Using the Hong Kong model in a kinder, gentler way

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:

EIPH Study 1981

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?

Using the Hong Kong model in a kinder, gentler way

10 thoughts on “Using the Hong Kong model in a kinder, gentler way

  1. The horses you listed who bled, how did they finish? i have been, as i’m sure you’ve been, to many lectures on the subject. all horses bleed. some more than others. it’s understood that many places in europe use lasix during workouts and sometimes during other forms of training to ease the effects, and the only time it isn’t used is during racing. what’s wrong with that model? what’s wrong with retiring a hrose who is bleeding so bad he’s bleeding out of both nostrils? he’s probably not running too well anyway.

  2. Dunno how they finished; they’re running today, anyway. Bleeders exhibiting repeated epistaxis are usually retired around the world as a matter of course. Lesser bleeders keep plugging away. What’s wrong with eliminating Lasix, you ask? Try to get it done, and you’ll understand the scope of the impasse. Compromise and dialogue are the only avenues to educate either side.

  3. Lower level horses race Lasix-free in America in Lethbridge, Alberta at Whoop Up Downs where there is no Lasix program and therefor no Lasix is used. There are no significant problems with bleeding, much the same as there are no significant problems with bleeding in Hong Kong, Asia, Europe, and Australia. The safest racing in Canada happens to be a Lethbridge Downs, where Lasix is forbidden.
    Claiming class horses race race just as safely as expensive horses where Lasix is not allowed. It is poor form to inject racehorses with drugs before they race. As well, it is unethical, as the first rule of medicine is first do no harm. Where Lasix is used, horses break 4X more often. Breakdowns paralyze and kill jockeys and require horses to be euthanized on the track. Lasix perpetuates and facilitates this by facilitating untoward husbandry, medication, and conditioning practices that disfavor the horse. Lasix use leads to 4X more breakdowns, shortened careers, and chronic and debilitating unsoundnesses.
    Trainers have to take better care of their horses where Lasix is forbidden, and do, and wherever Lasix is not allowed, horses remain sounder, have longer careers, and suffer fewer breakdowns. Lasix-free racing favors horses and jockeys.
    Lasix favors trainers who lack the skill, competence, and will to properly develop, condition, stable, and care for horses.
    To allow Lasix is to enable substandard horsemanship. Where that is the case, horses and jockeys suffer the dangerous consequences of increased breakdowns and shortened careers.
    Lasix allows horsemen to exceed the adaptability of racehorses, and the result is unsoundness, breakdowns, and further drug use.

    1. This is from “The Rules Governing Racing in Alberta,” from its website here:

      Please see item :”d”

      35 Administration of lasix
      (1) A person entering a *race horse in a *race meeting must disclose on the *entry form that a *horse is on the EIPH certified list.
      (2) If a horse is on the EIPH certified list, it’s *trainer or the trainer’s licensed representative must, before the horse competes,
      (a) ensure that the horse does not receive furosemide for at least 36 hours before the *race, except in accordance with clause (d);
      (b) be present at the horse’s stall to witness, and assist if required, the administration of furosemide;
      (c) ensure that the horse is not left unattended in it’s stall after the administration of the *drug;
      (d) ensure that the *official veterinarian or *licensed veterinarian administers intravenously not less than 150 mg and not more that 250 mg of furosemide to the horse between 4 hours and 15 minutes and 3 hours and 45 minutes before the published *post time of the race in which the horse is entered.

  4. SteveG says:

    It’s unfortunate (and unproductive) for the N. American sport to be embroiled in what seems to be an endless, stiff necked debate over lasix with neither side willing to compromise. Further, the debate is distorted by unfounded & spurious claims (from both sides) about furosemide itself & its effects on the racing horse & the breed.

    When a debate devolves in such a way, logic dictates that compromise is called for unless the ultimate goal is continued, often acrimonious debate for its own sake. I think we’re at that point.

    A complete ban guts the fabric of the American sport while near universal use isolates the American sport, especially the top levels, from virtually the rest of the racing world.

    I think your idea makes sense as a good starting point with the option of tweaking the lines as reality dictates going forward.

  5. fmitchell07 says:

    These are very interesting options, Sid. If older horses, especially geldings, were allowed to race on lasix, then conversely, younger horses, especially those ascending the class ladder, should not. It’s a concept that could be used — at the same tracks — without causing wide rifts between different jurisdictions. It would require a national set of medication regulations, or something very near, but the tiered system, such as you suggest, might earn enough credibility that it could gain support from both sides.


  6. Frank,
    If we don’t attempt some form of compromise, the Racing Gods will cut the baby in half and give each section to the fighting couple. And that won’t do either any good.

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