Anne M. Eberhardt

Florida Horsemen Oppose Furosemide Ban

Florida HBPA issues letter in support of continued use of race-day diuretic drug.

In response to a statement from 25 prominent horsemen calling for a ban on the race-day use of furosemide (Salix, commonly called Lasix), the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association Aug. 8 issued an open letter opposing changes.

The FHBPA letter follows.

"The Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association represents well over 6,000 hard-working Florida horsemen and horsewomen. Over the past few years, on various medication issues, we have been decried as an "outlier" state by some national voices.

"However, the fact is we are anything but an outlier. Uniform national medication reform is a constant and longtime goal of our organization. But what we also advocate is a logical, step by step approach to getting it right. To that end and as a result of several meetings with Matt Iuliano from The Jockey Club, along with input at the RMTC, we crafted legislation earlier this year which put us very much in line with the proposed overall national platform. Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, blocked us this spring. But we'll be back.

"Recently, some nationally prominent Thoroughbred trainers and owners (most of whom are members of the FHBPA) issued a press release calling for the phased out elimination of all race day medication. That, of course, basically calls for the ban of Lasix as a race day medication.

"The board of directors of the FHBPA and Florida horsemen, in general, vigorously oppose such a ban. It has been our consistent position that race-day Lasix is vital to the health of the horse, the jockey and the sport as a whole.

"The science is clear: virtually all Thoroughbred racehorses suffer from exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or EIPH, during their racing careers. Lasix is the only scientifically proven means of controlling or substantially reducing the incidence of EIPH and thus allowing a horse to perform up to his/her highest potential. Lasix doesn't make any horse run faster. It is not a performance enhancing drug. It is a performance "allowing" therapeutic medication.

"Racing horses have bled since Year One. Back in the '60s many trainers often tied a string tightly at the base of the tail of each horse in his/her barn that bled. Now, add to that the patches on the skin, "herbals," non-descript bottles of snake oil, etc. We all know none of it works. So ban Lasix and we're headed right back to that era of voodoo remedies, which, by definition, not only don't help, but can often cause harm to the animal. Lasix can prevent all that.

"Make no mistake, EIPH is a highly dangerous condition. In acute cases, it can easily lead to the sudden death of the horse during a race, mostly due to the horse bleeding into his/her lungs and literally drowning in its own blood. One need only consider this single salient statistic to understand the importance of Lasix. After the introduction of Lasix in New York in 1994, the reported cases of epistaxis, significant bleeding from both nostrils during or after a race, immediately dropped dramatically. By 80%! Yes, that's right, 80%.

"Florida horsemen have consistently and adamantly opposed a ban on Lasix and will continue to do so. To not have Lasix available for horses competing in the heat and humidity of non-winter racing in Florida or Louisiana or Texas is a recipe for disaster.   

"To reiterate, it is important to understand that the FHBPA strongly supports a logical, rational, and scientifically configured national uniform medication program. We concur that third party administration is a step forward on the path to national medication reform. We have no problem at all with a nationally agreed upon list of approved drugs as long as thresholds are established and withdrawal time guidelines provided to horsemen.

"Along with basically all other horsemen's groups, the FHBPA is only seeking a universally approved level playing field. That being said, we also remain firm in our position that race day Lasix must be a part of such a program until a scientifically proven better means to protect the health of our horses becomes available."