The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association Medication Committee voted Feb. 23 to endorse the use of race-day furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix, at this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships.
The National HBPA, as part of its winter convention in Clearwater, Fla., held a 90-minute veterinary panel discussion on the anti-bleeding medication. Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling, who chairs the Medication Committee, said indecision by the Breeders' Cup board of directors at a Feb. 22 meeting spurred the vote.
"We can continue on with discussions about Lasix, but in the meantime let's continue to use it," Stirling said.
The National HBPA and most other horsemen's groups in North America have clearly stated their opposition to any plans to ban Salix on race day. No racing jurisdiction in North America has banned the drug on race day despite the Breeders' Cup plan to not allow the medication's use in all races in this year's World Championships.
Breeders' Cup banned the use of Salix in its 2-year-old stakes last year. Some owners also pledged not to use the drug in their 2-year-olds.
The Feb. 23 panel discussion featured interesting dialogue on the topic. Stirling called The Jockey Club "bullies" on the Salix issue. Dr. Larry Bramlage, a pro-Salix equine surgeon who is a member of The Jockey Club, said the organization backed off from the Salix issue last summer to facilitate broader medication and drug-testing reforms.
"The Jockey Club put Lasix on the shelf knowing we couldn't agree," Bramlage said. "It's a political issue. Both sides have legitimate arguments, but they don't talk to each other. We yell at each other. The biggest problem we have is how we talk about the problem, not the medical problem itself."
The group also discussed the perceptions involving race-day medication, regardless of whether it's legal and therapeutic.
"Race-day medication is an issue the public cannot understand," Bramlage said. "It's like anabolic steroids. They had to come off the table because the public doesn't understand (how the racing industry) uses them. The only way the public will accept anything is no race-day medication. Perception is critical to what people think."
During the presentations, there was broad acceptance of Salix as a means to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging and comments that the drug doesn't lead to racehorse breakdowns.
Dr. Thomas Tobin, a University of Kentucky pharmacologist who serves as the National HBPA medication adviser, said there is "no reason to suspect any long-term, cumulative adverse affects associated with pre-race administration" of Salix.
Dr. Pamela Wilkins, a professor of equine internal medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said research suggests Salix has no affect on bone strength because of calcium insufficiency. Wilkins spoke in response to claims that Salix can cause bone fractures.
Bramlage agreed that Salix isn't tied to bone fractures but he said that by global standards, the argument isn't about whether the drug is good or bad. It's about using any substance on race day.
"We've got to meet in the middle," Bramlage said of North American racing. "I just hope we don't have to go to the bottom to it."
Salix is used in training in many other countries that ban it on race day. Stirling said that, despite claims no country outside of North America uses Salix on race day, there are South American countries that do use it.