In This Issue​​

USHRAA Newsletter

  • You Want Me To Do What? For How Much?
        by Monica Bencal​ 
         by Bob Marks
  • New bill focuses on horse racing
         by Congressman Andy Barr​
  • "Circling the Wagons"
         by Staci Hancock (WHOA)
  • Two different approaches and Both maybe wrong
​         by Charles Martino
  • Commentary: The Performance-Enhancing Effects Of Lasix
         by Joe Gorajec
  • A Grooms Journey Part VI
         by Oscar Belliveau
  • Kentucky Derby: Churchill Downs must help fix horse racing before it's too late
         by Valerie Pringle (Humane Society)​
  • Following South America’s Lead On Lasix
​         by Kelsey Riley (TDN Europe)
  • Bleeding Bucks?: Hong Kong EIPH Study Results Released                                              by Dr. Stephanie A. Preston
May, 2019
​​Issue - 010

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In My Opinion

You Want Me To Do What? For How Much?
By Monica Bencal

Last month I wrote about the fact that 60% of the horses in the Standardbred Industry will find themselves in a kill pen when they are no longer able to race. This is an appalling situation that SHOULD NOT be allowed to continue! Unfortunately, there is another group in harness racing that is abused almost as badly as the horses in our industry: This group is made up of the grooms that take care of the horses in our industry.

This is an area I know very well. I feel blessed that I was able to take care of the wonderful animal that is the Standardbred racehorse, but when I look back, I am sad to see that the respect given a groom has declined. For me, when I entered the industry in 1970, the job was not bad. Me and most of the groom’s I knew were made to feel like we were part of a team and contributed to the success of the animals we cared for. Most importantly grooms were paid relatively well. That is not true today. In his November 2018 article in the USHRAA newsletter, Mr. Martino correctly states a groom’s “work day is longer and harder and for that privilege they get paid ½” of what a groom used to get paid. This is not how an industry should treat its employees if that same industry wants to attract new workers. Like so many other areas of the Harness Industry, our record in this area is disgraceful. In my opinion, the lack of good caretakers is a direct result of the owners and trainers disregard for the health and welfare of its workers.

I believe we need to have a firm understanding of what the job was like 40 years ago, before we look to correct the inequities that exist today. In the November USHRAA newsletter Charles Martino gave us a glimpse of what he experienced as groom in the mid-70’s. He rubbed 2-3 horses and with race paddocks earned around $200 per week. In 1973, I was working at Roosevelt Raceway earning $100 a head rubbing 2. Additionally, every time I went to the paddock, I earned $50. Race paddocks (both my own and catch paddocks) were plentiful so, between my base pay and the extra money I could earn paddocking, I made between $11,000 - $14,000. That singular fact, that I was making about as much as the “average American” was the reason that most grooms back then (at least those I knew) had a car and lived in an apartment. If as a groom you lived on “the grounds” this perk boosted your income. That level of pay and those working conditions do not exist today for a groom in our industry.
Mr. Martino points out, today the “average groom” makes around $500 a week. That equates to $36,000 a year. The problem is that the “average American” now makes $59,000. If you do the math, that means a groom is making 40% LESS than the average American. And as we all know, in today’s world even the “average American” is struggling. Image how great the struggle is for a person making 40% less than that of the average American. Almost as important, there is little respect for the job a groom does anymore. Given those attitudes and working conditions is it really any surprising that people are not flocking to industry to work?

It is not surprising to me that people no longer want to be a groom. As Charles Martino stated, “In order to work in a large, successful stable today the average groom is rubbing 5 horses or more or working in an assembly line system where they keep up a torrid pace just to get the work done”. Talking to some of my friends still in the industry, that is the reality. Today a groom may have to jog or train 2-3 before leaving for a qualifier at 7am. Then when you get back from the qualifiers between 1pm & 3pm, you turn right around, get on a different truck in order to go race that night. This usually means a groom is only getting 2-3 hours of the requisite 8 hours every person needs a day to function. That is physically hard. So, between working harder and not making a decent living, it is not surprising to see that no one is clamoring to enter the Harness Racing industry at the base level.

I believe what has happened is that the people who might have considered the job as a groom in the standardbred industry have smartened up. Quite simply, the people are no longer are willing to accept the conditions that come along with being a racehorse groom. It is not only that it is a physically demanding job where you are not paid well for doing, you also do not receive many of the benefits and protection that other low-level jobs offer. It is a rare that I hear of an employer that not only pays and respects its workers, but also offers paid vacations, health insurance, and a pension. Almost every other entry level job in America offers these incentives. Not only do the majority of large stables NOT offer these types of benefits, many trainers pay cash to circumvent the rules and avoid expenses that serve to protect the worker. Paying a groom “under the table” allows a trainer to avoid the expense of unemployment compensation, workers compensation insurance, and paying into the Social Security Benefit Program.

What has also happened is that the atmosphere of the industry has changed. Back in the day (25 to 40 years ago) harness racing was a community. As Charles said, “It was fun, exciting and promising.” Not only could a groom make a decent living rubbing 1 or 2 horses, there was also a sense that you could “get ahead” in the business if you applied yourself. You might end up as a second-trainer for a prestigious outfit, or you could buy a horse, as I did, to race and train for yourself. Today, that is no longer true. With expenses increasing and the competitive edge going to stables with wealthy owners, it is difficult to compete.

I think the question that needs to be answered is “Why has This Happened”? Again, the I think the answer is simple: Greed. What people forget, is that there are different and competing perspectives. An owner and trainer are always looking for ways to save money in order to boost their profit margins. On the other side of the spectrum, a groom is looking to not only keep up with the cost of living, but to maybe even get ahead. It is not hard to figure out who held the upper hand in that relationship. Around 20 years ago, trainers began to realize that if they paid grooms less, there would be more money available for them. The justification I hear for this was “I may not pay much, but I don’t say much.” There were also trainers who believed that the standard of care given to a racehorse by an “old-time groom” was unnecessary. Some people say this coincided with the widespread administration of chemicals giving certain horse an edge over the competition without all the “old-time preparations”. Other people say that the breed just evolved and no longer needed that kind of attention to detail. Whatever the reason, it became a matter of fact of that grooms were being asked to take care of more and more horses for the same amount of pay.
Having a groom work more hours for less money took many other forms too. Not only were grooms being asked to take care of 3, 4, or 5 horses (rather than the old standard of 2), at this time, trainers began to realize that not paying year-end bonuses also boosted their bottom line. One of the justifications I heard regarding this practice was “He (or she) would just spend it “partying”. I heard another trainer justify withholding a bonus on the basis of “saving the groom from himself”. I found that especially humorous since that same logic did not extend to himself when I listened to him relive his exploits at a sale or weekend away racing. Yet another way several large and prominent stables sought to save money at this time was to list grooms as “Independent Contractors” even though this is, and was, a clear violation of the law. Until the IRS started to crackdown, this was the standard operating procedure at a lot of the larger stables in the industry. Often times the only time you realized that your trainer was not paying into Social Security (as required by law) was when at the end of the years, you received a 1099 instead of a W-2.

Workers compensation coverage also became scarce during this period of time. I myself experienced a bad fall at a PA track while doing 5am feed. I tripped in a pothole, and when I braced myself for the fall using my right arm, I tore my rotator cuff. When I was hired, I was told I would be covered by workman’s compensation. When I arrived at the emergency room however, I was told by the hospital administration that I was not listed on my employer’s roster. Only he and his wife were listed as employees. I spent the better part of 2 years trying to get that hospital bill paid. Eventually, I was successful, but it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone that I had to find another position.

To get a better idea if my recollections were correct, I contacted a few of my friends that were also grooms at the time I was a full-time groom and asked them what it was like for them as a groom in the 70’s & 80’s. If they are still working in the industry, I asked what they thought was different today. If they had left the business, I asked why they felt they needed to leave. Below are the unedited replies I received.

My good friend Marie Gill, who raced Niatross against the horse I took care of (Stone Racer) said that she “loved being a groom on the Grand Circuit all those years ago. At that time, it was a way of life, not just a job. There was a camaraderie among the grooms of rival horses since we traveled together from track to track and were at each place for a week before we raced. Also taking care of one horse really allowed one to get close to that horse. Today, the horses just seem to ship in for a race and then go home again. For me personally, the reason I left the business was to go to veterinary school. There didn’t seem to be a future as a groom. Even having our own horses for awhile ended up not being a stable living. Today it seems that the little guy just can’t make it.”

