Raceday Lasix is one of the more controversial issues in American horseracing. The critics say that the drug is but a performance-enhancer: A diuretic, Lasix helps shed water weight prior to a race – lighter equals faster – and as a system flush may also aid in concealing some of the illegal stuff. Supporters, on the other hand, call Lasix “humane”: Rapidly moving racehorses, they say, naturally bleed – from their lungs – “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.” Prominent trainer Dale Romans (Paulick Report, 9/13/12): “Racing causes [EIPH] in 100% of horses. …one of the worst abuses that can be done to the racing horse is to ban Lasix.” Adds colleague Rick Violette (DRF, 8/11/11): “Horses bleed. That is a fact. To force an animal to race without [Lasix] is premeditated, borderline animal abuse.”
That raceday Lasix – by the way, a uniquely North American thing – is primarily used to make horses faster is a pretty good bet. (While not all trainers particularly like it, practically all, so as not to cede any competitive ground, use it.) But what if the Romans/Violette crowd is also correct – that pulmonary bleeding is inherent in a racing-horse? Translated, this would mean that the “sport’s” fundamental physical action universally causes some level of pain or suffering. Of what other basic sporting motion can this be said? Throwing a baseball? Swinging a golf club? Kicking a soccer ball? If not for the deadly seriousness of it all, these people would be laughable.
A few odds and ends:
In a weku article (4/29/15) on Lasix, longtime (45 years) equine vet Mark Chaney offers his reason for supporting the raceday medication: “If you and I were in one of those stalls 22 hours a day, we’d have COPD so bad and emphysema. You know, you probably couldn’t even breathe.” How’s that for a (probably) unwitting condemnation of his entire industry?
In a Wall Street Journal article (5/25/15) on Victor Espinoza’s merciless whipping of American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby, former Vice Chair of the CHRB Bo Derek is referred to as an “animal-rights activist.” Sorry, racing director and animal rights activist are wholly incompatible terms.
From the Santa Anita “Stewards Minutes” for May 21: “Jockey JOSEPH TALAMO was in the office this morning to review the stretch run of the fourth race from May 17, during which he hit his mount over the left ear with his whip several times. After viewing the race, the rider said he did not realize that it was improper to hit a horse on the ear as he had seen old videos of Hall of Famer CHRIS MCCARRON doing the same thing.” The next day, a ruling was issued: $300 fine and a “warning” – because, you know, “a warning [is] sufficient for a first time offense.”
This is horseracing.
On December 10, Sage Valley dropped dead of an “apparent cardiac arrest” in a race at Aqueduct. At five, he was only just reaching the tail-end of puberty. Turns out, there was a drug “violation,” which may or may not have contributed to the horse’s premature death. This week, Sage Valley’s trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, received the following “punishment” from the NYS Gaming Commission:
“You are fined $3000.00 because on December 10, 2014, the horse ‘Sage Valley’ that you trained competed in the 8th race at Aqueduct Racetrack after having been administered glycopyrrolate (e.g. robinul) within 96 hours of the scheduled post time of its race in violation of New York State Gaming Commission rule 4043.2 (g) (6) and 4043.4. Having waived your right of appeal the fine is reduced to $1500.00. This penalty is reflective of the findings from the investigation.”
Apparently, the vet, Greg Bennett, was fined the same amount. In a statement, Bennett said, “Rudy had quite a few horses coughing and snotting in the barn, and he was near them. I was under the assumption it was a 72-hour [drug]. It was an error in judgment on my part…” “Coughing and snotting” barn-mates.
By the way, Rudy Rodriguez is no stranger to the Commission, having just been fined and suspended in February for violations involving two different horses. In all, I count 13 suspensions in NY over the course of Rudy’s career. 13. And yet still allowed around horses. Surprised? Shouldn’t be – this is, after all, horseracing.
2-year-old QuarterHorse Kays Version broke down in a stakes trial at Sunland yesterday afternoon. Replay here (Dec 12, race 3) – the filly crumples to the dirt at :30 mark. She was trained by Jaime Aldavaz and owned by Currie Maben.
Also from yesterday: A pair of young athletes – David Rocks, Purling – were reported to have bled from the lungs (something that surely must happen in other sports, right?) while racing at Aqueduct. Both horses, of course, were run on Lasix.
To the objective and reasonable among us, the almost universal use (95% of starters) of raceday Lasix in America is bad for horses. So, it would appear that The Jockey Club’s opposition to Lasix – indeed, to all raceday medication – is a pro-horse stance. But some things aren’t as simple as they appear.
To bolster the case against, The Jockey Club’s Matt Iuliano (in the Paulick Report) cites a recent study (of horses running without Lasix) that shows “a lack of significant association between EIPH [exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage] and a productive racing career, except in the most severe cases. …The lifetime racing performances of horses with EIPH that continued to race indicate these horses were successfully managed over a productive racing career…”
In short, no need to get too hung up on a little blood in the lungs, for it’s “manageable” and long-term “productivity” should remain sound. Equine suffering? Doesn’t appear part of the equation. Racing’s moral bankruptcy laid bare, yet again.