Unless otherwise noted, the following horses were “vanned off” American tracks this weekend.

Friday:
6-year-old Formulaforsuccess, Belmont, race 3
5-year-old Big Bentley, Calder, race 7
4-year-old Capable Native, Charles Town, race 1 (not vanned off but “bleeding from the nose”)
2-year-old Senora Sargento, Indiana Downs, race 5
2-year-old Coffee Dance, Indiana Downs, race 7
3-year-old Dash for Coronas, Lone Star, race 4
4-year-old Proulette (who was an eased DNF in start before this), Penn National, race 7
3-year-old Chiquita Mala, Penn National, race 9
2-year-old Da Belldozer, Remington, race 8
7-year-old She’s a Doll Two, Retama, race 9

Saturday:
7-year-old Monkeyinthemiddle, Delta Downs, race 1
2-year-old Go Go Boots, Hawthorne, race 2
6-year-old It’s My Turn, Keeneland, race 4 (bled and vanned off)
2-year-old Maroma Beach, Los Alamitos, race 4
6-year-old Reel Spinner, Mountaineer, race 4 (not vanned off but “bled,” DNF)
5-year-old Lord Vronsky, Santa Anita, race 4
5-year-old Dixieland Blues, Santa Anita, race 8
3-year-old Twilite Zone, Zia Park, race 3
5-year-old Night Victor, Zia Park, race 12

Sunday:
4-year-old Oklahoma Mule, Albuquerque, race 5 (not vanned off but “pulled up in distress,” DNF)
3-year-old Transplendid, Belmont, race 6
2-year-old Joe the Jet Perry, Los Alamitos, race 1
2-year-old Whos Up, Los Alamitos, race 9
2-year-old Platinum Gold (after winning), Portland Meadows, race 8
4-year-old Twitch (who was a pulled up DNF in start before this), Santa Anita, race 6

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Bloodhorse reports (10/17/13) that 6-year-old Take Control was euthanized at Santa Anita after, in the words of trainer Bob Baffert, “he took a bad step” while breezing. With only four career starts (and at least two surgeries), his death, I suppose, is newsworthy because of lineage (AP Indy, Azeri) and past value (“a $7.7 million RNA at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale”).

photo: Bloodhorse
photo credit: Bloodhorse

As this was a public passing (in contrast to the vast majority of racing kills), trainer Baffert was duty-bound to offer lament: “It’s really tough…he’s a nice horse, and he’s been with us a long time. It was a really sad day at the barn. It’s a part of the business that makes you not want to be in it, but things happen, and it’s just bad luck. One bad step and that’s what happens.” And the beat goes on…

Furosemide, or Lasix, is used, ostensibly, to control pulmonary bleeding in rapidly moving racehorses. But it is also a powerful diuretic that causes the horse to shed water weight (and helps flush the system) prior to the race. To the rest of the world (excepting Canada), U.S. horseracing is derelict in allowing raceday Lasix (in practically all starters). But according to American trainers, the rest of the world is wrong.

Prominent trainer Dale Romans starts with this premise (Paulick Report, 9/13/12): “Racing causes EXERCISE INDUCED pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH, respiratory bleeding) in 100% of horses.” So, for the good of the horse, it must be controlled. Enter Lasix, which, Roman says, decreases the incidence and severity of this “natural” condition and “has no harmful effects.” See, the drug is therapeutic, indeed humane. And, notes Romans, since all trainers have access to it, none are afforded a competitive advantage.

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Prohibiting Lasix, in Romans’ estimation, would lead to methods antithetical to equine welfare – like withholding water prior to a race: “It is my firm belief that one of the worst abuses that can be done to the racing horse is to ban Lasix.” Adds his colleague Rick Violette (DRF, 8/11/11), “Horses bleed. That is a fact. To force an animal to race without it is premeditated, borderline animal abuse.”

What Romans and Violette conveniently ignore, however, is that the level of natural bleeding that adversely affects the Thoroughbred, a 3 or 4 on a 1-4 scale, is rare and bleeding through the nostrils even rarer (perhaps 1%). So to say it’s more therapeutic than performance-enhancing is dubious.

But what if Romans is right about EIPH being innate (and painful) to the racing horse? If so, then the animal abuse that Violette speaks of is at racing’s very core: Horsemen are ever eager to proclaim racing as innocuous – horses are born to run, love to run; the ubiquitous whip is but a painless “guide.” But here, according to Romans et al., the fundamental act (racing) causes equine suffering (through bleeding). Is there another sport on the planet whose primary physical motion is inherently painful? Absurd.

Formulaforsuccess, six, died during yesterday’s 3rd race at Belmont Park. The Gaming Commission simply says he “went over inside rail and died.” But Equibase offers a bit more detail: “[Formulaforsuccess] was eased at the quarter pole and in the midst of being brought to a stop a furlong out [collapsed] of an apparent cardiac arrest.”

The replay (Race Replays, Friday, Race 3) reveals little. All we get from the announcer, presumably right before the horse died, is “Formulaforsuccess is plummeting to the back of the pack.” This is Belmont’s 29th death of the year.