Even though I only “knew of” Cary Marder during this time period, he generously gave me a reply when I asked him to reply to my question. He stated that he “Loved the daily life. The comradery I always felt with my fellow grooms was special. I left because I felt I went as far as I could. It was around 1990”. He started in 1973. “The business was starting to change and I sorta wanted to settle down more. Maybe if RR was still here, it would have been different.”

Another Haughton alumni, Eva Ramos, told me that she did not mind the conditions, like sleeping in the shed-row in front of your horse because she was working “for the MASTER – Billy Haughton”. She went on to say that these were “the best days of her life!” She loved the horses and working alongside the other dedicated grooms in the stable. She was forced to give up the life of a groom when she went home to help her siblings care for their aging mother.

My friend Pete Lawrence had an interesting take and story about his days as a groom. Pete says that he “groomed standardbred racehorses for seven years, mostly on summer vacations. This activity kept him busy during the summer through junior high, high school and college (72-78)”. He, like most of us loved the business back then, but he also remembers thinking that harness racing was “not going to be a forever career for him”. At first he likened his forays into the industry as a kind of “summer camp” Like most of us bitten by the harness racing bug, there were also moments when he thought his summer diversion might turn into a permanent gig as either an assistant trainer or training career. That training gig didn’t happen, but what did happen is he went on to be Joe O’Briens’ administrator. Down the road, he also worked in publicity as a journalist. He remembers that he “loved grooming and the horse end of the business”, since he is an animal lover (especially dogs) since childhood. He also came to love the traveling, the comradery, the socializing, the partying, and the top horses racing that was part and parcel of the Grand Circuit and the Sire Stakes.

He also recognizes though that “the job has changed quite a bit since the 1970’s.” He also remembers that caring for 2 horses was standard. If you were on the road, you usually only took care of that 1horse. Grooms were responsible for jogging their own horses, and everyone walked them out after racing, training, and even jogging.

Peter also knows that “grooms today take care of as many as five or six horses, but they usually don’t jog or walk which saves hours and hours and is the way it is possible to actually rub that many horses. Pete does differ from my opinion on one point, he believes that “the money is much better now, and that grooms can actually make a living wage. This of course is only true if working six and seven days a week is acceptable to you. He remembers his time in harness racing fondly, and as he says, “He loved it, and I'm very happy that grooming was part, a big part, of my life and education in the racing business.

So, as you can see by the above statements, I am not the only one in harness racing that remembers those days fondly. Charles Martino hit the nail on the head though when he said that back then, rubbing 1 or 2 horses still allowed you to make a decent living without working 22 hours a day. A groom’s job was just that, a job, but it was also a job you loved. You went to work, and then you went home and lived your life. For some, there was even an opportunity for advancement. That has changed today. There is less opportunity to advance, and you must work longer and harder to make an equivalent amount of money. As he said, “Yes in this business you can still hustle and get by”, but in his opinion, the game is skewed toward rewarding those at the top. From my perspective, I agree.

If this industry is to survive, we must come up with a more equitable way to treat the employees in this industry. Mr. Martino asked the question, “Without real opportunity, where will tomorrow’s trainers come from? Who wants to be part of something that only a select few have the opportunity to advance?” A large portion of today’s participants do not want their children to follow them into the business, and as he warns, “This may be the ultimate sign that we are on the wrong path. We not only have failed to cultivate our fan base; we are also failing to cultivate our future. Sadly, I believe he is correct. We need to figure out how to reverse this course if this industry is to survive.

This article regarding Employment and Recruitment Issues in the Standardbred Industry is the 8th article in a series that is meant to highlight the problems harness racing faces with the hope that real solutions can be implemented. The opinions in the article are solely those of the author. Any comments or suggestions can be left in the feedback section of the USHRAA newsletter.
My Final Thoughts This Month

For the last 8 months I have been writing a monthly article. Each month I tried to highlight a problem in the Harness Racing Industry. To date I have written articles covering Attitudes and Beliefs, the Operational Structure of the Industry, two (2) articles about leadership issues and accountability, and an article about the horse welfare issues in our industry. This month I tried to cover some of the troubling issues with regards to employment. In many of those columns, I was harsh in my assessment of the current leadership and the “large players” in the industry. I believe this was necessary because, if we as an industry are going to fix what is wrong in the industry and implement solutions that would begin to turn around the decline, we first need to acknowledge what is wrong. Only then can we come up with a workable solution. Once we have a workable solution, the leadership can then begin to implement the changes that are necessary if harness racing is to survive in the future.

I have seen some indication that leaders in the industry have read my columns. Unfortunately, so far, I do not see that anything has really changed. That can only lead me to one conclusion: That the people in leadership roles have decided that they do not want to address and solve these issues. It is my opinion, the reason people who hold leadership roles in harness racing want to keep things the same is because these same leaders benefit from the status quo. So instead of implementing processes that would solve some of the problems our industry has, these same leaders have instead chosen to apply “window dressing” to these very serious issues in the industry. I believe that they are hoping that the larger populations, both inside and outside of the industry, are placated by their insincere rhetoric and fooled by their feeble attempts at implementing change.

I certainly hope that the leaders in this industry come to their senses while there is still an industry to save, but unfortunately, I am not as hopeful as I once was. I think bolder action is necessary. I have always felt that no real change would be achieved unless those changes included legislative action at both the State and Federal level. Toward that end, I have decided that I am going concentrate my efforts in a different direction. I have decided to take the summer off, not only to do what retired people do (take it easy), but to also strategize which direction and actions will achieve the greatest results.

For the next 6 months, Bob and I have decided that we will travel and try to see more of this great country. While I am travelling, I am sure I will come up my new strategy. While I am travelling and thinking, I am going to go back through the articles I wrote. I would like to invite the readers of the USHRAA newsletter to do the same. Go back and re-read both the articles I wrote. In addition, you should read what other contributors to the USHRAA newsletter wrote. You might also want to think about the issues I have yet to cover. These issues would be: the prevalent use of both legal and illegal chemicals to make a horse “perform better”; breeding and horse population issues; gambling related issues; what our product should look like in the future; and finally, what marketing strategy will actually serve to promote the business. When we cross paths, I would love to be able to buy you a drink and listen to your thoughts.

Until that time I would like to wish everyone who has read my column these last 8 months a wonderful summer. I’d also like to leave you with one final thought best expressed by the author Brian Krans:

“Challenge authority. Challenge yourself.”
“Start the revolution. Become a freedom fighter. Become a superhero. Just because everyone doesn't know your name doesn't mean you don’t matter.”
“Care, don't just pretend to.”

Have a wonderful summer!
I lived the grooms life from the mid 60's into the early 90's, although I cycled in and our in the 80's and 90's. I ran away from home to live that life, and I enjoyed the love and camaraderie. I learned a lot about life, people and horses. I think that this articles states very well the history and issues facing grooms now. Thanks for writing so eloquently.
Oscar Belliveau

Harness Racing
Ins & Outs

Bob Marks

Bob Marks is a harness racing Hall of Fame jounalist, the former marketing guru of Perretti Farms, author and a noted ace  handicapper. Marks has been a vital and active part of the racing game for over 50 years, first establishing himself as a handicapper of renown during the Golden Years of the Roosevelt-Yonkers circuit, then contributing a steady stream of informed and reasoned articles to the top trade publications.

Bobs newly released book "A Way of Life" is a Amazon best seller.

by Bob Marks

That’s probably a major accomplishment at this stage of life but here are some random thoughts that circulated through this antiquated cerebellum prior to publication of the next alumni newsletter.

In over 50 years in racing in one spot or another, I’ve yet to hear one person upon completion of a horse race exclaim “I just lost $20 on that race. That was fun. Maybe I can lose more money next race”.

In addition in all these years, I’ve yet to hear one person with tickets on a horse involved in a torrid stretch duel implore the jockey or driver “Don’t hit him please be gentle”

Although, they may initially proclaim different sentiments- once the money is down everything changes.

The customer must eventually lose therefore it is imperative to always replace the customer.

Las Vegas always knew this. Racing never did!

Even though the celebrated wonder from down under came up a tad short against McWicked, he showed enough here in the early going to validate those sentiments from the Southern hemisphere proclaiming him the best down there since Cardigan Bay.

Does that make him a potentially great sire, of course not but, given his paternal line of unbroken brilliance from Meadow Skipper through Most Happy Fella, Cam Fella, Cam’s Card Shark and Bettor’s Delight, he certainly has the “genetic credentials”. While he did not “break the speed record”, his 1:46.3 parked out mile was pretty darn good considering his overland trip. His toughness and stamina alone so evident in those Down Under races is rather reminiscent of his great grandsire Cam Fella. I’ll be watching!

