Panelists gathered for a Jan. 14 National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association forum said no scientific evidence supports a ban on the use of furosemide on race day.
The National HBPA, like most other horsemen’s groups a staunch supporter of the use of furosemide, known as Salix or Lasix, to control exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. It is holding its winter convention in Hollywood Beach, Fla., through Jan. 16. The National HBPA Medication Committee regularly holds forums on issues of current interest.
The National HBPA has come out in support of a model rule calling for administration of furosemide by regulatory veterinarians only on race day. The organization opposes a ban on the drug on race day.
Dr. Steven Barker, chemist for the Louisiana State Racing Commission, sought to dispel what he called industry “myths” surrounding Salix. He said that contrary to some claims, Salix does not interfere with testing for other drugs when blood is tested; Salix isn’t performance-enhancing; Salix is effective in treating EIPH; and it can’t be proved the drug's use is “denigrating” the Thoroughbred breed.
Barker said studies that determined Salix is performance enhancing are flawed because they didn’t consider other drugs that may have been in the study horses’ systems, and there was no record of when furosemide was administered. In North America it’s widely administered to horses four hours before a race.
“The science has to be taken with a grain of salt in some cases,” Barker said. “Some facts have been left by the wayside. Some say Lasix is denigrating the breed. What’s the science on that? Nothing. This myth is complete fiction, having not merit or scientific data to support it.”
Dr. Mark Dedomenico, a noted heart surgeon who operates Pegasus Thoroughbred Center in Washington State and co-owned champion Blind Luck, was unable to attend the National HBPA convention but instead addressed horsemen through a video he had made on use of Salix in racehorses. Dedomenico said he wouldn’t race a horse without Salix.
Dedomenico said heart beats in horses can go from 40 to 220 a minute during races, meaning their blood pressure increases rapidly. He said if that happened in humans, they most likely would stroke.
He also said each time horses bleed in the lungs, they build up scar tissue. “More than 90% of horses bleed into their lungs,” he said. “It shouldn’t be acceptable.”
Dr. Thomas Brokken, a racetrack veterinarian for about 40 years, said when furosemide was first used in horses in the 1970s, it was obvious the drug would be helpful for racehorses. The four-hour administration rule came about as it was legalized in various racing jurisdictions.
“Things that work stick around, and things that don’t work don’t stick around,” Brokken said. “Lasix is injectable—that’s the only problem we have with it, honestly.”
Brokken challenged claims that vets make a lot of money giving Salix shots to racehorses. He said there are 16 vets in his practice, and about 4% of their gross take is from administering pre-race medication.
“Will (a race-day ban) hurt us? No,” Brokken said. “Will it change the way we treat horses? Absolutely.”
Dr. Thomas Tobin, a professor at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center and medication adviser to the National HBPA, cited research indicating EIPH is more related to stride and its impact during races than exercise. He also said fluid reduction in horses helps them perform optimally.