Is Lasix Really the Problem in the Sport of Kings?

Topic: Horse Racing and Lasix

If our leaders are looking to Washington to solve our problems then we need new leaders.

by Art Parker,

Most states, if not all, require high school football players to have their ankles taped before a game. This precautionary exercise supposedly reduces the probability of ankle injuries in what is a very violent sport. Many horses are given Lasix (Salix) so that the probability of Exercised Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) is reduced, or it plain terms, so that a horse may not experience respiratory bleeding during a contest.

The taping of boy’s ankles and the use of Lasix in a horse is, in my opinion, a precautionary measure that reduces the probability of physical problems during athletic competition and allows for the athlete to compete at their normal level of capability.

Like tape on an ankle, Lasix is not a performance enhancer, even though some disagree.

Lasix for racehorses

Lasix is given to both horses and humans

I believe the Lasix argument is much ado about nothing because we are not focusing on the real problem with thoroughbred racing as it relates to medication. None of us in our right mind wish for our sport to be tainted with performance-enhancing drugs or PED, as has been the case in baseball and other sports. I am convinced Lasix is not a PED and, therefore, I do not know why the constant hullabaloo about the stuff. I take Lasix because I’m a cardiac patient. I’ve had a heart attack and bypass surgery and all of that fun stuff. If I have a big fluid buildup, I will not be able to breathe and I will not be able to work, and I’ll probably be found dead in my stall (office). If a horse can’t breathe because of fluid buildup or EIPH then he can’t do his job. What’s the problem? If Lasix was a performance enhancer then my physical capabilities would be far greater than they are now.

The problem is that we have confused Lasix with other drugs that people wish to expel from our sport. Lasix is not a problem but PEDs are. Giving a horse a drug so that he will perform beyond his capabilities is bad. Giving a horse a drug so that he can perform normally is fine.

Let me give you a case where, if Lasix is prohibited, we will regret it. In the past we have seen a horse or two break down at the Kentucky Derby or at The Breeder’s Cup while broadcast on national television. And horses that bleed externally will pull up and this is bound to happen in nationally-broadcast major races.

Of course, when that happens, PETA and all other people seeking to complain about something start to scream about illicit drugs, performance enhancers and poor treatment. If we ban Lasix and we have a horse go down, and die because of EIPH, what are we going to hear? We will hear what a shame it is because the horse wasn’t given medication to avoid the problem. We will hear that all was required to protect the horse was an injection of a simple diuretic. We will hear people scream and say, “Hell they give that to humans. They could have given a little bit of Lasix to that poor horse.”

That’s what we will hear. And it will make racing appear to be a bad sport with bad people because we failed to give a shot of Lasix to a horse. Racing will look like it neglected to do something simple and inexpensive…like taping an ankle.

But on the other hand, what if I’m wrong? One of the things that is unclear in the minds of many is the real impact of Lasix on a horse. What if Lasix is bad for a horse? As I mentioned, I’m a cardiac patient and I take Lasix. I remember one night I was taken to the hospital and the medical folks loaded me up with Lasix to get the fluid out of me. I remember I couldn’t sleep at all, not just because I felt bad but, because I was having to stay in the bathroom all night. Once the Lasix started to work and I began to discharge fluid I could breathe much, much better. I understand it does the same for horses and also minimizes the probability of EIPH, and that is good.

The most important question is what risks come along with Lasix use? Does a thoroughbred lose too much weight and does the disposal of fluid pose a risk? If risks exist, are they short term or long term risks, or both? Can the use of Lasix cause problems with the breeding of thoroughbreds? The questions are almost limitless and they need to be answered.

The number one concern about Lasix should be centered on the health of the horse. These beautiful creatures are a special gift from God and they use their best talent to provide us with a huge industry and entertainment. The first questions we must answer concern the health of our equine athletes. If it is not good for them then we need to stop using the medication.

What if Lasix doesn’t pose real danger to horse health? Do we still want to ban it because giving a drug to a horse doesn’t look good? Back to the question of enhancement. If it is not a danger and if it is not an enhancement to athletic ability, then why ban it? If we worry about perception then it is our job to educate the public. I hope we are not in such a hurry to have these so-called “uniform medication rules” that we actually harm horses that should be getting Lasix.

The other thing that needs to be discussed before banning this medication is the impact on the thoroughbred inventory at our race tracks. We have already seen a reduction in the average size field and it will probably get worse since the size of the foal crops has been diminishing. We already have a problem with keeping customers because of field size but what happens if the banning of Lasix cause a further inventory reduction. I have read where our older horses may be the ones that need Lasix the most. If that is true we will face an even larger reduction of inventory because the old guys are the ones that make sure we have enough runners in all of the claiming races carded every day. If we do something that forces many of the geldings into retirement then we will be retiring mutual tellers and hot dog vendors, and consequently fewer jockeys and trainers will be making a living.

What I find most disturbing about the entire Lasix issue is that many of the leaders in the Thoroughbred industry want to get the federal government involved. The states will not get together so I guess we need to get the federal government involved to make them “do right.” I have one question for any of you that believe we need to get the federal government involved in this and other issues.

Have you lost your mind?

If our leaders are looking to Washington to solve our problems then we need new leaders. An invitation for the federal government to be involved is an invitation for ongoing disasters, tyranny, stupidity, corruption and the certain regret we will eventually have by expecting government to solve our problems. Government at any level solves nothing, it only makes things worse, and the last thing we need is for anything to get worse.


Art Parker is the author of the bi-annual horse racing guide “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns.”  The new book, due out in a few weeks, will offer a new feature for handicappers looking to tackle the popular Keeneland meet.