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The Old, Broken-Down Horse Trainer Goes To Washington

October 1, 2012
By Kent H. Stirling
On July 12th, I was invited by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV to testify in front of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for which he is the Chairman.  His committee was holding a hearing on “Medication and Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Horse Racing.”  This hearing was more or less the Senate version of the House’s Health Subcommittee that met at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania on April 30th with the subject being, “A Review of Efforts to Protect the Health of Jockeys and Horses in Horseracing.”  This House Subcommittee hearing was described by this publication in its Summer 2012 edition as follows:
Not surprisingly, the April 30 hearing was carefully orchestrated such that it provided a deeply biased and one-sided view of the industry.  Moreover, there was quite a bit of misinformation that came out during the hearing that went unchallenged because of the lack of balance in those participating in and presiding over the hearing.
The July 12th Senate hearing, while it had a slightly more balanced panel, also had a lot of misinformation presented that went unchallenged, because of the manner in which the panels were set up.  I spoke on the first panel of four along with Barry Irwin of Team Valor, Jim Gagliano, President of the Jockey Club and Jeffrey Gural, a substantial owner of Standardbreds who headed up a group of investors who leased the Meadowlands Racetrack.
The second panel consisted of Matthew Witman, National Director of the American Quarter Horse Association, Marc Paulhus, former Vice President of the Humane Society, Ed Martin, President and CEO of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and Sheila Lyons, DVM.
So you might wonder from where did all the misinformation come?
According to Dr.  Lyons and seemingly Senator Udall of New Mexico, who was chairing the hearing for Senator Rockefeller, most of this misinformation was coming from me.
I was a little stunned, because I had just listened to Mr Paulhus describe how therapeutic medication is “used to manipulate the performance of horses either by the administration or the withdrawal of them.”  He continued with a straight face, “So for example, if they’re trying to build a horse’s losing streak and then give it therapeutic medication at a later date so that it runs better, that can be a little trick that some race fixers have used in the past, and then they bet their money off track with the bookies.”  Since both writers from the New York Times were present, I figured this would be a front page story the next day.
Senator Udall later told Mr. Martin that there is plenty of money for more drug testing and enforcement of rules from monies the states all use to subsidize horsemen’s purses.  Said Senator Udall, “And so I just don’t buy the resource side of this when you have $50 million in subsidies in my small little State of New Mexico that you could peel off part of that and then do this right.  Or bigger States, it’s much bigger than this $50 million, $100 million, $200 million, whatever it is.”  I assume he was referring to slot revenue, but then a lot of states don’t have alternative gaming of any kind.  In Florida, about $15 million a year comes to purses from slots.
When asked if she would like to respond to some comments made about Lasix, Dr. Lyons responded, “I think this difference of opinion between myself and, specifically, Mr. Stirling really represents what I’m up against, and what veterinarians are up against when we go to work at racetracks.”
She added, “Mr. Stirling was a very successful racehorse trainer.”  She obviously didn’t see my last three year’s production as a trainer, but it was “successful” enough to make me a candidate for Executive Director.
“But Mr. Stirling is not a veterinarian,” she continued.  “And I heard him testify that Lasix is not performance enhancing, it has never harmed a horse, and that it effectively treats exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.”
She went on to say that from her perspective, I was completely wrong.  She then added that she “found over 200 peer-reviewed papers that link the increased risk of fracture to Lasix use.”  She continued, “I did a pilot study myself to just test a hypothesis that Lasix was changing the blood test results in these horses.  And I found a very close parallel between what is reported for the effect of EPO on athletes and Lasix.”
She summarized her remarks by stating about Lasix, “I can’t justify it, especially in the fact that it not only does not effectively treat a disease that my patient probably doesn’t even have, but is going to harm my patient at the same time.”
“But I know that Mr. Stirling, and many of the passionate advocates for the continued use of this drug in all horses, believe what they’re saying.
“But frankly, if a lie is told long enough over and over, it begins to sound like the truth.  So for nearly 30 years, I have had to have these discussions with clients, and have to re-educate them because the opinion is just not supported by the science.”
Senator Udall then was reminded of a Mark Twain quote which he shared.  “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots.”
There was then laughter and the hearing was concluded.
I left thinking that I believe I was just called a liar, and wondering after what I had observed how Congress could possibly have just a 16% approval rating with the American public.
Some things you need to know.  My remarks were a refined version of those passed out after the Kennett Square House hearing in April, and a number of people had input at some level in these remarks.  I also was sent 20 questions by this committee to have answered by August 1st and again I was aided in my answers by several members who are lawyers, because if I had answered some of them unassisted, I would probably now be involved in a law suit or sitting in jail.
Other important facts:  This Committee was chaired by Senator Udall because Senator Rockefeller never appeared, nor did twenty-two of the twenty-five Senators on this committee show up at any time.  Two other Senators were present, one for 15 minutes and the other for 45 minutes of this three hour plus hearing.  To say that there was not much interest in this hearing by committee members would be an understatement.
And finally from the remarks of my fellow panelists, with the possible exception of Ed Martin, I don’t think anybody was aware of (or wanted to admit that they were aware) of the seminal 2009 South African Furosemide Study.   Two of this study’s three authors, Dr. Kenneth W. Hinchcliff and Dr. Paul S. Morely, were on record previously as doubting the efficacy of Lasix in preventing EIPH or bleeding. Their conclusion after completing this 167 horse study was that “prerace administration of furosemide decreased the incidence and severity of EIPH.”   After completing this million dollar study, the rather surprised authors then stated:
“…The challenge will now be for countries like 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.  Additionally instituting race-day administration of furosemide would be a significant added expense to racing,”
I can still hear her words.  Mr. Stirling’s “opinion is just not supported by the science.”