Saw a couple of real nice decently sized He’s Watching 2-year-olds at Sunshine Meadows and while he didn’t get that many top mares to work with, one gets the impression he’s provided them with some of his obvious speed. In addition, He’s Watching is an American Ideal as was last year’s noticeable first crop stallion Heston Blue Chip and that is cause for optimism. We’ll see!

The Meadowlands handle has been holding pretty well and while the horse population there has not yet been quite commensurate with that offered across the river at Yonkers, the conclusion becomes that today’s “bettors” prefer wagering on the bigger track.

Bob Marks

I have no way of verifying, but I’d imagine crossover Thoroughbred bettors would be more inclined to play “Harness” on a similar sized track to what they’re used to.

One of our better known veteran scribes received” flack” for posting on social media the Sun Sentinel piece concerning the involvement of one of our Hall Of Famers in an incident at a South Florida beach bar. Seems the “flackers” felt that no “negative” words or stories should ever be posted.

“Duh” It was news just as The Patriot’s owner with his little Jupiter incident as was The “Master’s” champion’s asleep at the wheel scenario a few years back.

The New York Post runs a wonderful institutional ad on occasion stipulating “If you don’t want it on page Six don’t do it”. Page Six being their infamous gossip page.

I can remember getting lambasted by a hall of fame columnist for a story headline exclaiming “Bonehead move by O’Brien mars Cane” after Joe O’Brien veered Armbro Ranger off the rail almost colliding with whatever Kenny McNutt was driving causing that one to go off stride almost causing a pileup.

He chastised “How can you say that, He’s a “Hall Of Famer”. Duh Mr. Hall Of Fame columnist, what makes him any different than the fielder who throws to the wrong base or the Quarterback who passes right to the defender causing interception and loss of game?
It happens. We’re not sacred cows we make mistakes just like every other athlete and the media other than perhaps the harness media takes note. After all, it’s news!

Horse Racing Integrity 

Congressman Andy Barr

Garland Hale "Andy" Barr IV is an American attorney and politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Kentucky's 6th congressional district since 2013. Prior to being elected, he served in the administration of Ernie Fletcher when he served as Governor of Kentucky. He is a member of the Republican Party

New bill focuses on horse racing
​By Congressman Andy Barr (Kentucky)

I am honored to represent the Horse Capital of the World, and throughout my time in Congress I have worked diligently to enact polices that will promote economic growth and investment in this key Kentucky industry. I continue to believe the future prosperity of the sport depends in part on implementation of national uniform medication standards and testing procedures.

For these reasons, in March, I reintroduced the Horseracing Integrity Act with my colleague and co-chair of the Congressional Horse Caucus, Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY). This legislation would lay the foundation for the future growth and competitiveness of racing by enacting reforms to achieve uniformity, safety and integrity.

Currently regulated by 38 different jurisdictions, our signature racing industry labors under a patchwork of conflicting and inconsistent, state-based rules governing prohibited substances, lab accreditation, testing, and penalties for violations.

The Horseracing Integrity Act authorizes the creation of a non-governmental anti-doping authority governed by representatives of all major constituencies of the industry and responsible for implementing a national, uniform medication program for the entire horse racing industry. These reforms would eliminate the perception of unfair competition and enhance the reputation of U.S. racing on both national and international levels.

Additionally, this legislation would facilitate the development of a standardized list of permitted and prohibited substances. The current version of the bill would also ban the use of all medications within 24 hours of a race, consistent with international standards.

The most recent draft of this bill was developed through a highly deliberative and bipartisan process and takes into consideration a diversity of perspectives from all parts of the industry. The result is support from over 62 members of Congress, since its introduction, and from organizations representing all facets of the horse racing industry including breeders, owners, trainers, racing associations, jockeys and horse players.

Our work is paying off. Recently, a coalition of racing associations, including Churchill Downs, the NYRA, the Stronach Group, Keeneland, Oaklawn and Del Mar — racetracks representing more than 85 percent of all graded stakes races — came together and signaled their willingness to begin harmonizing its rules with international standards by limiting the use of Lasix within 24 hours of all stakes races.
In Congress, momentum continues to build for the Horseracing Integrity Act as Members become more educated and understand that this truly is an issue of interstate commerce, over which Congress has jurisdiction. I am encouraged by this momentum and expect a Senate companion bill will be introduced this Congress.
Unfortunately, the recent tragic deaths of 23 equine athletes at Santa Anita since December have underscored the need for consistent racing standards and increased dialogue about this legislation. Whatever the cause of the problems in California, I have confidence my bill would improve the safety of and the public’s confidence in the sport.

The HIA is one example of the actions I have taken to ensure Kentucky’s thoroughbred industry will continue to grow and prosper. As we look back on Justify’s historic Triple Crown victory last year, American Pharaoh’s grand slam in 2015, and as we look forward to this year’s Kentucky Derby, we must continue to fight for the future of our special industry. By enhancing the safety and integrity of horse racing, we can ensure the Kentucky Derby will always remain the “greatest two minutes in sports.”

Water Hay Oats Alliance

Staci Hancock

Staci Hancock owns Stone Farm with her husband, Arthur Hancock III. Stone Farm bred, raised, and campaigned Kentucky Derby winner Gato del Sol and raised and campaigned Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence. The farm has also bred, raised, and sold horses such as Fusaichi Pegasus, Risen Star, Air Force Blue, and Mastery. Hancock is the president of Stone Agency, a boutique insurance agency that focuses on equine and property policies. She is a co-founder of the Water Hay Oats Alliance and the Kentucky Equine Humane Center.

"Circling the Wagons"
By Staci Hancock "WHOA"

Efforts by industry groups are steps in the right direction, 
but they don't solve the problem!

Over the last few weeks, industry groups have come forward with a myriad of suggestions for drug reform.  While plans by Mid-Atlantic groups, Maryland Breeders, the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), and the newly formed Racetrack Coalition sound promising, they are like putting a Band-Aid on a shotgun wound.  These ideas do not provide a solution to horse racing's national drug problem. The Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 does!

Horsemen's groups, racetrack operators, and racing regulators represented in the Mid-Atlantic region released a statement: 'Mid-Atlantic Racing Industry Adopts Strategic Plan To Reduce Racehorse Fatalities' and the Maryland Breeders released their own statement: 'Maryland Breeders, Horsemen Issue Position Statement On Lasix'.

There is merit in the adoption of the 'Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities', but it falls short by only covering six U.S. state racing jurisdictions. What about the other 32?  Where is the national uniformity our sport so desperately needs?

The ARCI released a statement on April 11, entitled 'ARCI Proposes To 'Dramatically Increase' Trainer, Owner Penalties For Doping'

WHOA Supporter and past Chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission (ORC) and the ARCI, William Koester, reminds us that as well meaning as it might seem, the ARCI simply establishes Model Rules for racing as a guideline. There is virtually no enforcement for jurisdictions that refuse to comply. Model Rules can be followed or not with no repercussions from any enforcement entity as we learn in William Koester's Commentary.

So, let's be clear, the ARCI's press release advocating stiffer penalties is all show and little substance. Many state racing commissions do not enforce the current penalty guidelines. Consequently, we should have no reason to believe that they have any appetite to apply stiffer penalties. Some will. Some won't. In other words, we will continue to operate with a total lack of uniformity. 

To better understand the complications associated with the passage of new rules by individual racing commissions, read Natalie Voss's commentary: Fact Checking Opponents Of Safety And Welfare Reform. 

And while most recently, the newly formed coalition comprised of most of America's major racetracks wrote some needed reforms to rules which limit medication use in the Triple Crown races, the reform does not go as far as an overall ban.  The concern remains on how these rules will ever be implemented. 

This partial ban must be approved by regulators in Kentucky, New York, Maryland and other states with racetracks in the coalition.

Staci Hancock

Other industry groups like the AQHA, HBPA and the AAEP out and out oppose the new push for reform and a ban on race-day medication. 

Why don't these industry groups stop beating around the bush, realize that no industry solution is going to accomplish our goal, and that we need an outside independent agency to set the agenda so that it favors no one group.

Individual members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity have stated that the motivation on the part of the entities promoting these new initiatives is one final, last ditch effort to allow certain industry stakeholders to self-regulate themselves. The very reason the legislation was crafted was to bring an independent presence to bear on racing in hopes of ending the current mess of too many different rules in too many racing jurisdictions.

In fact, their motivation to do "something" is to avoid the elephant in the room, which is the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019. This is exactly why an outside presence with an independent mandate is so essential.

How to force compliance within 38 racing jurisdictions?

