Excerpted from NAT mag’s “Do Bleeders Breed Bleeders?”

The topic of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) and its treatment through race-day medication (furosemide) has lit a fire under the industry of late, with The Jockey Club and The Breeders’ Cup, Ltd., taking well-publicized stances to eliminate the practice. To date, however, there is only a 2004 South African scientific study that’s pertinent to the breeding industry that TJC and BC represent.  The following excerpt is from the article “Do Bleeders Breed Bleeders?” in the latest issue of North American Trainer magazine, where I took a look at the study and some of the issues and agendas of those for and against the use of furosemide. NAT is a full-color quarterly publication that’s subscription driven, but it has placed this piece on its website to view for free (you must register here to read it for free). The magazine is edited by Frances J. Karon and published by Giles Anderson.

The last statement is severely problematic and questions the practical validity of the study, which suggests long term the “disqualification of ‘bleeders’ from being registered in the Stud Book and that furosemide be banned internationally from racing.” But the statement raises this question, too: Does a champion sire produce a higher number of bleeders because they run harder and faster? 

One of the sires that Dr. McVeigh was referring to in the study is the recently deceased U.S.-bred Roberto horse Al Mufti. He was from the same 1985 crop as two other leading sires by Roberto: top international stallion Dynaformer (still active in the U.S.) and Brian’s Time, based in Japan. Al Mufti was a champion South African sire and one of the most influential in the country during his years at stud. He was pensioned in 2007 after entering stud duty in 1990 and was put down in March of this year, but his influence continues to this date as the sire of the 2011 Group 1 Cape Derby winner Top Seller – one of his 11 Group 1 winners. It’s also a fact that he owns one of the highest percentages of runners to foals of racing age in South Africa at 87 percent – a staggeringly high ratio and one that indicates he sires sound stock, bleeders aside. To put this figure in context, note that home-grown South African champion sire Jet Master’s percentage of runners to foals of racing age is 71 percent.

By any of these standards, Al Mufti was top shelf as a sire, but he made the “Top 5” list in the South African study because 21 of 284 runners, or 7.4 percent, exhibited epistaxis [bleeding through the nostrils] during the time span covered from 1986 to 2002. 

Notwithstanding that Al Mufti was an exceptional sire who also sired 7.4 percent bleeders, as a racehorse in Europe and later in South Africa (where he ran after one year at stud in 1990, placing in the prestigious Rothman’s in July of 1991) he raced without medication, and it would have been impossible to predict that he’d sire bleeders from his own race history.

Practically speaking, by the time it was discovered that he did sire some bleeders, he’d established that he was capable of producing high-quality runners, too, which begs this question: “What do they expect people to do, not breed to a leading sire because he’s siring some bleeders?” asked Kentucky-based Glencrest Farm’s John Greathouse, who vociferously supports race-day Lasix and defends the American racing game from foreign criticism. “America continues to apologize to the rest of the world for everything, and some of these countries didn’t even have technology in place to assess bleeders, scoping, and testing 15 years ago. You’re not enhancing anything with Lasix. You’re enabling a horse to perform to his capabilities, and without it some of our horses wouldn’t have been able to fulfill their potential.” One such horse was Al Mufti’s close relative Summer Squall.

In 1990, the year Al Mufti covered his first mares, Summer Squall (by Storm Bird from Weekend Surprise, whose dam, Lassie Dear, is the dam of Al Mufti) bled from the nostrils at Pimlico while grazing after a workout the day before the Preakness. Treated race-day with furosemide, Summer Squall won the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, but he did not contest the Belmont Stakes that season because New York at the time still prohibited Lasix. It’s safe to assume that he wouldn’t have been a classic winner at all without the medication. At stud at Jockey Club member Will Farish’s Lane’s End Farm, the bleeder Summer Squall enjoyed a fairly successful career, siring Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic among others, but like many colts from his dam he had fertility issues that eventually stopped him well before his time. Infertility (and age) ended the career of his champion half-brother A.P. Indy earlier this year at Lane’s End as well.

