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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The Charge of the Light Brigade
Photo: Wikipedia

Into the valley of death rode the “Lasix 600.” That was the number of stakeholders who originally supported the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s open letter to oppose the proposed ban on race-day Lasix.

The number in opposition to a consortium of major racetracks in the US to ban Lasix, rose to 850 in the 10 days since writing the open letter on Sept. 20.

These industry stakeholders apparently would rather trainers use needles over knowledge to condition and race Thoroughbreds.  

The breeders are responsible, too, as they allowed themselves to breed for bleeders instead of against them.

The American public will not renew its license to sanction the sport if race-day medication and equine death in races continue.

On the other hand, the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 says racetracks must contract with organizations comprised of such horse people to conduct simulcast wagering, and that is where the money is, not on track.

Therefore, the industry will face an impasse with the 600, 850, or however many eventual signatory supporters of the plan. Supporters of the NHBPA’s position will force Thoroughbred horseracing into the valley of death by keeping the drug-addled sport as is.

Maybe these industry stakeholders are tone deaf or maybe they do not have the skill to conduct racing without drugs. Maybe both.

The industry itself is so desperate for reform it has reached out to the Federal government for an intervention. Never before has any industry lobbied for governmental controls.

The NHBPA open letter follows:

LEXINGTON, KY (Friday, Sept. 20, 2019) – A unified industry group believes banning Lasix will adversely impact the health and welfare of racehorses, as well as the strength of our industry. On September 20, a letter (posted below) was released with more than 600 signatures in support of protecting Lasix as a choice for horsemen and veterinarians to administer on race-day for the well-being of equine and human athletes. The initial round of signatures from racing stakeholders features individuals from across the industry, and since the initial announcement the list has grown to more than 850. Signatures will continue to be collected going forward. Click here to be added to the list.

Public Letter on Stance to NOT Eliminate the Choice to Administer Lasix on Race Day

A recent open letter proclaimed that “horse racing is at a pivotal moment in its long history in the United States.” On this we agree. We also agree all of us love and cherish the equine athletes upon which our industry is built. To that end we believe in practicing the highest standards of horsemanship, and we continually work to improve the care, health and safety of our thoroughbred racehorses.

In that regard, we support horsemen and our veterinarians having the continued option to run a horse with a race-day administration of the therapeutic and protective medication furosemide (Lasix).

We, too, are ready for change and will eagerly embrace change if the alterations are done for the greater good of equine health and welfare. We are committed to reforms emphasizing transparency and developments that will address misunderstandings from those in the non-racing public as well as ensuring our horses are treated with the highest degree of care. The eradication of our choice to administer race-day Lasix will not do any of those things.

It is our belief that banning Lasix will adversely impact the health and welfare of our racehorses as well as the strength of our industry. Research also proves an increased number of horses will bleed significantly out of their nostrils, or into in their lungs, and an increased number will die.

We understand and agree things can and should be done to improve the safety and welfare of our equine athletes. It is just as important to understand what is NOT causing catastrophic injuries, as it is understanding the underlying causes. Many continue to claim Lasix will interfere with post-race drug testing due to dilution, but this argument has long been disproven. Lasix is a short-acting diuretic and the dilution effect is gone in two hours. However, the tightly regulated administration of Lasix is required four hours before a race. Thus, Lasix has no ability to interfere with blood or urine testing after a race.

No one takes our stance on this position casually, but we believe we must not be led down a path created by perception and not facts. For this reason we must stand for what is in the best interest and safety for our equine and human athletes.

The NHBPA says it is only following the advice of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Trainers say they treat their horses as they would their children. I do not think trainers load up their kids with a kitchen sink full of drugs before a little league game. I doubt that veterinarians would either.

However, ask a vet and they will tell you that trainers order up the medications they want for each horse and the vets just administer them. Then again, paid per treatment is a racetrack vets bread and butter.

