SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (WRGB) - A number of racetracks, including Saratoga, will no longer medicate horses with Lasix starting in 2020.
"In the racing world it is used as a diuretic to prevent something called pulmonary hemorrhaging," said Dr. Holly Cheever.
Cheever says that happens when horses are working too hard in a short time period.
"The horses are overexerting themselves and they will begin to rupture their capillaries in their respiratory tree and they will actually begin to bleed through their nose," Cheever said.
Cheever, a vet and avid horse rider, says Lasix minimizes that bleeding, and essentially allows horses to over exert themselves without visible consequence.
"The Lasix that you have your great grandparent on so that they can breathe and not have heart failure, that's a great use for Lasix," Dr. Cheever said. "But in order to try to mask the damage that's happening to an animal that's being asked to over exert itself day after day, that's not such a good use of the drug."
NYRA has joined other racing organizations in beginning the ban of the drug. Starting next season, 2-year-old horses won't be allowed to be given Lasix within 24 hours of racing, and by 2021, that rule extends to all horses running in any stakes.
We reached out to NYRA and were told, "These extensive reforms and commitment to improving the safety of NYRA's racing operations have led to demonstrably safer races. "
A spokesman also said, "The health of our equine athletes is our highest priority and we believe this decision takes that commitment one step further."
"We consider the drugging to be a part of the problem, but just one of several wrongs," Founder of Horseracing Wrongs Patrick Battuello says.
He says the pressure is on the industry right now.
"This is nothing more than a distraction, a rouse, and there is not a whole lot that they can do significantly change the killing is going on at American racetracks," Battuello said.
We asked NYRA why the phase out is starting next season, not this, and we were told the timing is designed to give each jurisdiction and its participants the opportunity to prepare for the policy change.
Here's our full list of questions to them and responses we got:
Why did NYRA become part of this coalition?
NYRA: This is a progressive and unified approach to the subject of race day medication, achieving consistency with international standards for young horses and those that form the foundations of the thoroughbred breeding stock.
Why does the phase-out work this way? What prompted the timeline and the way it works?
NYRA: The timing of this initiative is designed to give each jurisdiction and its participants the opportunity to prepare for the change in policy. There are different requirements for implementation in various states and this timing allows for those requirements to be met in those jurisdictions.
What does this change mean for NYRA and for the racetracks representing nearly 90% of the country’s races? Does a more uniform policy make things easier?
NYRA: It is important that the standards for top tier racing in this country are consistent with the rest of the world.
Does the phase out and eventual ban of this drug raise concerns about the health of a horse in terms of why Lasix is being administered in the first place? Will another, different drug or treatment be implemented?
NYRA: This policy means that no medication can be used within 24-hours of racing beginning next year for two-year-old races and in 2021 for stakes races. This in itself does not change our industry’s commitment to enhanced testing and other measures to prevent improper use of medications
Will there be any tangible preparations made for this in the 2019 season, leading up to the 2020 season?
NYRA: NYRA will work diligently with our regulators, horsemen and relevant stakeholders towards implementing this commonsense approach to phasing out race day Lasix.
Overall, how does NYRA believe this will affect the health of its horses?
NYRA: This is an important step that recognizes the long-established therapeutic use of Lasix while ensuring our most important races are run consistent with the accepted international standards. The health of our equine athletes is our highest priority and we believe this decision takes that commitment one step further.