Wherever you sit on the Lasix debate, it’s important to realize that bleeders haven’t materialized overnight and are not a figment of one side’s imagination; also, that Lasix (furosemide) has been shown to help control EIPH (Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage)—though the level of effectiveness is debatable and its presence is controversial. James Gagliano, president of the Jockey Club, addressed it this way once:
The Jockey Club agrees with the HBPA that furosemide is a good treatment for EIPH. In fact, the 2009 study in South Africa, which validated the efficacy of furosemide in reducing EIPH, was funded in part by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
This study, however, which was designed to evaluate the efficacy of furosemide in preventing EIPH in horses, provides little, if any, guidance for setting medication policies regarding the use of furosemide in horse racing. And clearly, it did not consider the fundamental drivers of policy such as the integrity of the sport, the perception and confidence of our customers and the health of the breed, to name a few.
In the early 1980s—thirty years ago—a study was conducted by Mason, Collins, and Watkins at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club at Happy Valley that found significant evidence of EIPH in the local racing population. Here’s the summary:
Click here to read the study in its entirety. The takeaway from it appears to be that EIPH becomes more pronounced with age and racing as most of the racers in Hong Kong are older geldings. Because the bulk of racing in the US is comprised of claiming races for older horses dropping down the class ladder, trainers here deal with EIPH, too, and it’s probably the reason their group (HBPA) is firmly pro-Lasix. Conversely, the bulk of owners and breeders who are against race-day Lasix appear to be those that race at the upper echelons of the sport.
In Hong Kong, there are about 1,250 racehorses in training each year and there are no claiming races. Only Jockey Club members—the elite—can own horses (and there is a waiting list of prospective owners) and only a group of 24 trainers licensed by the Jockey Club are allowed to condition them. Veterinary care is provided by the Jockey Club—the only governing body that controls racing—and is transparent. Racing is only conducted on turf (except for a few cards on the all-weather at Sha Tin), and because there is no breeding industry in Hong Kong, all runners are imported according to strict veterinary regulations for soundness and wind.
This is a very different model to what exists here at present. We put into play horses bred here whatever their pre-existing conditions, and ownership is democratically available to anyone who can afford it. Same for trainers, who can open shop and operate if they have the clientele. Racing here is on dirt, too, which is an inherently tougher surface for horses. And how about the notion of one central governing body that could handle rules and regulations, much less the complete veterinary package they provide? Don’t LOL at once! In short, racing here is a microcosm of our decentralized, democratic, unique, heterogeneous, and liberal society, whereas in Hong Kong there appears to be an elitist, stricter, and more regimented approach to the game within conservative and homogenous environs.
But horses still bleed there (see vet notes from entries for Jan. 30 below), like they do here. But in Hong Kong, they—old, poor slobs of geldings—don’t get relief.
So, perhaps a compromise solution for the debate here—or at least, a starting point—could be to use Hong Kong’s facts humanely: the preservation of Lasix in claiming races for those aged bleeders who could use it the most, and the elimination of it in Grade 1 competition to satisfy the elite owners and breeders. From this point, perhaps more could be negotiated either way? What do you think?