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5 thoughts on “Excerpted from NAT mag’s “Do Bleeders Breed Bleeders?””

  1. hmm
    to bleed or not to bleed that is the question..to be slow and not bleed or fast and bleed…hmm
    think I’ll try fast

  2. With regard to Al Mufti:

    a) The fact that he was not known to have been a bleeder himself, yet produced a high percentage of bleeders, sheds no light on the inheritability of the weakness. He may well have carried a genetic predisposition for it, yet it wasn’t expressed during his racing career.

    b) It is, of course, not uncommon for successful sires to typically pass on undesirable characteristics; Storm Cat would be a very obvious example. Whether or not such sires are, on balance, good for the breed or not, is arguable.

    c) Using a single example does little to support the theory that those sires which produce “faster” runners are more likely to produce a higher percentage of bleeders. In fact, I know of no compelling evidence to suggest such a correlation.

    John Greathouse, as he does occasionally on the Paulick Report site, is spouting mostly nonsense here. He claims, for example, that “You’re not enhancing anything with Lasix.”

    That is demonstably false in several respects. First, as it lowers blood pressure, every horseman, with the apparent exception of Mr. Greathouse, knows that it is advantageous to use Lasix on any highly-strung horse. They are much more likely to get to the post in relatively relaxed fashion, which in turn allows them to conserve important (if not crucial) energy. What that means, in practical terms, is that even in the case of non-bleeders, without the use of the drug, many would fail to perform as well as they otherwise would naturally.

    Furthermore, it has been well-established that Lasix enhances performance. In stark contrast tp Mr. Greathouse’s unsubstantiated claims, let’s take a look at some science. As commentator LBJ noted on a recent Paulick thread:

    “Dr Kenneth Hinchcliff, the same eminent researcher who authored the South African paper that showed the benefits of Salix in reducing bleeding, authored another paper which you can all read here:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10476714

    This paper clearly outlines the performance enhancing capabilities of Salix….’After analyzing the race records of 22,589 thoroughbreds, the researchers found that 74 percent (16,761) of the horses were given furosemide prior to a race. These horses raced faster, were 1.4 times more likely to win a race, 1.2 times more likely to finish in the top three and earned an average of $416.00 more than the horses not receiving the drug.’ ”

    When Mr. Greathouse claims that the use of Lasix is simply “enabling a horse to perform to his capabilities” he is both wrong, and heading down a very slippery slope.

    He is wrong for the reasons outlined above (i.e. it does in fact enhance performance), and is on a slippery slope for a rather obvious reason. Let’s substitute a different medication:

    Bute is simply “enabling a horse to perform to his capabilities”.

    Or how about…

    clenbuterol is simply “enabling a horse to perform to his capabilities”

    Etc.

    Where, exactly, should one draw the line?

  3. So as to avoid any misconception that the advantage of using Lasix is related solely, or even primarily to the prevention of bleeding, consider this (again from LBJ):

    “Here is another peer reviewed study on Salix and its effects on weight loss in thoroughbreds

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17402434

    Their conclusion and summation in the second study was very clear….

    ‘Improvement of performance in the furosemide trials was due more to the weight-loss related effects of the drug than its apparent alleviation of EIPH.’ “

  4. Genetic variance resulting from breeding, which is rumored to be the evolutionary purpose of sexual reproduction, virtually insures a certain percentage of every trait present in the gene pool. I am astonished at the relatively low instance of bleeders cited above, given the frequency of treatment. Again, “medication strengthens the weak, and weakens the strong,” including the population as a whole.

  5. Before placing all the blame for bleeding on any stallion I’d want to see a companion study analyzing other progeny of the mares which produced breeders to his cover. It seems beyond naive to assume that the predisposition to bleed rests solely with the sire.

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