For Second Straight Year, Horse Owners Agree To Avoid Race-Day Medications


134th Kentucky Derby


A group of some of horse racing’s most notable owners has agreed for the second consecutive year to limit the use of race-day medications in their youngest horses as questions continue about the practice and the most common same-day medication used in the sport. The group of 43 owners, which includes prominent stables like Claiborne Farm and Juddmonte Farm, is smaller than the 60 that agreed to limit the practice in 2012, but it is expected to grow as awareness about the pledge increases, BloodHorse Magazine reported this week.

The pledge will apply to this year’s crop of 2-year-olds and will mostly limit the use of furosemide (commonly known as Salix or Lasix), a drug used to limit internal bleeding caused by over-exertion. As horse racing continues to deal with the perception that it is plagued by performance enhancing drugs, industry groups have come out in favor of a furosemide ban because they argue that it can be used both as a performance enhancer and to mask the presence of other banned substances. There are also fears among some experts that extensive use of furosemide can have adverse genetic effects that make future horses more likely to hemorrhage and bleed during exercise.

As BloodHorse noted, the Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and Breeders’ Cup all favor varying limits on the use of race-day medications, of which furosemide is the most common. Kentucky, the center of America’s thoroughbred racing industry, moved in 2012 to restrict race-day injections of the drug to state veterinarians, removing private vets from the process, and last year the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved a race-day ban of furosemide that will begin taking effect in 2014. By 2016, the ban will affect all graded stakes races run in the state, including the Kentucky Derby.

Whether the drug should be banned, though, is still a matter of contentious debate in the United States even as most other countries have totally restricted its use. Some American veterinarians and industry groups regard the idea that furosemide acts as a performance enhancer or a masking agent as a myth, and many horsemen and women view the drug as necessary for preventing dangerous bleeding and hemorrhaging in horses during and immediately after races. Proponents of its continued use have argued that banning it would result in “bloody corpses” on tracks around the country, but while some studies have shown that furosemide does reduce internal bleeding, others suggest it isn’t potent enough to do so. Trial runs of drug bans at events like the Breeders’ Cup, meanwhile, haven’t yet produced the results the drug’s proponents feared would occur.

Even as debate over furosemide continues, it may be encouraging that industry groups and owners are working together on the race-day limits, since horse racing has been plagued by a lack of data and an unwillingness to share the data and practices they do have, especially when it comes to efforts to make the sport safer for horses. That culture is beginning to change, and in an industry regulated primarily at the state level, states have banded together to form more uniform drug, medication, and safety policies in recent years. That owners are willing to work together and with other industry groups on limiting race-day medications may be another sign of that, as well as a positive sign of more standards and improvements in the future.