On the Paulick Report there is currently a lively discussion from advocates and opponents of the use of furosemide on raceday. Ray Paulick is in the latter camp and his editorial on the subject provoked numerous comments.
The furosemide-on-raceday topic is mostly argued on the basis of what various empirical veterinary studies find concerning the advantages and disadvantages of using furosemide to mitigate exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhaging in racehorses. This line of reasoning is useful but misses the main point. Here is why.
The most important entity in any business is the customer. Without the pari-mutuel bettor, horse racing would not be a business at all, but rather a cottage industry hobby, wherein wealthy owners occasionally ran their horses against one another, similar to show-horse competiton. Absent the betting customer, racetracks, farms, and every other business that absolutely depend on pari-mutuel wagering would atrophy or cease to exist.
The perception that racehorses run on drugs (the general public generally does not differentiate between therapeutic drugs and others) is highly damaging to horse racing. If people tend to believe that furosemide is nefarious and does damage to innocent animals, then perception is reality. This fact trumps all of the veterinary studies that can be produced.
The 2012 New York Times expose, despite serious flaws in methodology, gave the impression that horse racing is a shadowy enterprise in which drugged horses are subject to injury and death. Many readers came away with this indelible thought. And horse racing has been attacked on the raceday drug issue by other media sources, as well as animal rights groups.
Racing needs to focus on conveying the best possible image of the sport to the public, especially to potential pari-mutuel customers, instead of arguing over whose furosemide study is more valid or concerning itself with whether this owner or that trainer is threatening to get out of the business. And the best possible image is that all racehorses run 100% drug free.
Whereas many current pari-mutuel customers may not care one way or another if horses are administered furosemide on raceday, or actually prefer that they are given furosemide, if horse racing is to attract a new generation of customers, it had better present a drug-free image.
One might counter the “customer is king” assertion by saying that the welfare of the horse should take precedent. This is certainly right, which is a primary reason that in Europe and Dubai racehorses run in races sans furosemide.
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