils) immediately dropped EIGHTY percent!  One had to think it would have been an even higher percentage because of all those New York horses that were known bleeders that had to race in New Jersey, Maryland, etc where Lasix was permitted in order to compete to their abilities.
The RMTC met in August and overwhelmingly voted to suggest to the industry that Lasix should be administered only by regulatory veterinarians and also that adjunct bleeder medications should be banned.  This makes perfect sense and was the position of the National HBPA at their Seattle convention.
Stay tuned, because the Lasix/Salix wars are not completely over yet!