Veterinarians Express Concern Over Proposed Race Day Medication Ban

Jun 5, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Thoroughbred owners and trainers voiced dire warnings Tuesday about the potential of blood spurting from horses' noses if the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission institutes a race-day ban on the anti-bleeding drug furosemide.

Several veterinarians voiced similar warnings in urging the racing panel not to impose a ban that they said would endanger not just horses but also jockeys who could be hurt if the animals suffer pulmonary hemorrhages and collapse during races.

"What will the public perception be when horses pull up in front of the grandstand with blood running out of their nostrils, down their chests and legs and the jockeys' silks covered in blood? This will make the betting public sick to their stomachs," horse owner Billy Ashabraner said.

The worries were aired during a public hearing of the racing commission held in Frankfort on Tuesday, a week ahead of a June 13 meeting in which the panel will consider a proposal to phase out the use of the anti-bleeding drug on certain race days.

Dr. Thomas Tobin, a respected thoroughbred veterinarian, said most horses would likely experience pulmonary hemorrhages without using furosemide as a preventative.

Tobin said a ban on the drug would "place the lives of horses and their riders at increased risk."

"As such, any such change would be inhumane, unethical and inappropriate," he said.

The proposal would phase out race-day use of furosemide in graded or listed stakes races, including the Kentucky Derby. If approved, Kentucky would be the first state to take action against the drug, which is banned internationally.

Furosemide is marketed as Lasix and Salix and is the only medication allowed to be given to horses on race day in the U.S.

Out of more than a dozen people who offered comments to the racing commission on Tuesday, only one favored the proposed ban: William Koester, chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission. Koester said people who oppose the ban have tried to use scare tactics to keep it from passing. He said he has watched many races in other countries where furosemide is already banned, and that he's never seen a horse bleed out on the track.

Opponents contend the ban would put Kentucky at a competitive disadvantage if other states continue to allow furosemide. They said trainers would likely take their horses to other states to race, further hurting Kentucky's thoroughbred industry.

The proposal would gradually ban the use of furosemide within 24 hours of post time in any graded or stakes races in Kentucky. Those races draw top-notch horses because of the higher purse money offered.

The new version would begin on Jan. 1, 2013, when the ban would apply to 2-year-olds racing in any graded or stakes races in Kentucky. The prohibition would extend to 2- and 3-year-old horses competing in those races in 2014. The Kentucky Derby, run the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, is for 3-year-old horses.

In 2015, the ban would apply to any horse entered to race in graded or listed stakes races in Kentucky.