To the objective and reasonable among us, the almost universal use (95% of starters) of raceday Lasix in America is bad for horses. So, it would appear that The Jockey Club’s opposition to Lasix – indeed, to all raceday medication – is a pro-horse stance. But some things aren’t as simple as they appear.
To bolster the case against, The Jockey Club’s Matt Iuliano (in the Paulick Report) cites a recent study (of horses running without Lasix) that shows “a lack of significant association between EIPH [exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage] and a productive racing career, except in the most severe cases. …The lifetime racing performances of horses with EIPH that continued to race indicate these horses were successfully managed over a productive racing career…”
In short, no need to get too hung up on a little blood in the lungs, for it’s “manageable” and long-term “productivity” should remain sound. Equine suffering? Doesn’t appear part of the equation. Racing’s moral bankruptcy laid bare, yet again.
While preparing my 6-month update on the December casualties, I came across a 3-year-old gelding named Rockinpop. Rockinpop has run a total of three races, all under Jared Cheeks. In his second race, a maiden claiming on December 21st at Gulfstream, Rockinpop, two at the time, was a “bled”/DNF. Three months later – a recuperation period, I suppose – he again ran in a claiming at Gulfstream – and again he was a “bled”/DNF. He has not been heard from since.
And then there is 7-year-old Costly. On June 12th at Churchill Downs, Costly was vanned off after having bled. In her very next race, last night at Mountaineer, Costly was again vanned off for bleeding. Her current trainer (and trainer for both of these races) is Kevin Fletcher. Perhaps, Mr. Fletcher, this 57-start veteran has earned a cease-and-desist from the whip. But, then again, perhaps not.
In Monday’s Paulick Report, apologist Ray Paulick relays Malcolm Gladwell’s contention that performance-enhancing drugs and reconstructive surgeries for athletes should be seen in the same light. Gladwell, according to Paulick, “thinks human athletes should be permitted to use any type of drug they wish, provided it is FDA approved and is disclosed by the athlete.” But being a horseracing publication, Paulick ends with this:
“The late Charles Harris, a New York-based horse owner who for years fought for clean sport, once suggested the same thing as Gladwell, that all drugs should be permitted in racing, so long as they are disclosed. At least that would level the playing field, he said.
As athletics, horse racing and veterinary and genetic science move forward, will Gladwell be proven right? Will that bright moral line separating doping from science or surgery become less defined?”
While Gladwell’s thesis has merit, to even suggest that that same thinking could be applied to racing – as Paulick does by referencing Harris – is repellent. Mr. Paulick, ultimately what separates horseracing from every true sport on the planet is informed consent: Professional human athletes are the autonomous final arbiters on what goes into their bodies; professional racehorses are – forgive the emotionally charged word, but it is what it is – common slaves, with zero control over their lives.
Furthermore, when a juiced ballplayer breaks down, he goes on the disabled list, rehabs, and returns to his trade; when a drugged/doped racehorse breaks down, he dies. So you see, Mr. Paulick, we’re not even remotely in the same neighborhood.
Yesterday, the Breeders’ Cup announced the results of a Lasix study conducted on juveniles at last month’s event, and the apologists surely won’t be happy. In two non-BC races, 2-year-olds were allowed to compete with the drug. Of those 14 horses, 10 (71%) bled, 5 on the higher end of the scale. In the BC juvenile races without Lasix (this was the last year of a Lasix ban at the BC), only 15 of 41 (37%) bled, just 3 on the higher end.
While true that the study is but a small statistical sampling, this is a debate that should not exist at all: Raceday Lasix is bad for horses, a conclusion reached long ago by reasonable people, not to mention the rest (save Canada) of the racing world. Lasix is not about equine welfare; it comes back, as most things do, to money. The pharmaceuticals, the administering vets, and the trainers (furosemide is a performance-enhancer and may mask other drugs) all (financially) gain from raceday Lasix, at the expense of sentient animals. This is horseracing.
Arthur Hancock III is a world-renowned Thoroughbred owner and breeder, a member of racing royalty. In an op-ed published by the Paulick Report (11/23/13), Hancock had this to say about his cherished sport:
“Sadly, the federal government’s compassion shown for pit bull dogs [speaking of the fed’s prosecution of Michael Vick] has been absent in the terrible mistreatment of Thoroughbred horses that is occurring daily at racetracks across America. According to the New York Times, every week in the United States, 24 Thoroughbred horses die while racing and countless others are broken down and maimed for the rest of their lives because they are being drugged to enhance their performance.
These wonderful animals are given countless numbers of so-called ‘therapeutic’ drugs that are in essence performance-enhancing drugs. These include painkillers like Butazolidin which thins the blood, causing horses to bleed and, of course, Lasix to remedy the bleeding. Lasix has also been proven to leach calcium from the bones of human beings, making them susceptible to more fractures, etc.”
Regrettably, Mr. Hancock, probably due to an unfortunate mix of DNA and from-birth immersion, stops short of full enlightenment: We should end the pervasive drugging because “these brave animals [once] pulled our covered wagons across America and carried us into battle,” not because whip-forcing them to run for gamblers is a self-evident wrong. In fact, Hancock cares deeply about those gamblers (of course, they pay the bills): “…is Washington callous to the consequences its citizens must endure from wagering on drugged horses?” Pity the poor played players.
Hancock ends thus: “And so the beat goes on. Next week, 24 more horses will die and countless others will be crippled. Four percent of our fans will have deserted us by the end of the year, as they do every year. It is my hope that the federal government will wake up and do something about all of this. Nobody else will. Nobody else can.”
Here’s hoping they don’t. Let a sinking ship sink.