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.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business


  1. You cut to the chase in your post and frame the debate better than all the talk and vet studies. Very persuasive case against Lasix.

  2. I’ve yet to see empirical evidence that shows use of Lasix chases away or deters bettors. If anything, evidence is the other way, as 2012 Breeders Cup handle on Lasix-free two-year-old races was down.

    Agree that bettors want a level playing field and to have cheaters punished. But that’s entirely different from wanting to end Lasix use. Prove to me that Lasix costs us customers and then I’ll take this argument seriously. Until then, it’s just moralism masquerading as fact.

  3. Perfect point regarding the customer and the underlying business model for horse racing. Current and future customers/consumers are the key.

  4. I agree. 100% drug free. No more drugs in horse racing !

  5. Steve Zorn,

    Lower handle on the Breeders’ Cup had nothing to do with Lasix. Handle was down because of the effect of Hurricane Sandy on betting in New York City and New Jersey. Do you really think that drugs in horse racing has nothing to do with recruiting new bettors? Please. The NY Times series surely hurt the sport and a lot.

  6. Sal Carcia says

    Does anyone really think that the management of horseracing spends much time thinking about it customers (bettors)? I have seen it over and over again where decisions are made in our game without much thought about the customer. Watch the managers talk on TV, they rarely mention the word customer. I am not sure they know who the real customer is in the end. I have a little secret for all of racing management in this game, do something nice to the bettors and

  7. Sal Carcia says

    … and half of the complaints about this game will go away.

  8. Ratherrapid says

    I disagree fairly strongly with the implications of this post. There are two sides to horse racing–the betting/business side, and the horse side. If indeed the general public perceives that horses are drug abused–I seriously doubt that is true–then what would a significant number of horses crossed the finish line bleeding from the nose? The solution to the lasix problem, instead of kow towing to the idiots and the know nothings, is education. The science is already in. Mr. Shanklin seems to fail to understand that there’s a Q of what’s best for the horse. Somehow I believe the betting public would be on board with this concept.

  9. Bill Shanklin says

    Ratherrapid states:

    “If indeed the general public perceives that horses are drug abused–I seriously doubt that is true–then what would a significant number of horses crossed the finish line bleeding from the nose.”

    First, I suggest you read the comments from the public that follow the New York Times articles on breakdowns and the use of drugs. They are an eye opener. Second, why do not a “significant number of horses” in Europe, Australia, and Dubai cross the finish line bleeding from the nose? Why was this not the case in the US in the days before furosemide was legal? Finally, people who disagree with you are not idiots. Many well-respected horse people, some Hall of Famers–are opposed to furosemide on raceday. Please see Cleanhorseracing.org and watch their podcasts.

  10. I wrote the book “The Tradition of Cheating in the Sport of Kings” and also spoke before congress about the drug problem we have with racing. The lasix shot is not the worst problem we have it’s the 4 or 5 other shots the vets take in and give with the lasix shots. I have been training for over 30 years and am ashamed how bad it has gotten. If they stop lasix they should be prepared to lose 15 to 20 percent of the horses that are competing! I have been working with a product called Curost for my bleeders and getting good results. I will know more about how effective it is later in the spring. In the meantime I did come up with a good idea to know for sure how bad the bleeding is across America. It was put in “letters” in the Bloodhorse 12/1 . The idea is to have 10 tracks across the country put up two lasix free races per day with enhanced purses.every horse that races in these races is scoped after the race. In three months we will have a 10 to 12 thousand horse study and will know exactly how we stand on the bleeding issue!! No more guess work. I hope we can get it done!!

  11. Liz Kauffman says

    Does anybody know what year Lasix was first administered to race horses? I suspect racing existed for a long time before Lasix entered the picture.

  12. I have a program from the 1978 Kentucky Derby–the year Affirmed won the Triple Crown–and no entries in the race were listed as running on Lasix. When Lasix was permitted varies by state jurisdictions. New York I believe was one of the last states to allow Lasix.

  13. Charles Reiss says

    I am sure Steve Zorn patted himself on the back when he came up with the line “moralism masquerading as fact”. Other that his facts being wrong he ignores what his cute little line points out. The total absence of morals in his criteria for his decisions. The fact is that it IS immoral, it does destroy horses, and it is keeping fans away in droves. Steve, how about the people who haven’t shown up because they reject the sport — a sport, by the way, that permitted Rick Dutrow to continue training up until just recently!

  14. Jackie acksel says

    Really I do not think the betting public would want to see horses and riders killed on a regular basis with no Lasix so these horses are bleeding to death!
    I would love to see horseracing cleaned up we have to focus on more important drugs that need to be removed from the backside and for the general public I’m sure they know some medicines are necessary as like the ones their doctors prescribed to keep them alive!!
    I have trained , racehorses for over 30 years Lasix is necessary if people start seeing these horses die because they can’t have the medication you’re really lose their interest