The following statement is from AAEP President Dr. Jeff Berk about the Prohibition of Race-Day Furosemide (Lasix) by U.S. Racing Coalition

Apr 19, 2019

“Horse racing in the U.S. faces significant challenges to its long-term health. The leadership of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) reviews with interest the announcement by a cohort of Thoroughbred racing organizations that they will ban the use of furosemide in 2-year-old racing in 2020 and graded stakes races in 2021.  The landscape is changing.

“As Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, science and evidence-based discovery is our foundation, and as such, the AAEP’s long-standing racehorse medication policy has supported the administration of furosemide on race day to mitigate the adverse effects of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH).

“The AAEP also is committed to funding research into alternative EIPH management strategies which would eliminate the need to administer furosemide on race day. The proposed phase-out of the medication’s use beginning at many Thoroughbred racetracks in 2020 emphasizes the urgent need for continued research into new methods for mitigating EIPH.

 “Regarding the daily care of horses adversely affected by EIPH, the AAEP urges a strong partnership between owners, trainers and veterinarians in order to optimally manage the syndrome and make decisions in the best interest of the health and welfare of the horse.”

A racetrack vet from Pennsylvania tells a different story to her representative in congress.

To Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa. a co-sponsor of the #HorseRacingIntegrity bill:

“For decades, the horse racing industry has promised to better regulate the medications given to horses. There have been steps forward & back, but little lasting change,” said Dr. Kathryn Papp, DVM in 2014.

On racehorse ‘trainers’ – “They don’t want to spend the money to know what’s wrong. They just want you to fix it. I’d be required to go to the barn, look at the horse & administer the medications or substances of treatments that were requested.”

In further support of the NHBPA’s position is a link to Its homepage statement reads as follows.

Who is looking out for the health and welfare of the horse?

Lasix has been extensively researched, probably more than any other medication for horses.  It does not enhance performance, but allows horses to perform to their natural abilities.  As in the entire history of the relationship of man and horse, the animal is best served when we provide the best possible care available, and in the case of horse racing, this includes the control of EIPH with Lasix.

  • There is only one effective control of EIPH in horses, Lasix

  • Veterinarians, the personal physicians of the equine athlete, recommend and support the use of Lasix

  • Misleading and inaccurate information about the use of Lasix in racing has been perpetuated by small agenda-driven groups both inside and outside of the racing industry for the purpose of swaying public opinion

  • There are people in the racing industry who have insisted that Lasix be eliminated because “the public cannot tell the difference between Lasix and cocaine.”


Like HRI, the Lasix site has comments. These comments below follow the statement above:

Russell C. Williams, President, United States Trotting Association

The public deserves to be told the truth about Lasix, and this site does exactly that. The horse’s health and welfare are the only priorities.

Bob Boyd

We have a 3yr old trotting filly on the Ontario Lasix program due to minor bleeding.

This program is monitored closely.

A specified amount of lasix is administered within 4 hours of post time. 

Our filly racing performance has changed completely since starting the lasix program.

It’s therapeutic period.


Mark Adams

Don’t ever give in to the uninformed morons who want to destroy our great sport !

Chris Gray

Very well said. I own thoroughbreds and race at several tracks. I would be terrified to run without lasix. If the public were to own a racehorse, the time, care and companionship horseman have with these athletes, then be given the choice to run with or without Lasix, this having seen EIPH in it’s worse form, I bet the views would be different.

Janet Emerson

Please, you people that do not have a clue about racing horses and there well being: Lasix is a medication that prevents the lungs from bleeding and setting up of an infection in the lungs. Many do not bleed out of nose and show they are bleeding, therefore set up this infection and some horses die from this. This is not a medication that makes them go faster it is a drug that lets them race to there potential. If you take away Lasix you are killing most of the horses that race.

Lynnette Thompson

Thank you for giving factual evidence for the use of Lasix and for looking out for the welfare of the horse, instead of the hysterical dribble being spewed and printed.


