Horse Racing

The use of Salix (Lasix) in Jamaica

…only medication allowed on race days

BY HURBUN WILLIAMS
Observer writer

Friday, September 01, 2017

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Dr Sophia Ramlal, the official veterinarian attached to the regulatory arm of horse racing in Jamaica, explained the use of Salix (or Lasix) in the country, including the application of the drug as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

SUPREME RACING GUIDE (SRG): What is Lasix and why is it used on racehorses?

DR RAMLAL: Lasix (or furosemide) is a diuretic that is used on racehorses to minimise the incidence or severity of bleeding from the lungs associated with intense exercise or racing, thereby optimising a bleeder's performance. This bleeding condition is called Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage (EIPH) and has been scientifically proven for decades to affect at least 85 per cent of racing thoroughbreds. The primary goal of Lasix use is to help horses to optimise their performance, not to go above and beyond what they safely can do, but to take away that bleeding element; so it does not impact on their performance at all, or as much as it did before Lasix was applied. I would like to explain that the name Lasix really denotes a medication for humans, with the equine version known as Salix. They (Lasix and Salix) both have the same active ingredient, which is furosemide. They are just different brand names.

SRG: Can you go a little more in-depth to show the stark effectiveness of the application?

DR RAMLAL: By virtue of its diuretic action, Lasix reduces the horse's blood pressure, which is known to increase significantly during periods of excitement and intense exercise, and thereby minimises bleeding from delicate blood vessels in a horse's lungs. Water and electrolyte losses are experienced by horses receiving Lasix, hence Lasix is administered four hours prior to racing to allow the horse's body to adjust and for them to compete effectively.

SRG: Can you outline Jamaica's Lasix programme?

DR RAMLAL: Locally, as in other racing jurisdictions, Lasix is the only permitted race day medication for horses, and it is administered no later than four hours prior to post time of the race for each recipient horse. An important distinction with the use of Lasix in Jamaica is that only certified bleeders are permitted to race with Lasix. The programme is controlled and administered by the Jamaica Racing Commission through its veterinary and stewards departments. While other jurisdictions have been using Lasix since the 1970s, Jamaica launched its Lasix programme on April 05, 2003 as a preventative measure for horses suffering from race day bleeding. There remains a minority of horses that still experience bleeding while racing with Lasix, but in the 14 years since the introduction of race day Lasix locally, there has been significant reduction in the occurrences of race day bleeding. Rest from racing is mandatory for overt bleeders. Although Lasix use is optional for bleeders, horses that compete on Lasix are required to do so for a minimum of six months.

SRG: What happens when a horse is down to carry Salix and does not turn up for the medication?

DR RAMLAL: Please understand it this way: when a horse is declared to use Salix (Lasix), it is almost like the declaration of a piece of equipment — for example, blinkers, visors, tongue tie, Figure 8, and so on. So, if a horse is down to be administered with Lasix [and] does not turn up at the appointed time and that horse is not certified as being injured or lame, then that horse is immediately made ineligible to run in the designated race. Further, there is a fine of up to a maximum of $10,000 for such a breach and/or suspension of the horse from racing for a period not exceeding 90 days.

SRG: Salix (Lasix) is not used or condoned in many racing jurisdictions, and it has often been said that Salix is not what it is supposed to be and that it does not perform as expected and is actually a waste of time. How do you react to these comments. Is Salix good or bad?

DR RAMLAL: My short answer to your question is that Lasix use, when it is properly managed, does more good than harm. You can't just give Lasix to a horse without doing the necessary work around the horse to support that animal. So if one decides to use Lasix on a horse, then that person has to understand that the hydration of the horse — the electrolytes and all of those things — must be up to par, because if you think about what Lasix does, it really encourages water loss. You need to reduce the blood pressure of the horse when it's racing or at exercise, and if you are doing that then you have to ensure that the rest of the management of the horse is appropriate as well. Even here at Caymanas Park there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of horses bleeding from the nostrils. When I just came here several years ago, compared to now, it is really quite remarkable to see the reduction in the number of bleeders. Even if I doubted myself in the beginning, the experience, the analysis, the sheer numbers over the last 14 years have convinced me of the usefulness of applying Lasix allied with — and again I stress — the proper management of a horse on Lasix.

SRG: Are there reforms in the pipeline for Jamaica's Lasix programme?\

DR RAMLAL: Most certainly, or a frank yes. The Jamaica Racing Commission is in the process of reviewing the mandatory Lasix period of six months and the dosing regimen. If there are any changes, the industry will be given enough notice to make any changes, if changes are necessary.

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