Lance Armstrong effect? Horse Racing looks to end use of Lasix

November 19, 2012

Arcadia, Calif. -- Call it the Lance Armstrong effect, as the Breeders' Cup, one of horse racing’s most prestigious events, began enforcing its first ban on a controversial substance known as Lasix.

In recent years, the world of sports has seen a number of high-profile, performance-enhancing drug controversies, including those of cyclist Lance Armstrong and San Francisco Giants' star Barry Bonds. Additional controversies in boxing and American football have led to calls for more stringent testing and for greater efforts to clean up their respective sports.

Now it appears it maybe horse racing’s turn.

Lasix is the brand name for the substance known as furosemide, a diuretic with powerful anti-bleeding properties. Lasix is used as a preventative treatment to stop racehorses from bleeding in their lungs following races. The use of Lasix can prevent bleeding, but the resulting water loss that horses experience gives such horses a competitive advantage.

This year’s Breeders' Cup saw the substance banned in all races for two-year-old horses. Next year, the use of Lasix will be prohibited for the first time in all Breeders' Cup events. The United States is the only country with a large horse racing industry that allows the use of the substance.

One trainer incensed by the rule changes was 51-year-old Canadian trainer Mark Casse, whose Casse Spring bled badly after competing in the Juvenile Fillies race.

“Before I was disappointed with the Breeders’ Cup,” Casse told the media. “Now I’m just downright mad. I am furious.”

Other trainers, most notably New York based-Mike Repole, boycotted the event entirely. Two other juvenile horses showed at least traces of bleeding following the completion of their races.

The use of the drug in horses first rose to prominence in the 1970s when trainers in Maryland began using it.

As demand from bettors grew, Lasix slowly spread across the country, with New York being one of the last hold outs. Well into the 1980's, it wasn’t listed in the Daily Racing Forum, the main publication of thoroughbred racing. In 1990, the substance was approved for use in the Breeders' Cup. Today, an estimated 95% of American thoroughbred racehorses use the substance.

Steve Davoidwitz, the owner of the website GradeOneRacing, has been following the sport since the 1970's, and while attending the Breeders' Cup, offered his own summation of the Lasix controversy: “California has one of the stronger testing regimes [in the U.S.], but I don’t like sudden imposition of any policy. There should be a trial period of, say two years, where a ban on Lasix would be imposed nationally. This would create enough of a data set to let us know if we were doing the right thing.”

The World Doping Authority has banned Lasix for human athletes because it can mask the presence of other drugs. During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the Morrocan 1,500-meter runner Amine Laalou was prevented from competing due to traces of the drug in his system.

By Joseph Hammond
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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