Eliminate all race-day drugs from Thoroughbred racing.

A tip to all breeders – Granted you have a lot of money invested in horses from bleeding families that will lose value when Lasix is discontinued. Given the opinion of experts that it will take 40-50 years to change the breed in America, I give you the solution – Japan.

In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s the Japanese invested heavily in high-priced American pedigrees at US auction houses. In the subsequent 30-40 years, they bred against the bleeding lines to be able to race in Japan, where Lasix is illegal.

The Japanese have done all the work and now all you have to do is buy back the progeny of the US breeding stock. I know this will help improve the breed in the US and save the industry three to four decades of work.  

All I ask for in return is that you begin funding aftercare in the breeding shed. Aftercare is not solely the financial responsibility of breeders, but it is their moral obligation to initiate it.

Make mandatory the use of the new 3-D pedCAT scanner at all racetracks. It will help greatly to insure that only sound horses race.

Industry organizations should drop support of HIA, a bad bill, and put all efforts into amending The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978. Even if HIA passes, local HBPA’s can stop racing from earning if there is a Lasix ban.

If industry leaders think the NHBPA, which has existing law on its side, will back down if they get government support, they are sadly mistaken. In fact, congress cannot pass a new law in conflict with an existing one.

Drug use, not specifically Lasix but some of the 379 acceptable drugs used in this sport, causes breakdowns by masking symptoms and numbing pain. Breakdowns shown on TV will bring down the sport.

Hello to all the industry stakeholders in favor of race-day medications: America will not continue to watch horses die for a sport that drugs its athletes the day they compete!

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a failed military action. I hope that this 600 fails, too.

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⚠ Before you comment

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21 Responses

  1. To All that feel Lasix is needed in every single horse in every race….if you had a horse that was good enough to compete in the Ascot program or Dubai World Cup or similar program overseas….I would make the assumption you would refuse to go (no matter what how good your chances of winning were) because you would not be allowed to run on lasix there. If you feel that strongly about absolutely needing this drug, then on principle alone you should refuse to ship and run. Otherwise, the truth really is that you don’t absolutely NEED to run your horse on lasix in every race. You just want to.

  2. I also heard a really good comment on this from Dr. Bramlage about Lasix. There is something unique about the drug itself that lessens the pulmonary vasculature pressure in these horses. We know this because other diuretics that basically will dehydrate the horse just as much do not have the same effects on EIPH. THAT is where the research should be focused on…exactly why Lasix works this way on the vessels, and if that hypothesis is even true.

  3. Bryan-
    I’ve always thought that US horses racing overseas without Lasix should prohibit them from racing on it when the return to America. Most members of WHOA race their horses on Lasix. A bit of hypocrisy there, but they won’t give up the edge.
    Yes, there should be more research and less anecdotal evidence.

  4. Mark,
    I’m as disgusted as most by the 600-850 saying Lasix or nothing.

    However, it might be time to throw up our hands and adopt the Rolling Stones credo: “You can’t always get what you want but if you try, sometime you might get what you need.”

    Obviously most horsemen are never going to give in on Lasix so there is no point in continuing to beat our heads against the wall. So why not put Lasix aside and negotiate for other things that would be beneficial. A good start would be a uniform standard for DQs, so that we don’t have encores of the Kentucky Derby and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

    I’ll have more to say on this in my Thursday column.

    My personal standard has always been, unless it’s blatant and inarguably changed the outcome, leave it “as is.” But unlike the NHBPA, I’m willing to negotiate.

    1. TJ-
      The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 must be amended. Much has changed in the 41 years since its passage and it needs updating to reflect the betting market in the gane today. Once that law is changed the industry move forward.

  5. Sadly, Marko, there were no works of art celebrating the “Charge of the Dark Brigade.” For there is nothing luminescent about the stand of the horsemen who just said no to U.S. racing’s present and future stature on the world stage.

