A half-dozen horses entered in this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) field made their initial starts without race-day Salix, but for the 1 1/4-mile classic all six—along with every other horse in the field—will receive the diuretic used to prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH).
The group of six includes Derby morning-line favorite Orb , who was not given the furosemide Salix (also referred to as Lasix) in any of his four juvenile starts. The other four U.S.-based horses who started their careers without receiving race-day Salix are Java's War, Frac Daddy , Will Take Charge , and Oxbow . Salix is allowed to be administered on race day in the United States and all five U.S.-based horses eventually were moved to race-day Salix.
The sixth horse in the group is Lines of Battle, who has made most of his starts in Europe and Dubai, where race-day Salix is prohibited. He will receive Salix for the first time before the Derby after six previous starts without it, including his off-the-board finish in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I). For the first time in last year, Breeders' Cup prohibited race-day Salix in its races for juveniles.
Last year many leading owners pledged to race their juveniles Salix-free, including Orb's owner-breeders Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable.
Orb's Racing Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey would prefer that no horses race on Salix, but said under the current rules it is difficult to keep pace with rivals that are using the diuretic. After registering his maiden win in his fourth career start, his final effort without Salix, Orb has registered an undefeated season in three starts this year including a victory in the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) while receiving Salix.
Opponents of Salix use have called it performance-enhancing but horsemen who support Salix say it allows horses to run at their optimum level because their breathing is not hindered by EIPH.
Four of the five U.S.-based horses in this year's Derby field who started their careers without using Salix on race day won in their first starts on the diuretic. The average BRIS speed figure jump for this group going from their final race without Salix to their first race with Salix was 7.5 points (Oxbow was not counted in this statistic because he failed to complete his one race without Salix and was not assigned a speed figure).
Not counting Lines of Battle, who has not raced against opponents using Salix, the five horses who raced without Salix in this year's field posted a record of two wins from nine starts (22.2%) without the race-day diuretic. In races with Salix, the same group of horses has won 11 of 27 starts (40.7%).
Despite those numbers, McGaughey plans to race his juveniles without Salix again this year.
Both horses Racing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will saddle in the Derby, Calumet Farm's Oxbow and Willis Horton's Will Take Charge, started their careers without use of Salix. They each lost their first start before receiving the diuretic in their second career starts. Lukas said horsemen have two schools of thought on Salix use in young horses.
"I always thought that a 2-year-old running in April going 4 1/2 furlongs in the first start of his life is probably not going to bleed. So why would I give him Lasix?," Lukas said, adding that it does stress the system. "If you've ever taken a Lasix pill, it hits you pretty good. I never took one but some riders have and that's what they tell me.
"Now the other thought is that it's a preventative. They don't want them to ever bleed so they gave it to them from the first start right on through. I prefer not to give it to them with mine until maybe we get to this level when we're getting a lot of stress, hard-tough races, then get into it a little bit."
Lukas said Salix has been abused by some trainers. In general, Lukas supports reduced medication use in racing.
"One of the issues we're dealing with in horse racing is that the veterinarians have become more involved. Because of that, now we have more regulations; more people doing out-of-competition testing—which I'm all for," Lukas said. "We've probably created that situation by some of the things we've done."