Major Racehorse Health Issues Discussed at RCI Meeting

While many of racing's major issues were discussed at the July 25 meeting of the board of directors of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI), the agenda called for few decisions to be made.

Up for discussion at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., meeting were race-day medication in Kentucky, public veterinary records, commission authority over veterinarians, and the effects of furosemide on horses.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) recently approved a plan to phase out Salix (the anti-bleeder medication also known as Lasix) in graded and listed stakes by 2016. The phase-out would begin in 2014 with furosemide use being prohibited in stakes races for 2-year-olds. KHRC executive director John Ward said that the phase-out is designed to enable Kentucky to produce and export horses that will be attractive to overseas buyers.

While Ward estimates the use of Salix in Kentucky will drop by less than 5%, he indicated that he's interested in providing non-stakes horses with the opportunity to compete without Lasix and without the perceived competitive disadvantage of racing against horses that are being treated with the medication.

To that end, Ward raised the possibility of changing current policy to make it easier for horses to come off furosemide and resume its use more easily than is currently possible. He suggested carding races in which a condition is that horses race without the medication, an idea that has previously been discussed by the RCI.

Ward admitted that he'd gotten some pushback from horsemen, but he sees the resistance as due to a perception that this initial phase-out is the first step toward a complete elimination of race-day furosemide in Kentucky, a possibility that Ward unequivocally ruled out.

"I don't think the American working horse can live in this sport at this time without Lasix," he said. He later elaborated, "The majority of the horses racing in this country should be able to use Lasix until something better comes along."

Significant attention at the meeting was given to oversight of veterinary care, particularly the disclosure of veterinary records and the authority of racing commissions over veterinarians. RCI president Ed Martin observed that most regulatory veterinarians don't have the jurisdiction to deter inappropriate veterinary care because they have no authority to remove a veterinarian's license to practice.

"We can take away their racing licenses, but not their livelihood and potential abuse of animals," said Martin.

The board discussed a proposal to create a protocol by which commissioners could refer what they consider inappropriate veterinary behavior to the state veterinary board for review, a suggestion to which Lynn Hovda, MS, DVM, objected.

Hovda, chief commission veterinarian of the Minnesota Racing Commission, shared feedback that she had gotten from veterinarians and suggested that the process begin with an internal group that could include stewards, judges, and investigators who could determine whether to send individual cases on for further review and investigation.

She also pointed out that an equally troublesome element of equine veterinary is the care horses receive at off-track training centers, over which state commissions have no authority.

Rod Seiling of the Ontario Racing Commission noted his jurisdiction passed a regulation that only licensed commission veterinarians can provide care to horses and that the veterinarians are obligated to maintain exact records of treatment that are available to the commission. This is a model that Martin recommended the regulatory veterinarians' committee look at further. That committee is expected to draft a proposal to consider at a future meeting.

Veterinary work came under further scrutiny as the directors discussed the advantages and drawbacks of complete transparency of veterinary records. Martin pointed out that putting complex medical records in the hands of lay people who likely won't understand them could lead to negative and inaccurate perceptions of equine veterinary care.

John Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, noted that when he put out a call for comment on having veterinary records travel with a claimed horse, the feedback he received was overwhelmingly negative.

The recent public reaction to the release of I'll Have Another's veterinary records was pointed to as an example of the negative consequence of making records available. Several board members noted that although the care I'll Have Another received was neither unusual nor harmful, it was perceived as both by members of the general public.

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Teresa Genaro

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