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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

LASIX IN HARNESS RACING

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist Andy Roberts DVM

In 2010, this Jersey boy’s dreams came true. My homebred, Doc’s Hoss, made his debut at the Meadowlands. From going to the races with my grandparents, to being a groom on a racetrack, to being a lifetime reader of Ray Brienza, I finally had a racehorse of my own. Now, nearly 10 years later, I feed his retired 21-year-old mother and five siblings on my farm. The welfare of my animals is extremely important.

I, like every veterinarian in America, took an oath of practice to protect animal health and welfare. For politicians to claim that thousands of equine veterinarians are violating this oath by opposing the misnamed “Horseracing Integrity Act” on economic grounds is insulting and false.

Equine veterinarians oppose the legislation because of the harm it will do to horses, not because of the harm to our pocketbooks. As a former member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Racing Committee and current board member of the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians (NAARV), I’m well-suited to explain why this is egregious.

The AAEP, the NAARV, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) strongly support the administration of race-day Lasix (furosemide) to reduce the occurrence of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), or bleeding into the lungs. Science tells us that EIPH is a progressive disease affecting the majority of equine athletes. Lasix is the only medication proven to reduce or mitigate the effects of EIPH in racehorses. Therefore, the oath requires us to promote the use of race-day Lasix for horses that suffer from EIPH.

Despite what some members of Congress are saying, veterinary support for the use of race-day Lasix isn’t based on the fear of losing income. Racetrack practitioners understand that integrity is crucial to the success of horse racing. That’s why third-party veterinarians, and not private practitioners, administer Lasix to horses on race day. With rare exceptions, the veterinarians administering the shot don’t make a dime for giving it because they’re employed by the state racing commission or racetrack.

In fact, veterinarians would make more money if race-day Lasix were banned by this bill. Without Lasix, the treatment to prevent or control EIPH would be more difficult and expensive. Most critically, it would be far more dangerous for the horse.

Even at the minority of racetracks that allow private practitioners to administer Lasix, it’s ridiculous to claim that veterinarians give Lasix for the miniscule amount of money involved. A Lasix shot typically costs around $20 – $25 for an owner, so no veterinarian is going to get rich off of that. Quite the contrary, veterinarians will make money off the medications required to treat resulting illnesses if Lasix weren’t used.

If we’re going to talk about who’s making money off this legislation, look no further than the politicians who are receiving campaign donations from ultra-wealthy supporters of this bill. For those who truly care about horses and the integrity of the sport, they should contact their federal legislators to request that they oppose the “Horseracing Integrity Act.”

Dr. Andy Roberts is a veterinarian and has been a board member at NAARV since 2015.

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