The Water Hay Oats continues its support of HR 1754, a piece of legislation that will go beyond the most recent calls for reform and will to bring about:

    1.  A federal appointment that supercedes the 38 individual state 
         racing commissions. 
    2.  The creation of one agency equipped with the power,  
         experience and expertise to deal with racing's drug and
         medication issues, swiftly and professionally.
    3.  National uniformity in rules, penalties, testing procedures, and
         labs across all U.S. racing jurisdictions.

Harness Racing

Two different approaches and Both maybe wrong

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there is a lopsided imbalance of trainers winning races. That always seems to cause the same mumbling, who’s is using what, but is it really that simple? There is the fact that when you look at the top trainers from 10 years ago and compare where they were to where they are now, it shows that something changed . That comparison may advance the cheating theory more, but it is not a definitive conclusion. One thing most of the Top trainers of today have going for them is stable size. Now I know people had big stables back in the day, but those trainers with big stables back then still never dominated like the ones of today.

But still could the answer be somewhere else? That brings me to another thing people have start to noticing, the numbers of horse being sold down under and being bought here. If you look at how many of them come here and having great success, people have to be questioning why? Now most horsemen know, but people in the grandstand probably don’t.

I would have to believe that most of those people question why after seeing how useful these animals are why did the previous owners sell them. What they don’t realize is that Down Under horses after winning in a class like here get moved up but unlike here once up in class those horses almost never get dropped down. So over here after a few starts of missing checks a horse can drop down a class or even a couple classes the down under horses have more value here then there.

These are two very different approaches, and both have serious flaws. First for the people down under it put them in a position of owning a good horse that has raced himself into a class he can’t earn in. Imagine owning a Good Horse that can’t  earn any money? Many of these horses end up being sold here, so when putting a price on such a horse the owner has to calculate that the buyer has the cost of shipping to absorb also . That eats into the price that those who look to sell their horses can get for them, yet it is also their racing system that cheapens horses. Just by having such a limiting drop down rule a horse’s earning capability is capped, so do they really have any other options?

Now over here we do it much differently, as most condition races are based on earnings for a certain number of starts so drop downs here happen. Yet that poses another difficulty, because the number of starts we usually go out is 5. So in essence all good horses racing here are only 4 bad starts away from dropping into a class where they can win in, which is a problem too. Because our system also has a cheapening affect just because good horses always migrate to classes they really should not be allowed in. And it here where we may also find a factor in the lopsided trainer’s standings, and why the sheer numbers of horses has an advantage. When Good horses drop too easily through classes it creates a class blur. It is a common occurrence that the cheapest class at a track on any given day will go faster than the races that are two classes higher, all because a good horse drops into that class. 

Charles Martino

Because of this cheaper horses really don’t face horses of the same ability, which is unfair to the small trainers. Out of frustration many of those trainers will move their horse into claimers. This has a way of perpetuating as claimers get tougher people drop them in an effort to win and the cycle of cheapen horse flesh is complete.

I raced horses back in the early 80’s in NY, and then they were using an ABC system. There were some advantages to that system; horses never dropped down in class as fast as they do today. That gave the fan a more consistent class performance. But it also allowed the small trainer to make money because his check getting horse was never force out of a class till he won. For the fan it also allowed them to follow up on a horse that raced great the week before because they knew the next week’s competition could only have a horse from one class above in it. It also had a great equalizing effect as horses of trainers that are suspect would eventually race up into classes were the horses they raced against didn’t need a edge to perform at that level. Then because the drop down was slow wins for those trainers would not be so frequent. But even back then condition races were written differeny, they would go out 6-8 starts and usually cap earning on a monthly average to limit the great mismatches we see today.

By looking and comparing these two systems there is on glaring fact, neither of these systems are working to help the industry. Down Under they are force to sell useful horses and then buy new ones. Thus when purchasing those new horses they run the gamble that they may never work out. Here we let too few horses win too often, which usually gives the big guys a distinct advantage. Nice horses now look cheap because they race in mismatched fields and the little guys struggle.


Joe Gorajec

Joe Gorajec served as the Indiana Horse Racing Commissions executive director for 25 years (1990 - 2015). He is currently  a consultant whose clients include Horse Racing Reform, an industry initiative led by The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Commentary: The Performance-Enhancing Effects Of Lasix
by Joe Gorajec

The Kentucky Derby is just a few days away. In a typical year the focus leading up to the race would be on analyzing contenders, making selections (plural, because of all those exotic wagers), and planning your Derby festivities.
There is nothing typical about 2019.

The public outrage regarding the 23 equine fatalities during the current Santa Anita race meet has led The Stronach Group to propose several industry reforms, including a ban on the race day use of furosemide (Lasix). On April 18, 2019, the reform movement extended to nearly every corner of the country with the announcement of a coalition of nearly every major racetrack, including Churchill Downs, to enact a partial ban on the race day use of Lasix.

Racing's hot button issue has now officially come to a boil.
The concern on both sides of this issue is immense. Now, more than ever, is a good time to let a few facts speak for themselves regarding the performance-enhancing effects of Lasix.
In this column I'll revisit the most definitive study undertaken on determining the effects of race day Lasix and provide, for its first public viewing, recent relevant data from the past three years.

The definitive study
The peer-reviewed study was published in the Sept. 1, 1999, issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Its title: Effects of furosemide on performance of Thoroughbreds racing in the United States and Canada.
Th authors analyzed 22,589 race records provided by the Daily Racing Form. These records were of horses that finished a race on a dirt surface in the United States and Canada between June 28 and July 13, 1997, in jurisdictions that allowed the use of furosemide. Of that total, 16,761 (74.2%) had been administered Lasix.

The authors concluded that:
“Horses that received furosemide raced faster, earned more money, and were more likely to win or finish in the top 3 positions than horses that did not. The magnitude of the effect of furosemide on estimated 6-furlong race times varied with sex with the greatest effect in males.”

When comparing horses of the same sex in six-furlong races, the authors determined the difference between racing with Lasix versus without was 3 to 5.5 lengths.

The authors attempted to sort out possible explanations for the superior performance of horses on Lasix. The discussion on weight loss is worth revisiting.

“Another explanation for the performance-enhancing effect of furosemide is the acute reduction in body weight that occurs after furosemide administration. Intravenous administration of furosemide has been shown to induce a 2 to 4% reduction in body weight within 4 hours. Because work is a product of mass, velocity and distance, and given the acknowledged importance of weight carriage when handicapping  Thoroughbred horses, it would be expected that loss of this amount of weight would have a beneficial effect on the athletic ability of furosemide-treated horses. This contention is supported by reports that the furosemide-induced reduction in body weight increases the maximal rate of oxygen consumption, reduces accumulated oxygen deficit and apparent rate of lactate production, and decreases the rate of carbon dioxide production of horses during intense exercise.”

Fast forward 20 years
This past winter I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing data regarding horses that competed without race-day Lasix. Much of that information was published initially in a Paulick Report piece titled, Winning Without Lasix In 2018: McPeek, Rivelli Top All U.S. Trainers.

In reviewing this data, I came across information that very closely tracks the conclusions reached in the 1999 study regarding the performance-enhancing effect of Lasix. The table below reports the placing of all horses competing in the United States without Lasix in each of the past three years.
What caught my attention was the discrepancy within this subset of horses racing without Lasix. In this group, 2,601 horses finished 1st while 4,734 horses finished 6th. If Lasix did not enhance performance, the number of these horses placing 1st and 6th would be roughly equal. That's because almost all races have at least six horses. To illustrate this point, take for example a set of 1,000 races each with six-horse fields. There would be 1,000 winners, 1,000 2nd place finishers and so on, including 1,000 6th place finishers. Isolating horses that did not receive race-day Lasix we see that they significantly under-performed.

In other words, an untreated horse has an equal opportunity to finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th unless, of course, racing without Lasix puts it at a disadvantage.

Using the composite 2016-2018 data, horses racing without Lasix were 82% more likely to place 6th than to win.

Also of note is the increase in use of race-day Lasix in the past 20 years. Lasix was administered to 74.2% of starters in the 1997 study compared to 96.4% in 2018, which is, of course, what you would expect to see with the widespread availability of a performance-enhancing drug.

A key question is why is there such a large difference between the number of horses that finished 6th compared to those that won the race?

The answer is in the 1999 study.
It's 3 to 5.5 lengths.

Results of Paulic Report Poll



A Grooms Journey Part VI
by, Oscar Belliveau

After missing last month’s instalment, I wrote this one. This article relates to my life on Richelieu farm outside of Montreal in the winter of 66-67.

