The Terrible Tout’s Weblog › Create New Post — WordPress

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RACE DAY MEDICATION – CURE OR CANCER?

The eclipse of Big Brown on the largest stage in the world once again brings the issue of race day medication to the fore.  As it turns out, Big Brown, a monster of a horse, was built by a monthly injection of anabolic steroids from the day he entered Rick Dutrow’s stable until, stung by the innuendo flying about, Dutrow made the macho decision to skip his May injection (scheduled for after the Preakness) and to run the Belmont on hay, oats and water (and, of course, Lasix).

Under one of the worst rides I have ever seen in a Classic race, Big Brown pulled hard in the early stages of the race; could not be settled; ran into the rear of the leader entering the first turn, and had nothing left when asked three furlongs out.  Was it just the bad ride?  Or was it the absence of the monthly “jook”?  We’ll never know.

What we can say definitively is that, up to and including 1978, twenty-one horses won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in America.  Eleven won the Triple Crown.  Since 1978, eleven horses, including Big Brown, have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown.  Zero have won the third leg.  Why?  Well, to begin with, some States in America started permitting race day medication in the late 1970s and, by 1980, almost everybody had jumped on the bandwagon.  The most popular race day medication used is lasix (for bleeding, right?) And butazolidin (bute) for joint pain.

But, apart from making the job of a trainer easier and pumping up a Promoter’s starters per race statistic, is race day medication necessary or even useful?  Let’s start with Lasix – supposed to be used to stop bleeding.  It’s time to throw away the smoke and mirrors and speak some eternal truths.  To begin with, 100% of horses “bleed” while galloping.  This is called Exercise Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage (EIPH).  This happens because the horse’s back-end internal organs (intestines) do not synchronize as they should with the rest of the internal organs during strong gallops.  A horse’s major internal organs (heart, lungs etc) are in its front half and is divided from the intestines (held together within the abdomen by ligaments) by the diaphragm. When the horse is at full stretch (legs on the ground), the diaphragm contracts expanding the volume of the lungs allowing the horse to inhale.  Then, when his feet are off the ground, the skeletal structure is compressed and the diaphragm relaxes permitting exhalation.  Regrettably, no-one bothers to tell the intestines (swinging behind the diaphragm like a pendulum during gallops) that this is the plan because they often are out of sync with the rest of the horse’s body and are swinging forward when the horse is trying to exhale.  This causes the (relaxed) diaphragm to be pushed forward and slightly upward thus squeezing the lungs into the chest wall.  Thus the tiny alveoli and capillaries surrounding the lungs are repeatedly hammered by the forward-swinging intestinal mass until some eventually rupture resulting in some bleeding.

However, only 5% of horses bleed so badly that it is visible with the naked eye and all bleeding incidents cure themselves with a couple of days without the need for any medication.  Lasix does not cure bleeding.  It is said to prevent it by reducing the blood pressure and by acting as a powerful diuretic thus reducing the fluid in the body generally.  But the effects of Lasix, in my opinion, gives the treated horse an unfair advantage for three reasons.  Firstly, any athlete will tell you that, if you can reduce your heart rate (blood pressure) your performance will be enhanced.  Secondly, the large amount of fluid usually excreted as a result of the lasix treatment can flush away traces of any prohibitive substance used as well as cause the horse to carry less weight that it would otherwise have carried in the race.  So, that’s a handicap advantage; a mask for prohibitive substances; and a performance-enhancing reduction of the heart rate in one fell swoop.

All trainers know that lasix is not applied on a race day purely to stop bleeding and that is why any trainer worth his salt knows that, in order to get his horse on lasix, he need only order a strong gallop followed by a scoping from the vet.  The bronchoscope will find traces of blood in back of the lungs and, voila, the horse is termed a “bleeder” and goes on the Lasix list.  Thereafter, lasix does its job masking all sorts of evils until the horse reaches the breeding shed when those evils are passed on.

Bute is worse as it masks pain so no-one knows that a horse is in serious trouble until it breaks down.  When Affirmed and Alydar lined up for the Kentucky Derby in 1978, it was their sixth meeting.  The Preakness was Alydar’s 16th race; Affirmed’s 15th.  This was only marginally fewer than the 1948 Triple Crown winner, Citation, who ran for the 18th time in the Preakness.  All of a sudden, since 1978, classic horses are too fragile to race too frequently.  The result of 30 years of masking all racing’s ills with generous doses of lasix and bute and ignoring the consequent deterioration of the breed is that this year’s Kentucky Derby’s most experienced starter (10 starts) was the filly Eight Belles who was euthanized after breaking both ankles in the race.  Was there a pre-existing problem of which only her trainer and pharmacist were aware?

In Jamaica, we have already started down the slippery slope by introducing Lasix as a permitted race day medication.  This is a retrograde step we will come to deeply regret. The world’s leaders in breeding are all in Ireland a jurisdiction that does not permit race day medication of any kind.  It’s time to learn from history and not to blindly copy the convenient parts of it.  Until we return to the old fashioned method of conditioning horses on hay, oats and water alone, and leave the starter per race ratios to a proper blend of incentives and marketing, we will soon be noticing that horses like Miracle Man are no more.

Any bets as to when, if any, we will wake up and smell the horse urine?

Good Luck!

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