Racing moves toward restricting medications, including Lasix

churchill downs

All I can say is: It’s about time.

Led by the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, changes are coming North American racing. Two other major racing organizations — Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association — are implementing a partial phase out of Lasix, beginning with 2-year olds racing in 2020 and on race day stakes races for all ages beginning in 2021, including the three Triple Crown races.

Churchill Downs and Keeneland have submitted draft rule changes to the Equine Drug Research Council that mirror many of the changes implemented in California. These include:

  • Restricting non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as bute and banamine from 24 hours pre-race to 48 hours pre-race;
  • Prohibiting corticosteroids from 14 days pre-race
  • Banning the use of bisphosphonates (a bone modeling drug)

“The rules which have been submitted are geared, quite frankly, toward saving the sport of horse racing and our industry as we know them,” said Ziegler. “Make no mistake; there is no hyperbole here: Our sport and our industry sit knee-deep in the middle of an existential crisis. We’re being attacked on many fronts and we simply cannot sit back and do nothing about it and expect this to go away.

“Settling for the status quo will kill us.” (The Paulick Report)

Glad to see the reforms in North American racing, which will put us more in step with the rest of the world and will prevent drugs from masking the pain of sore or injured horses out of races. Many people hope that these kinds of reforms will help refocus breeders on soundness, rather than short term speed.

Most racing organizations outside North America don’t allow Lasix. Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and others permit Lasix during training but prohibit it on race days. In Germany Lasix is prohibited at all times. In Australia if a horse bleeds twice while racing, it is banned. In Europe, horse are banned after three episodes of bleeding.

According to an article in Inside Science,

Bleeding is an inherited trait in racehorses, so with controlled breeding, it’s possible to remove the trait from the gene pool. In Germany, owners are not allowed to breed horses that are known bleeders. But prioritizing winning bloodlines has led to a relatively inbred population of bleeders in North America.

Another option is equine nasal strips, developed by veterinarians in the mid 1990s. The butterfly-shaped strip goes across the top of the horse’s nose and opens the nasal passageway, decreasing resistance to breathing and decreasing respiratory pressure. Similarly to Lasix, the strips don’t completely prevent bleeding, but a recent clinical trial reported about a 50 percent decrease in severity.

Let’s just hope that this important first step toward racing safety helps put North American racing back on a better track.

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