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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Questioning the USTA Decision on Lasix

Recently, at the USTA's annual meeting, the USTA released a policy statement on the use of Lasix.  VFTRG contributor Joe F. reviews the history of Lasix use and opines on the science relied upon.the science they relied upon..

The proliferation of Lasix in NA paralleled the expansion of the racing season and the concurrent lengthening of individual race cards during the 1970s. Near the end of that decade, when the Meadowlands was in its infancy, Lasix was legal in 24 states that sanctioned racing. Seven states did not allow it. The primary objection back then was the same one many of those who oppose its use today put forth: they were convinced it was being used a masking agent for illegal drugs.
Beginning in 1978 the New Jersey Racing Commission required bleeders to get their Lasix in a detention barn, under the supervision of a state vet, five hours prior to a race. That vet also had the option of requiring a post-race test. First time bleeders were placed on the vet’s list for 25 days; second timers were down for 60 days and three-timers were banned for life. Talk about trainers leaving the Meadowlands for Pennsylvania. Imagine how fast the place would empty out if those rules were in effect today.

Not surprisingly the horsemen sued and the vets protested the new standard. A year later the Appellate Division of Superior Court in Trenton affirmed the legality of those rules. Two years later the National Association of State Racing Commissioners called for a national ban on same day Lasix, primarily because the Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration were pushing a bill through Congress that would ban all drugs from the sport.
Lasix was banned in Illinois the following year and the horsemen boycotted Arlington Park for several days. New Jersey eventually rescinded the ban but New York held fast until the mid-nineties when a shortage of horses dictated the change. Money ruled the day. The state wanted to max out its share of revenue from horse racing and the Lasix issue had become a stumbling block.

Although the individual states will always rule where, when and how Lasix may be administered to racehorses, at their annual meeting in Florida, the USTA adopted a policy sanctioning same day Lasix. Joe Faraldo “spearheaded the organization’s discussions and authored the policy statement.” The USTA press release sang the praises of Dr. Don Shields, a California vet whose input carried the day for Lasix. The headline read: “Renowned vet affirms USTA position on race-day Lasix.” Dr. Shields apparently convinced the board that this position was the only one that is fair to our “equine athletes,” as he refers to them.
Generally an organization like the USTA would find a reasonably objective party to make their case in a situation like this, for the sake of appearances if nothing else. Regardless, Dr. Shields is far from objective when it comes to this subject. He’s been serving as a racetrack vet for 25-years and he has been a leading proponent of using Lasix in training and racing throughout that stretch. He embraces same day Lasix with unwavering conviction. As someone wrote in the comments section attached to Dr. Shields email answers to The Breeders’ Cup Forum, this was like asking Wayne LaPierre to comment on the benefit of guns. If you’re going to do a study on whether salmon and salad is a better choice than fried chicken and French fries, don’t recruit Paula Dean and Frankie the Fryolator King to coordinate the study, research the topic and reach a conclusion.

USTA President Phil Langley said, “We decided upon a policy that we thought was best even though it wasn’t the most popular position at the time.”  
A couple of years ago the California Horse Racing Board voted to reduce the allowable levels of Bute and Banamine, so as to bring the state in line with the national standard. In recent years Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Illinois, and Texas are some of the states that have dropped Bute to 2.0. The belief was that the higher levels of these drugs masked injuries and proved dangerous to the “equine athletes.” Slam dunk, right? Guess who vigorously argued against that change: Dr. Shields, of course.

This USTA endeavor was reminiscent of one of those scientific studies sponsored by Coke or Pepsi that reach the conclusion that, popular belief notwithstanding, drinking soda is actually good for you. Or the way Big Tobacco ran ads in newspapers all over the country in the mid-fifties stating that the health of their customers was their number one concern.
There’s already a shortage of raceway stock, so taking away Lasix right now would probably drive a stake in the sport; nobody really expected the USTA to place any restrictions on it,  but that doesn’t justify this dog and pony show. Just let it be and spare us the policy statement. If Vegas decided to set a line on what conclusion Dr. Shields and Joe Faraldo would reach on same day Lasix, it would be off the board.

The USTA might be better served by commissioning a study on the ramifications of bleeders being bred to other bleeders. At what point will that genetic trait become all pervasive?


Anonymous said...

off topic, part of the reason to read your blog is reading the comments (debate)
is there a way to know if there are comments without pulling up the article?

Pacingguy said...

With the new format, if you put your mouse over the article, a box shows up with a number indicating the number of comments that have been posted. If nothing shows up, it means no comments are posted.

As a side note, as Anonymous indicated, comments make the blog better. If you have an opinion you want to share, either supporting or disagreeing with what I say, please feel free to post a comment.