We trained horses on that farm all winter. The weather was brutal at times, because the farm was situated next to a small mountain, and the winds would whip around it and it would blow snow and make it miserable when we had to jog or train the horses. Many days were spent jogging and suffering frozen fingers and feet. Sometimes, even on sunny days, the snow would drift and we’d be stuck on the farm. The farm manager would have to come with the snowblower to clear the roads and to clear the track to allow us to jog. Other times, we’d have big storms and we couldn’t do anything but wait it out. It was fun in a way. Once, we got stuck in the barn for three days, and finally we got so bored that we got dressed and walked to the village, about two miles away. The snow drifts were enormous, it was very cold and it was difficult, but it was also fun. Battling with nature and the elements has always been something that seemed to inspire me. I guess that, it was a way to connect with the inner self. I think that horsemen are attracted to horses and racing because it represents a way of life that connects one with the wild side of life. That part being one that doesn’t exist in a job that is more mundane, or what we would deem as being safe. I think that when a horseman begins breaking and training a horse, one never knows what will happen and almost anything is possible. As any horseman knows, there are the unexpected actions that young horses will do that make one feel alive. It is akin to being in a raging snowstorm, it connects one to the elements in ways most jobs can’t do. Working at that farm was an experience that I wished many more people would experience. Maybe they’d view their lives in a different awareness. Over the course of the fall and winter, we trained the horse and dealt with the elements.

There were many stories about events that occurred that stuck in my mind. There was a big colt who was quite cantankerous and would like to be defiant whenever he left the barn for his daily jogging or training session. I think his name was Tango Richelieu. He had the habit of lifting his big head as we checked him and when he dropped it, he break
the check One day, I made one with nylon rope. Well, that morning, when he did his usual stunt, the check didn’t break and it took him by surprise. It cured him of that habit.

Another time, when Denis was jogging him, he decided that he didn’t want to stay on the track. He kicked up a storm and ran through a fence with Denis and the jog cart following him. A few yards into the field, with the snow up to his belly, let’s just say that he stopped all by himself. We ran out there and found him blowing hard and unable to move. We unhooked him and he walked meekly back to the barn.

Every day was another story to be lived. That winter of 66-67 was a real cold one. There was a cold spell that was just brutal. For the period of a month, it was 30 below or colder, so we didn’t jog anything for almost a week. Finally, Denis and the others decided that we had to resume jogging. To save time, Denis decided to have me tow a horse, while he jogged his father’s horse, General Richelieu, and nice tough old horse that was really nice mannered. There was a three year cold that was really hot blooded and Denis had me tow him while he jogged the old horse. I had on a ski suit, along with plenty of layers underneath as well as the big hood along with a big ski mask. It was brutally cold, and the young three year old was really fired up after being in the barn for a week. Needless to say, I was in trouble from the get go. He started to pull and tug at me and after we had gone once around the track, he was pulling me off the cart. I fell off as I was holding on to him, and I was sliding on the track, which I might add, was pure ice. I slid under the old horses legs as we has jogging along and acting like there was nothing wrong. I figured, the hell with this, and before I could get hurt, I let the fool go. He took off
for the barn, and stopped at the door, and waited for someone to open it. I got up, unhurt because I had on that big suit which protected, and got back on the jog cart and got off
by the gate to go back in. That was a fun day.

One day, we were all out training in a set, and I had this really fat lazy filly named Pearl Richelieu. She was so fat (she must have had some glandular problem) that there was a groove where the harness sat on her back. She couldn’t beat anybody, nor did she seen to want to do so. On that day, I was sitting on the outside and came first over, and down the stretch I woke her up and she won the training mile. as we going down the stretch, Denis’s father, Honorat Larochelle yelled at me, “Where are you going?” Of course I yelled back, “I’m going to f———g Moncton!”. (Moncton being my home town). We got a laugh over that one. We always liked to watch the colts and fillies train down, with the expectations that we would enjoy great success the coming season. It is that universal feeling that all horsemen have in the winter months, and it was the same for us as well.

​Oscar Belliveau

We had days that were difficult but we also found ways to have fun. Some afternoons, we’d have time to play tricks on each other. One man working there was overweigh and when he sat down for a few minutes, he’s fall asleep in the chair at the entrance area of the barn. We’d sit there and shoot the breeze when we were taking a break. I would put some wooden matches in the black oily hoof packing that we had attached to the sole of his boot near the front of the boot. Then I’d light the match and in a few minutes, he’d start to get a hot foot. All of a sudden, he’d get up and start jumping around cursing me as I ran away. One day, he came after me with a terrible rage and started to run after me, all the while, I was laughing and kept taunting him. He was a strong man and he threw a jog cart at me, and just missed my head my mere inches. After that, I gave him a wide birth for a few days. It was the last time I did that to him. Be became friends in time. That day, I learned not to get a big man mad, because if he catches you, it could be painful.

Then there was a man name Jacque. He was a nice young lad who was deadly afraid of mice. We would hang the overalls and snowsuits in a closet in the entranceway. One day, I saw that there were a few mice in the pockets. of his overalls. I gave him the overalls and he put them on, but when the mice started jumping out of the pockets, I thought that he was going to have a heart attack. We got a great laugh over that one. Another incident that happened was one of the funniest one’s. One evening, some of the pother grooms had decided that they were going to the bar for a few drinks. I had decided to stay in the barn and watch TV. Off they went. After having watched a couple of shows, I decided to go downstairs because I wanted to top off the water buckets and check on my laundry. I had done my horse laundry and they were drying downstairs in the barn. Remember that our living quarters were located upstairs. I found all my bandages had been tied up in knots. Now, I’m not one to back down from a challenge. So, I decided to go upstairs and teach them a lesson. Actually, it was one guy that had done this, His name was Andre Guilmet (who a couple of years later became Most Happy Fella’s groom). I went upstairs and tied my sheets and blankets to my bed with bailing twine. Then I took four screweyes and screwed them into the floor, then tied my bed to the floor. Now at about 12 am
or so, they came back, laughing, and carrying on. I said something to him to get him fired up, wanting him to do something to my bed, but he didn’t bite, so instead, he just got into his bed with the intent to go to sleep. I just couldn’t let him do that. When he got in his bed, I took off his blankets, trying to get him angry. But he wouldn’t bite, so he just got back into bed. Then I took his bed (cot) and dumped it over with him in it. Then he got really pissed. He took my blankets and tried to rip them off the bed, but the wouldn’t budge. Then he was really angry, and he said “I’ll show you now,” as he reached for my bed (cot) and pulled with all of his strength. The bed lifted for about an inch or two, then the twine held and it almost pulled his shoulders out go their sockets. That cured him for he never ever screwed with my stuff again. I laughed myself silly when the bed wouldn’t move. He never screwed with me after that. We became great friends for many year after that. I lost touch with over the years.

As you can see, life on the farm was difficult, but it was fun and we had a camaraderie that made life fun during those long cold Canadian winter months. It helped to make life interesting, and it kept us occupied so we wouldn’t get too bored or lose our interest in our work. During that winter, I learned a lot and became a better person in terms of character, and a better horseman. I was and am grateful for that. More to come…..



Valerie Pringle

Valerie Pringle is the equine campaign manager for the Humane Society of the United States and a founding member of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.

Kentucky Derby: Churchill Downs must help fix horse racing before it's too late
By Valerie Pringle (Humane Society)

On Saturday, more than 16 million people will watch the Kentucky Derby. But many will be watching through the lens of recent events that have brought the health of racehorses to the forefront of public consciousness.

The horse racing industry is under fire, and that scrutiny is largely a situation of its own construction. In California, the Los Angeles district attorney has formed a task force to investigate horse deaths at Santa Anita, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called for suspension of racing at Santa Anita until an investigation into the causes of those deaths is completed.

In a recent California poll by Quinnipiac, only 19% of Californians had a favorable opinion of horse racing, which speaks to the mood in the state and why a ballot initiative to ban racing is a real possibility.

The Humane Society of the United States does not oppose horse racing. Our interest is in improving the welfare of all animals, including racehorses. We believe that horse racing is an industry intertwined with our national character. However, for horse racing to survive, the way it deals with equine health and welfare needs to be fixed. The first priority in racing must become the health of the horse. 

Our goal is to work with the horse racing industry to improve the health and welfare of horses, not to demonize or outlaw it. We are also a founding member of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, a group composed of major racing organizations and animal welfare groups.

Members include The Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup Limited, racetracks and Water Hay Oats Alliance. In 2016, we formed the National Horse Racing Advisory Council to serve as a connection between the HSUS and the horse racing industry. The council is a partnership that includes industry experts from The Jockey Club, breeders, former state racing commission officials, and even two Hall of Fame jockeys.

The recent spike of 23 fatalities at Santa Anita Park has focused attention on aspects of horse racing, and it isn’t flattering. The public is seeing a patchwork quilt of competing state regulations, antiquated drug policies, and common practices that are rejected by the rest of the world. All of these factors paint a picture of an industry in which many do not properly value the health and well-being of horses. 

