Thursday, July 19, 2012
Lasix, The Third Rail of American Racing
SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 18, 2012--Barry Irwin can have an edge sometimes but he’s at his best when he speaks truth to power. His successful theory on medication free racing and the breeding and purchasing of Thoroughbreds need no introduction here:
Irwin said what everybody says, except he said it to people who actually can do something about the inadequacy of state regulation: "We need a new and tougher federal law," said Irwin.
It cost racetrack owner Jeff Gural $65,000 of his own money to deal with Lou Pena, who New York’s State Racing & Wagering Board found evidence of over 1,700 drug infractions of one kind or another:
"The logical thing would be for the federal government to take this over so that the rules are the same in every state." Then he said this: “Scofflaw trainers should be hauled off in handcuffs, maybe then cheaters will get the message.”
The verbal testimony of Matthew Witman, national director of the American Quarter Horse Assn., was replete with historical statistics, platitudes, and tough talk on Class 1 drugs, but stopped short of possible solutions, appearing in denial given of his sport’s history of drug abuse.
Marc Paulhus, former director of Equine Protection and Humane Society Vice President, appeared frustrated and sincere when calling for equine safeguards, testifying that the industry has proven “absolutely incapable of policing itself.”
Paulhus might have been recalling that Congress talked about this type of legislation since the 1980s.
Ed Martin, President and CEO of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said its members are “reassessing” the exemption for raceday Lasix use to treat EIPH, but that only one percent of trainers have been guilty of “doping” in nine years.
But Martin was critical of the proposed legislation saying that it doesn’t address the problem or the needs and reiterated that uniform rules, transparency, and pre-race testing were high on the ARCI’s list.
Jim Gagliano, President and CEO of the Jockey Club, and Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association and Chairman of the National HBPA's medication committee, took positions that reflected the agenda of each organization, which is to say opposing views.
“Lasix is a hot-button issue…” Gagliano began. “We believe horses should compete free of medication. Almost every horse is injected with Lasix whether it needs it or not… “The Jockey Club will support any rules within reason, including federal legislation.”
Stirling, calling clenbuterol the “best drug in the last 30 years,” indicated withdrawal time of four to five days out was not unreasonable, but he evaded the question when asked about greater transparency.
Apparently the California Horse Racing Board disagrees with the proper withdrawal time for clenbuterol. Starting today at Del Mar, withdrawal time is 21 days. Parenthetically, it would appear that this bronchial dilator is very effective, indeed.
But it was the testimony of Sheila Lyons, DVM, founder and director of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation that was at once instructive and passionate.
Lyons said the proposed new legislation has “life-saving potential, the industry needs it,” and that the vets are responsible for the abuses. “We can say no,” when asked by trainers to inject therapeutic medications right up to the limits of detection.
Lyons went on to say that Lasix was a powerful diuretic that depletes electrolytes and dehydrates horses to the extent that they will experience an increased rate of fracture, according results of the controlled study Lyons conducted.
And then this: “Lasix IS performance enhancing, and “raceday Lasix is completely against the standards and practices of treating my patients.”
Had Sid Gustafson, DVM., an equine veterinarian specializing in Thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior, been called to testify, he might have offered what he wrote in the New York Times not long ago. In part, Gustafson wrote:
“Pulmonary care is providing the same near-constant movement that keeps racehorses’ musculoskeletal systems sound. It is [this] care that keeps horses on their feet during races. Horses must remain sound of limb to ensure lung soundness, and they must remain sound of lung to achieve and maintain limb soundness…
“Breathing and running are biologically intertwined on the track, a breath per stride. To stride correctly is to breathe correctly. To breathe correctly is to breathe soundly, and race sound.
“Pulmonary health is reflective of appropriate husbandry, breeding, training, nutrition, and the abundant provisions of forage, friends, and perhaps most importantly, locomotion.
“Bleeding in a race is reflective of inadequate care and preparation, of miscalculations and untoward medication practices. Lasix perpetuates substandard horsemanship, artificially suppressing the untoward result (bleeding) of inadequate preparation of the thoroughbred.
“Genetics play a role in pulmonary health and physical durability. Lasix perpetuates genetic weakness by allowing ailing horses to prevail and sow their seeds of pharmaceutical dependence. Running sore causes lungs to bleed. Lasix manages a wide variety of unsoundness, as do the cortisones and NSAIDs (Bute and similar drugs). These anti-inflammatory drugs aggravate coagulation processes.”
Trainers and owners will need to bear short-term economic hardship from the withdrawal of raceday medication and must learn to become better horsemen in the old school sense of the term.
For horsemen, the ban of raceday Lasix should be no different than how horseplayers—call them equine investors and the sport’s lifeblood for purposes of this discussion--have had to adapt to the information explosion that leveled the handicapping playing field to a fault; the emergence of the “super-trainer;” the continued erosion of pool liquidity because fans walked away from what a drug-filled arena has wrought--not to mention takeout increases that have gone to pay for testing labs and the salaries of state regulators as they weave their way through the bureaucratic maze of a rudderless industry in which groups advance their agenda and that agenda only.
Here’s one fair common-sense suggestion that already has been discussed to some degree: Horses currently on Lasix will continue to do so until retirement, but under stricter supervision. Choose a date in the future (January, 2014?) and eliminate raceday medication for that year’s 2-year-olds. If 2015 3-year-olds then must compete against elders on Lasix so be it, or remain in races restricted to 3-year-olds.
In a recent poll on the Paulick Report website, 75% of responders believed last week’s Senate Hearings would not result in legislative action this year. That might be true but federal legislation is coming. It’s not too late for a preemptive strike.
At the hearings’ end, Udall made three points; that a ban of raceday medication was reasonable; that so was a “three strikes rule” for threshold violators but immediate expulsion for Class 1 drug violations, and more rigorous testing and penalties.
Let’s further educate Sen. Udall and his colleagues. Make them write on a blackboard one hundred times that doping and medicating are not the same thing and that the terms are not interchangeable. Lose “zero tolerance.” It's unrealistic and contamination is everywhere; get tough, but get real.
And horsemen need to realize that no good can come of the disingenuous catchphrase that makes Lasix analogous to aspirin. It's a lot more than that.