The Association of Official Racing Chemists and the International Group of Specialist Racing Veterinarians, two organizations that address scientific issues in the world-wide racing industry, held their biennial conference in Philadelphia during the week of September 17, 2012. The theme for the weeklong conference was “Marching Integrity of Racing into the Future.”
Professor Lawrence R. Soma of the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center welcomed more than 200 delegates to the conference. Virginia HBPA Executive Director Frank Petramalo, Jr. was one of many speakers invited to address the delegates. He discussed therapeutic medication, veterinarians, and the North American regulatory environment from an owner’s perspective.

Petramalo started by noting the disconnect between fact and belief regarding the integrity in racing. He said over the past year media reports created the impression that illegal drug use was rampant in American thoroughbred horse racing and that trainers regularly cheated with them. The facts, however, were quite the opposite.

According to Petramalo, data compiled by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the trade group for state racing commissions, showed that during the past three years 99.3% of nearly 300,000 post race drug tests in the United States were negative for any medication. He suggested that all professional sports should envy that record.

The few drug positives found mostly were for overages of lawful therapeutic anti-inflammatory medication like phenylbutazone (“bute”) and flunixin (banamine) that had little or no likelihood of enhancing performance on race day. Only a handful of positives (82) were for drugs that had no business being given a horse other than to affect performance.

Likewise the facts showed yearly averages of 5800 trainers were licensed by state racing commissions. Yet on average only 12 trainers were responsible for illegal performance enhancing drugs.

Petramalo said the dichotomy between fact and belief carried over to the present debate about banning the use of furosemide (“Lasix”), the widely used anti-bleeding medication. He noted that scientific studies show that all horses suffer from bleeding in the lungs (Exercised Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhaging-“EIPH”) at some point in their racing careers; that Lasix prevents and lessens EIPH; that EIPH makes horses run slower than would normally be true; and that Lasix is not a stimulant that makes horses run faster than their natural ability dictates.

On the other hand Petramalo said science does not support the beliefs of those who think Lasix should be banned, despite its 40 year safe and effective use in the United States. Opponents claim Lasix weakens bones and causes breakdowns; that it alkalizes like an illegal “milkshake” (baking soda, sugar, and water) to enhance performance; and, that it masks the presence of other drugs in a horse’s body. However, according to Petramalo those arguments are contradicted by published science.

Petramalo concluded by suggesting that public perception concerns about racing medication, if any, should be dealt with by educating the public with the facts and not by banning Lasix, a medication essential to the health and welfare of race horses.