While horse deaths and injuries are typically caused by a series of events — and, like human sports injuries, are often unavoidable tragic accidents — it is nonetheless clear that the misuse of drugs takes center stage in many fatalities and injuries.

In a recent scientific report calling for comprehensive reform, The Jockey Club painted a stark picture of equine health. The report concludes that “improper drug use can directly lead to horse injuries and deaths.

Horses aren’t human, and the only way they can tell us if something is wrong is by observing their reaction when something is wrong. If their reaction is muted, the results can be devastating.” Using drugs that enable horses to continue to race and train because their sensation of pain is reduced is a key cause of injuries and deaths. This can be seen in the much lower rates of injuries and deaths internationally, where medication standards are far stricter.

​Valerie Pringle

Horse racing is a national industry, and it demands consistent standards rather than the current patchwork quilt of racing regulations. There are 38 pari-mutuel racing jurisdictions in the U.S., and each jurisdiction has its own rules, ensuring that there is little uniformity on drug use and other equine health issues.

Recently the Louisville Courier Journal published a story headlined, “Churchill Downs is one of the deadliest racetracks in America.” Churchill quickly released a set of reforms that are laudatory, but with closer scrutiny, the changes don’t go nearly far enough.
They call for the creation of a new, voluntary group that will share best practices and “advocate with state regulators for fair, robust and uniform regulation.” The group intends to advocate with 38 separate regulatory bodies that for decades have been unable to achieve anything approaching national drug use and equine health standards. It just won’t work.

If Churchill is serious about developing true national standards in line with international practices, why isn’t it supporting the only meaningful call for reform that we support as well, the Horseracing Integrity Act?

This bill will establish a set of national standards and create the teeth necessary to enforce them through an independent regulatory body run by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. USADA polices our Olympic athletes and is the gold standard for making and keeping sports clean.

Churchill Downs needs to support the Horseracing Integrity Act and join the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity to advocate for the adoption of national, uniform standards. By doing so, Churchill would assume the leadership role in pushing reform that one would expect from the steward of the industry’s crown jewel, the Kentucky Derby.

Everyone who makes a living from this industry has an obligation to protect and enhance the welfare of horses who are at the heart and soul of this business. There is a road map to meaningful reform, and it is embodied in the Horseracing Integrity Act.


Horse Racing

Kelsey Riley

Kelsey Riley is the International Editor of the Thoroughbred Daily News, one of the industry’s leading publications. An online newsletter that is sent out to more than 14,000 subscribers daily, the TDN has readers in 180 countries. Kelsey completed a work placement with the TDN during Darley Flying Start, and was offered a position as Assistant Editor at the company’s USA office upon graduating. In this role, she assisted in gathering and packaging editorial content for the daily paper, including race previews and analysis, interviewing key industry figures and identifying relevant news and feature stories. After 10 months, Kelsey was promoted to International Editor, and she now oversees all content from outside North America. Her role includes the added responsibilities of overseeing staff and freelancers and planning coverage for important events. Since commencing this role, Kelsey has traveled to sales in UK, France and Australia to report for the TDN.

Following South America’s Lead On Lasix
By Kelsey Riley (TDN Europe)

There are few topics in racing debated so intensely and passionately as that of raceday medication in the U.S., and in particular Lasix. Those who are for it stress that it is the only humane and effective treatment for horses who suffer from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. Those against it believe that America must come into line with international standards and appease the expectations of a society where public perception is becoming rapidly more relevant.

What side one is on is no longer relevant; the Stronach Group–with its sweeping reforms with the abolition of raceday medication at its California tracks at the forefront-has ensured that change is afoot.

There are fears from some camps that the removal of Lasix from American horses would result in higher incidences of serious bleeding attacks, and thus depleted fields, plummeting handle and the demise of the sport. It is worth looking as a point of reference, however, at South America which, within the last six years, has phased out Lasix in black-type races-and in some cases even beyond–in its Part I countries.

And the general consensus? It’s been business as usual.
Beginning in 2013, South American countries with Part I racing were required to begin phasing out Lasix in black-type races; ie., those races with international implications. Those countries were Argentina (the continent’s largest producer of Thoroughbreds with a foal crop of around 7,000 annually), Chile, Peru and Uruguay. Raceday medication was already outlawed in Brazil in all black-type races and in horses younger than 3 1/2 years. The requirement was enforced by OSAF, an umbrella organization that represents South America on the world’s stage and that has governing organizations from each country as members. Each country handled the phase-out a bit differently; Argentina, for instance, began with Group 1s and Group 2s. By 2015 the ban was expanded to all black-type races. Finally, it was removed from all 2- and 3-year-old races. Raceday medications (Lasix and bute) remain allowed for 4-year-olds and older in non black-type races in Argentina.

John Fulton, an American-born horseman and former trainer who has conducted international business from his base in Argentina for 35 years, said that South America’s medication-free races actually tend to draw larger fields than those where medication is still permitted.

“What I’ve seen down here is that the field sizes haven’t decreased. Here in Argentina, 2- and 3-year-olds can’t run on medication and in no black-type races can you run on medication, yet we have full fields.

“I owned a Scat Daddy horse [in Chile] with a group of friends that was a Grade I winner, but at age eight had lost a step or two,” Fulton continued. “We had to decide whether to go for a Grade I or a non-black type stake, where you could use medication. There were four horses entered in the non-black type race, but in the Grade I, where there was no medication allowed, there were 16 or 18 horses. So the decision was made to run him in the race where medication was allowed-he didn’t use any medication, we didn’t have any issue with it.
“People have learned to deal with it and they’ve accepted it. If you look at the stakes races they’re generally full fields. For the most part people have dealt with it and there’s almost no issue. To say that the U.S. is unique in the fact that they can’t run without medication, that’s something that’s hard to swallow for me.”

Trainers Taking It In Stride
San Isidro’s training center-located adjacent to the racecourse of the same name that is home to the G1 Carlos Pellegrini, South America’s most important race-is home to some 2,000 equines and is surely one of Argentina’s busiest training facilities. Champion trainer Enrique Martin Ferro holds court at San Isidro, as does his son Nicolas, an ambitious and worldly 32-year-old who counts among his patrons Haras Abolengo, one the country’s leading stud farms and the breeder of Candy Ride (Arg). Roberto ‘Coco’ Bullrich has recently been brought on as a trainer for Don Alberto, a dominant force across the continent with some 400 horses in training.

Nicolas Martin Ferro, perhaps with youth on his side, seems to have taken the medication phase-out in his stride. Asked what his feelings were six years ago when told the practice would stop, he shrugged his shoulders and said nonchalantly, “It was a little bit tough at first. As always we don’t like change, but I think we got used to it and I think it’s alright.

“I think we had to do it because otherwise we’d lose some faith [internationally]; I think the whole world is going that way. The Americans were the ones that stayed a bit out of it but all the other industries were going that way-no raceday medication.”

Martin Ferro said neither field sizes nor his stable numbers-which sit around 80–were affected by the ban, and that instances of horses being completely unable to race because of bleeding were “very rare-it wouldn’t happen once in a year.”
In fact, Martin Ferro said he “doesn’t like” Lasix and in the old days would not administer it simply as a rule.

“I don’t think it’s an advantage,” he said. “If I had a horse that didn’t bleed, I wouldn’t use it. I don’t like it. I wouldn’t give Lasix just in case.”

Bullrich–who is also a veterinarian–said that while he agrees now with keeping the black-type races free of raceday medication, he would like to see it permitted in all lower-level races. He said those horses have a much larger market share in South America than they do in Europe, and helping those horses and owners win races, and thus encouraging them to reinvest, would be to the benefit of the industry. As it stands now in Argentina, horses of non-stakes class cannot use Lasix until they turn four.

“The big mistake is to compare our racing to European racing,” he explained. “You talk about the genetic selection of French horses and British horses, and it’s very different from here. It’s a very select group in Europe with only strong mares and stallions. Here it’s very different. There is a very big group of owners and trainers who operate because they just want to win a little race worth maybe $2,000. I feel very strongly that you should help those people because they work for us to maintain that sector of the industry.”

Alternative Measures
As all three trainers concurred, no Lasix doesn’t mean no bleeding-it just means coming up with alternative methods of managing it, and they said injecting dextrose (a simple sugar) into the bloodstream is a widely used practice in Argentina. Horses will be given a serum that is 50% glucose and causes their blood sugar levels to spike, which causes the horse to urinate and shed water weight.

