The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) has strict testing requirements in place for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in potential imports, but nevertheless would you believe that bleeders (defined here as those exhibiting epsitaxis, or bleeding through the nostrils) are more prevalent there than here? Part of the reason for this is that race-day Lasix or training with Lasix (furosemide, known under brand name Salix now) is prohibited in Hong Kong.
At present in Hong Kong, there are 4.7 incidents of post-race epistaxis per 1000 runners versus 0.7/1000 in the US with Lasix, according to data compiled by Dr Brian Stewart of the HKJC. This implies that A) Lasix is effective in treating epistaxis and B) that where there’s epistaxis, there’s also milder forms of EIPH that don’t include bleeding through the nostrils—perhaps blood in the pharynx, larynx or trachea only.
According to Dr Stewart’s data, EIPH is indeed “an important cause of disappointing racing performances.” He calculates that EIPH (scopes of 3-4 from a grading system that goes from 0-4, then epistaxis) is responsible for approximately 30 percent of poor racing performances in Hong Kong versus approximately 25 percent for lameness.
An earlier study on bleeders by D K Mason, E A Collins, and K L Watkins (“Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage in Horses”) from 1981 in Hong Kong confirms Dr. Stewart’s findings that EIPH is common to racehorses in the region and has been for 30-odd years. Mason et al found that 46.8 percent of runners exhibited EIPH, “but in those examined more than three times, an incidence of 82% was recorded.”
Considering that only the fittest specimens are imported for racing in Hong Kong, the incidence of EIPH in this controlled population without Lasix suggests that EIPH in less elite stock—such as those toiling away in cheap claiming races across the US—without Lasix would create even worse “disappointing racing performances.”
Dr Stewart’s presentation of EIPH included six bullet points for why the HKJC doesn’t allow Lasix, and they are:
1. “Race-day medication may be seen to be [a] substitute (‘crutch’) for (sic) skilful training, veterinary input, and horsemanship.”
2. “A desire to achieve international harmonization of medication policy.”
3. “Concerns about dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in sub-tropical conditions.”
4. “Concerns about the impact of (sic) raceday medication, especially ‘Lasix,’ on the consistency of racing performances.”
5. “The principle that a race should be a test of the best athlete at that point in time.”
6. “The ‘degradation of the thoroughbred breed’?”
These are all valid points. But are they valid enough to take our stock—especially the cheaper animals—off Lasix, as the US Jockey Club desires?