    The “Lasix 600” have decided they are content to get what they can, while they still can, by maintaining the status quo. The level of tone deafness, at this important inflection point, would boggle the mind if it weren’t so same-old/same-old.

    1. Johnny-
      There is dark art, Google it, but its not horse related. Maybe the “Unenlightened Brigade”? Again, no horses.
      As I said to TJ above, the first step is to change The Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978.

  6. I have written so many times that nothing is going to change until the IWA is amended to take away horsemen’s veto power over simulcasting that I feel like a broken record.
    But it is the reality and Congress has indicated a reluctance to take up any racing legislation until all facets of the industry are in accord.
    Thanks to the Lasix standoff, this is never going to happen.
    Racing won’t be the first nor the last business to commit suicide.
    The political situation in DC is an added complication. Whether you are pro-impeachment or opposed, it appears nothing is going to get done until it is resolved. Then we will be in an election year when nothing ever gets resolved.

    1. TJ-
      It’s a fractured industry and it’s in a severe downward spiral. If it doesn’t pull up soon, it will crash. HIA is hopeless.
      On the other hand, impeachment is political theater to rile the bases. The Democrats will never convert 20 Republican senators…kind of like the NHBPA. Dare I say, Thoroughbred theater?

  7. Pro or con, whether the Senate affirms or not, the events in Washington are not just political theater; it’s history.

  8. Politics is the entertainment division of industry. The grandstanding and bloviating of politicians is a distraction from private and corporatist influences. “Don’t pay any attention to that man behind the curtain,” – L. Frank Baum.

  9. With all the reforms in place at Del Mar and lasix being brought down to 5cc’s AND field size being bigger than Saratoga why didn’t more Gamblers support Del Mar?

    You claim to want reforms and then when reforms happen along with increased vets inspections of every horse entered handle goes down.

    Does not compute

    Does not compute

  10. Mark,
    I agree with your thoughts on Lasix and protecting the horse. The only problem is look who you are dealing with. You are dealing with elite owners and rich trainers who are only interested in maintaining status quo. Even trainers who are legit guys don’t want change, even though drugs are ruining the game and preventing them from doing well as trainers. The people who run racing look the other way. The only trainer who was ever made an example of his Richard Dutrow. This was done because the powers that be didn’t like his brashness. Right now, there probably many big time trainers using drugs but the tracks protect because without their multitude of horses, they would have even shorter fields. There problem should be a rule that a trainer can only have X amount of horses. This would even the playing field somewhat and perhaps young trainers who don’t use drugs with have a shot.

  11. Top Turf Teddy – Handicapper to the Starlets

    They could only get 600 liars? I’m surprised. “If you take away Lasix you are killing most of the horses that race.” – Janet Emerson. Where do they find these people? The species would have died out hundreds of years ago Janet, as Lasix was only developed in the early 60s. Such blatant stupidity, combined with the perverse twisting of facts, and use of “junk science,” by these pseudo intellectual leftist, drug-advocating, animal abusers, interested only in their bottom line, and not the welfare of the horses, leaves little hope that the drugging of horses will ever change. Therapeutic my Asmussen!!! Ban Lasix now!

    1. Hey T,
      Why do you consider the animal rights activists leftists? Seems to me they are working counter to personal freedoms and the pursuit of liberty and happiness. Aren’t gangs of intimidating thugs usually associated with the political right? LOL

  12. The poem tells the story of a brigade consisting of 600 soldiers who rode on horseback into the “valley of death” for half a league (about one and a half miles). They were obeying a command to charge the enemy forces that had been seizing their guns.

    Not a single soldier was discouraged or distressed by the command to charge forward, even though all the soldiers realized that their commander had made a terrible mistake: “Someone had blundered.” The role of the soldier is to obey horse and “not to make reply…not to reason why,” so they followed orders and rode into the “valley of death.”

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