Dr. Jim Prendergast, a racetrack veterinarian in New York and Florida for more than 40 years, said dextrose was used in the U.S. in the pre-Lasix days, but that it “doesn’t work very well.”
“It’s 50% glucose and it acts like a mild diuretic,” he said. “They don’t want anybody treating the horses the day of the race, and dextrose is a short-term thing, so it wouldn’t be applicable as far as helping to keep a horse from bleeding. Dextrose is a step back in time.”

Dr. Pamela Wilkins of the University of Illinois’s College of Veterinary Medicine, however, said dextrose can actually be more harmful than Lasix.

“I’m sure it’s effective, but it’s worse for them than Lasix is,” she said. “Fifty-percent dextrose is hyperosmolar, so it pulls water from the cells into the bloodstream, and then the dextrose is filtered by the kidney and pulls water with it. However, 50% dextrose is very irritating to the blood vessels and it will throw their insulin and glucagon regulation way off. It’s worse for them than Lasix; it damages their blood vessels. I think using 50% dextrose is going to be more harmful than using Lasix ever was.

“It’s a repetitive stress injury,” Wilkins added of bleeding. “All horses at maximal exertion, no matter how fit or unfit they, are likely to bleed, whether it’s a little bleed or a big bleed, it’s going to happen. I think one option to try is low-dose Lasix. You don’t need to use 10ccs–once those receptors are loaded, they’re loaded. Tons of things have been tried in basic science studies and clinical studies, and the only thing that works is Lasix.”

Dr. Rob Holland is a Kentucky-based veterinarian specializing in respiratory and infectious disease. Holland stressed the fact that an onset of EIPH is multi-factoral, and thus the ways to help minimize it are the same.

“It can be a puzzle, just like lameness,” he said. “You have to figure them out. And when you do figure it out and get it right, it’s fun to watch a horse when they can breathe really well. And you don’t need a lot of drugs to do that; it’s about cleaning up their environment and stuff.”

Holland suggested that pre-existing conditions like dynamic throat issues, a cold or pneumonia, or even body soreness that causes the horse to lock up could contribute to instances of EIPH. He said that good biosecurity measures like reducing exposure to dust and proximity to muck pits in troubled horses can help, and he advocates for productive discussion surrounding the heated topic of Lasix.

“I know many owners, vets and breeders who want to talk about whether Lasix is needed or not needed, and I think getting everybody in a room would probably be helpful,” he said. “I think that good, clean dialogue and maybe bringing people from Argentina would be good for the industry. Right now, there are people that are pro-Lasix or not pro-Lasix. I’m more pro-therapeutic in trying to figure out why they’re doing it, and then putting medications and other things together that will help them, like wetting their hay, or nebulizing with saline to keep their airways clean. I’d like to have some Argentinean vets come up and talk to us about it.

I think everyone goes into their corners. The veterinarians, we want to make sure therapeutic medications can be used to help the horse, but at the same time if owners and the betting public have issues, we need to talk about that. We need to be realists and sit down and discuss if there are other ways we can handle it, whether it’s nebulizing, trying to reduce inflammation, or cleaning up the environment where the horses are and trying to reduce the allergen load.

“I think the step going from 10 to 5ccs [of Lasix permitted at Santa Anita] is a good one,” Holland added. “I think we need a lot more data, but I can tell you there are many jurisdictions in the world that don’t run on Lasix. Their training is different; they run them for a mile kind of coasting and the last quarter-mile they’re really running hard. That seems to work.”

Kelsey Riley

Dr. Steve Jackson, an equine nutrition consultant based in Kentucky and with clients all over the world, said he had never heard of dextrose. He said research has been done on vitamins and supplements that could help reduce EIPH by strengthening capillary walls, but that he doesn’t think there is going to be a ‘magic’ product from a nutritional standpoint.

“There’s some interest now in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, particularly the ones that are derived from deep water fish, DHA and EPA that are long chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids. There are a couple studies from Kansas State where they thought they saw a decrease in EIPH with DHA and EPA and even from flax oil, linseed oil, which is a fairly high vegetable source in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Nitrous oxide they looked at, and it was actually detrimental; it caused an increase in EIPH. I really don’t know that anybody has found anything, from a nutritional standpoint, that actually significantly reduces bleeding.”

Jackson described Lasix as “a big crutch for trainers.” With that crutch being removed, he said, trainers are likely to be more conscious of how and when they feed their horses, and what is in their environment.

“I don’t think anybody would suggest that a horse that is inclined to bleed isn’t helped by Lasix,”  Jackson said. “The problem is, people aren’t going to allow it anymore. I don’t think in this day and time, the public is going to stand for the thought of us giving drugs to a horse to run. Lasix is the baby that’s going to get thrown out with the bath water, and people need to accept it, because it’s going to happen. Look at greyhound racing. Who would have thought in Florida there were enough [animal rights activists] to get greyhound racing banned?

“We’re probably going to go back to where people had a strategy for reducing gut fill and body weight prior to the race, and that’s going to involve half feeds in the morning, removal of water, and less hay because that’s going to stimulate thirst. I used to run 10ks. I was never as good an athlete as I thought I was, but I know I didn’t try to go eat three waffles with maple syrup before I went out and ran a 10k. I think we’re going to rely more on gut management, nutrition management pre-race, time of feeding pre-race, because the crutch is going to be taken away.”  Jackson said that in Japan–where he does work for Koji Maeda, the breeder of Lani (Tapit), among others–maintaining a well-ventilated environment is paramount.

“It’s cold there in the winter time, but they never close the doors,” he said. “It’s about fresh air, ventilation and reducing inflammation. And maybe that’s why they don’t typically have as many bleeders. It’s interesting, in our shedrow society here, some of the stalls are poorly ventilated. How do you keep them dust-free? Japan has fewer lung problems, less pneumonia, less inflammatory airway disease, and the environment there is harsh in the winter. In the summertime they have fans and run misters to reduce dust. The approach there is to reduce particulate matter that may cause inflammation of the airways. When you don’t have the crutch, when you don’t have Lasix, then you find different modalities that give you some relief.”

Fulton: America Must Assimilate
In nearly 50 years in the Thoroughbred business–early on as an assistant to Horatio Luro, the trainer of Northern Dancer, and more recently as an agent based in Argentina with an international reach–John Fulton has seen plenty. He said he is adamant that his home country needs to come into line with international standards, and also, considering what was done in his adoptive country, that it is very possible.

“Raceday medication should be eliminated, in my mind,”
Fulton said. “I think it would be better for the horses and it’d make better horsemen out of us and honestly create a better ambiance for the fans and bettors."

“The trainers will learn to adjust,” he added. “Almost all the trainers training today have had the use of raceday medication. I’m old enough where I can remember where we didn’t have it, and of course down here [in South America] we’ve seen it for a good number of years where in the big races there is no medication allowed, and even to the point where they send the tests to France and Australia and other parts of the world, just to make sure the horses are running clean.”

Fulton said he thinks the American style of training could make horses more prone to bleeding. Whereas Americans tend to have easier routine training and harder works, European and South American horses generally do the opposite: a bit more in their day-to-day training, but less intense works.

“I don’t profess to have been a great trainer and I’m not a vet, but in 49 years in this I’m an observer, and these are things that I’ve seen that I think can affect it,” he said. “The horses in South America and Europe tend to run a bit lighter; they’re fit to the ultimate, where I think we see horses in the States that are carrying more weight than what we would see in other parts of the world where there is no medication used, and I think that can be a contributing factor. We do a lot of good, strong, open gallops in South America, whereas the American horses tend to do less during the week and faster works. The horses that do a stronger gallop and slower works tend to be more relaxed. They learn to get into a comfortable pace and they’re not as high strung when they go to the races.

“You can make adjustments in training, and in the States there are a lot of really good horsemen. They’ll learn to deal with it.”
Fulton also pointed out that U.S.-breds race with a high level of success in all parts of the world with no raceday medication.

“American horses go from sales in the U.S. to Europe and they race fine,” he said. “It’s not that we’ve created a breed in 30 years that’s fragile-I don’t believe that, I believe it has more to do with training and feeding and eliminating bad bleeders from the gene pool.

“Luro, when I was with him, when we had a horse that had a tendency to bleed we tried changing the feed, and one of the things we did was change the bulk food, alfalfa and that stuff, to beet pulp. We fed a lot of that in place of hay and it decreased their tendency to bleed. If we couldn’t control it then they were turned out, and if they came back and still had problems then more than likely they weren’t going to enter the gene pool. I do believe it is inherited to some degree.”

