Race-Day Medication Pros and Cons Debated

The pros and cons of race-day medication in racehorses were debated Nov. 14 during a lengthy meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) Race Day Medication Committee at the state Capitol.

The committee was formed earlier this year after calls for a ban on race-day anti-bleeding drugs and an international medication summit held in New York in June. The KHRC has taken no position on race-day use of furosemide and adjunct bleeder medications.

"It's a very divisive issue," said KHRC vice chairman Tracy Farmer, who chairs the Race Day Medication Committee. "This is an informational session. No decisions will be made today."

Farmer said about 30 organizations and individuals were asked to comment on the race day drug issue. About 15 signed up to attend and testify.

"Several invitees said their groups haven't formed a consensus on the issue, so they declined to speak," Farmer said.

The meeting began with several presentations on furosemide, called Salix or Lasix, and exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), the condition for which it is used to treat.

Alice Stack, MVB, Dipl. ACVIM, of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said (EIPH) is common in horses around the world, and that while furosemide reduces blood pressure and bleeding, it doesn't cure EIPH.

Stack cited research that shows EIPH increases with age and exercise. Because racing accounts for only 2% of racehorses' high-pressure exercise, Stack said it's feasible to believe a race day ban on furosemide would have limited impact on the progression of EIPH--but she also said elimination of the drug would likely result in more severe bleeding episodes in racehorses.

There was some discussion early in the meeting about whether furosemide has a positive effect on performance during races and therefore is used for that purpose. Clearly there is disagreement.

Ned Bonnie, a KHRC member, cited "incidental" information that trainers use furosemide to enhance performance because its affects the larynx and thus can aid breathing. Stack said it is feasible furosemide can increase airflow, but no studies have been done linking furosemide, EIPH, and performance.

Foster Northrop, DVM, a member of the KHRC and the committee, took issue with claims individuals use furosemide to enhance performance. Northrop, a racetrack veterinarian, said he never has used furosemide to improve throat function, and to his knowledge there is no legal medication that can be used for that purpose.

According to information presented at the meeting, most foreign racing jurisdictions that ban use of furosemide in racing consider a horse a bleeder if blood trickles from its nostrils after a race. That led to a suggestion that perhaps foreign countries don't have a handle on EIPH since bleeding in the lungs is the best gauge of the condition.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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