American-bred and raced stallions have historically done well in South America-with Scat Daddy and Roman Ruler just two examples-and while interest in American sires is still strong, European stallions are showing up with greater frequency in Argentina. The reason for that, Fulton said, is a desire to reintroduce stamina and durability to the breed. And a lack of raceday medication is a significant factor in the Europeans’ favour.

“I think we got to the point where we realized we were losing a lot of our strengths down here, which is durability and stamina, by bringing in a lot of pure speed horses,” he said. “People wanted to bring more stamina back into the gene pool and to do that you lean more to Europe. And the fact they run clean is a factor beyond a doubt. It’s just one more ingredient that goes into the decision-making on who you’re going to bring in.

“Sheikh Mohammed has asked me to buy mares for him down here because we have a reputation for soundness and durability, and I’ve had other owners do the same. The Japanese have been hugely successful buying mares here and producing top horses, and it’s because of this reputation for soundness, durability and stamina. So we’re in a situation where we have to swing a bit back towards that, and when you do that you go to Europe.”
But the U.S. has much more at stake than losing favour with shuttle stallions.

“The other side of the situation that’s even more grave is that we could have racing shut down,” Fulton said. “People don’t believe that, they don’t want to believe it, but it can happen.

“The industry is a crossroads now where we have a chance to say ‘look, do this or we’re gone.’ I was talking to a friend the other day and he said, ‘this is going to give us more opportunity to sell horses into the U.S. because our good horses run clean, so we can sell our horses to California trainers.’ I said, ‘that is if there are races in California.’ It could end up that way and people don’t want to admit that, but I can see from a distance that it could be snubbed out. That’s a real threat. We need to take some action, make some changes and take charge of this situation that [before raceday medication] we always dealt with fine.

“What happened in California, I don’t blame it on Lasix or probably any other type of medication,” Fulton continued. “I think part of it was coincidence and part of it was the rain and the track change and maybe there were some holes in the track, that kind of stuff. I don’t think medication is likely the cause of the breakdowns, but right now is the point where we need to make a dramatic change or we’re going to go downhill fast.”

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Bleeding Bucks?: Hong Kong EIPH Study Results Released
by Dr. Stephanie A. Preston

Horses based in Hong Kong that experience exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhaging (EIPH) raced just as long as their non-bleeding contemporaries without the addition of furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, according to a study published Friday by researchers from the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center. These findings resulted from one of the first reports using epidemiologic analysis of longitudinal data regarding the Thoroughbred racehorse. 

    Dr. Stephanie A. Preston, MS, PhD, of the Equine Soundness and Sports Medicine Program of the Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky and one of the paper’s co-authors said, “The first thing that is very important is the epidemiologic analysis of longitudinal data. The longitudinal component means that we are analyzing data throughout the career of the horse. We don’t have access to that kind of information in the United States which is why I went to Hong Kong.” 

    She said, “What I think is most important over all about this finding is that the health status of a Thoroughbred racehorse is not a static moment in time. It can’t be measured as such. You can’t simply scope a horse one time and grade its severity and be certain and have any confidence whatsoever after reading my paper, that the result is actually a good reflection of the horse’s disease status over time. It’s a very good example of why we need to look at research more closely.” 

   A member of the industry for 25 years prior to obtaining her PhD, Preston noted that her experiences as a jockey and as a manager of her family’s racing stable were vital in her approach to this research. 

    “I have always been a diehard medication person,” Preston continued. “Every single horse that we ran, they raced on Lasix. Why I went back to get a PhD in the first place is that I am very passionate about issues that are related to welfare and racing. Obviously that’s become a very important topic for all of us these past few years.” Preston added, “It’s important to have data and scientific evidence to form our opinion and certainly to form our policies.” 

    Preston’s approach was specifically centered on using racehorses that were actually still racing, so the results could be as applicable to the Lasix question as possible. 

    “It is very important to the industry because it’s based on real-life horses,” Preston remarked. “What prompted me to do this study is I’m actually very interested in lameness and the number of injuries that we see in Thoroughbreds and what’s causing that. Why constantly every year, are we seeing fewer and fewer starts for the American horses when the rest of the world is not having that problem?” 

    Armed with the Hong Kong Jockey Club data from her original lameness study, Preston turned her attention to one of the major differences between U.S. racing and the majority of the rest of the world–Lasix use. Preston set out to discover what happens when you don’t run on Lasix. 

    An overarching theme with the Hong Kong Jockey Club is the idea of total transparency, so that the bettor may participate with maximum confidence. Hong Kong does not breed their own horses, so all data collected was from active racehorses in training. For the purposes of increasing uniformity, all of the data was collected from 822 imported New Zealand-bred geldings of the 836 total horses imported from that country between 2007-2012. 

    “For a lot of different reasons, the Hong Kong Jockey Club controls everything,” Preston said. “They have totally revamped the racing model and gotten into the mode of complete transparency. Every record that can influence a bettor’s decision to bet on Horse A versus Horse B is known to them, including their veterinary records. I think the model works because people feel very confident in their betting strategies because they have complete information.” 

    Preston’s study divided the horses into four groups: those that bled (EIPH+), those that did not bleed (EIPH-), those that experienced bleeding from the nostrils (epistaxis) and those that were not examined through endoscopy. EIPH+ horses were divided further according to the severity of their bleeding (1-4, with 4 being highest barring epistaxis) and highest severity grade (in incidents of multiple levels of EIPH+ observed) to see if there was any correlation between severity grades and causes of retirement. 

Dr. Stephanie A. Preston

A majority–732/822 horses–had at least one endoscopic exam during the study duration, with 99% of those individuals examined experiencing multiple examinations. EIPH+ was diagnosed most often after racing 256/405 (63%); then after breezing 220/405 (54%); after a barrier trial 180/405 (44%); and 48/405 (11%) after an official veterinary examination.

Usually, EIPH+ horses experience multiple levels of severity of EIPH+ during their careers, but lower levels of EIPH were more common in the population, than the higher levels. Also, if a horse experienced a high level of EIPH, they usually experienced a lower level of EIPH during their careers: grade three (74%), grade four (76%), and epistaxis (85%). 

    “It doesn’t appear to affect their performance, but I haven’t been able to model that over time and say only horses that reach a severity of grade three actually go on to a higher grade,” said Preston. 

    Horses that were EIPH+ made a higher number of lifetime starts, but not significantly different than EIPH- horses (p=0.17). Number of starts was associated with EIPH, not age. The study also found that horses that were EIPH+ were retired after a longer period of time from importation than the horses in the other groups. Ninety percent of horses that experienced epistaxis 27/30 were voluntarily retired, whereas EIPH+ horses with a maximum grade of less than three were retired for other reasons than EIPH (85%). Horses that experienced a minimum grade of three or higher EIPH were retired for EIPH-related reasons (52%). 

    “There doesn’t appear to be a reliable pattern of progression,” added Preston. “The horses that bleed a one or a two severity seem to keep doing fine. They might bleed a two then a three, then back to a one.” 

Considering that the U.S. spends well over $100 million a year administering Lasix, determining if the drug helps decrease the bleeding severity with reliable data is an important next step. 

    “What my paper does not answer is if Lasix can decrease the severity,” added Preston. “I think the next question is: does it in fact reduce the severity of bleeding and if it does, that is a whole different discussion. If Lasix doesn’t, and its only effect is weight loss and that increases the performance, than I don’t think there is any debate about whether we should do away with the race-day use of Lasix.” 

    “There is data to suggest that the better horses for whatever reason, perhaps exertion, tend to bleed a little bit more, but it doesn’t affect their overall health status or number of races run,” she said. “I would be a very, very strong proponent of the methodology behind the scientific work that says horses in Hong Kong race absolutely perfectly fine without the pre-race administration of furosemide. In fact, they have longer careers than in the United States.” 

    Asked if she felt the Hong Kong horses’ results reflect what we would find in the U.S. population in terms of bleeding frequency and severity, Preston pointed out the scarcity of data. 

    “When your sample is representative of the population, you can then draw inferences in the paper from the population,” Preston commented. “I don’t have that data to make that comparison, but I don’t think there is any biological reason that New Zealand-bred horses that would be racing in Hong Kong would be any different than any other Thoroughbred population in the world.” 

    Preston originally integrated performance parameters, winning percentages, earnings and other factors into the study, but found that it became too complicated for a single paper. She is already hard at work on the next step concerning the Lasix issue. 

    “It did make sense to me, the more involved I got, to separate them,” she added. “The first question is what happens when we race without Lasix. The second question is, what happens amongst horses with different pedigrees, which is a proxy in the next study for country of origin. Thirdly, let’s talk about what happens to performance. I really would hope that this discussion engages people in the idea that we need to do more research and rely less on subjective opinions.”

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