Monday, June 27, 2011

Compete or die

I did not attend the International Summit on Race Day Medication, EIPH, and the Racehorse held on June 13-14 at Belmont Park. Therefore I cannot speak from first-hand knowledge of everything that transpired over those two days among the reported 72 conferees, but I am sad to say that press reports so far leave me somewhat less than inspired and hopeful.

The principal achievement of the summit was....wait for agree to have another meeting. As Peggy Lee sang too long ago for younger readers to remember, “is that all there is?”

Eric Wing, the NTRA's media director said, “No specific recommendations were announced but areas of broad interest were identified.” Perhaps I am being too cynical, but to me that means exactly the same thing it means when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she had “frank discussions” with her foreign counterparts—nobody could agree on anything. That is what happens when you get parties in a room with diametrically opposed agendas and self interests.

The principal problem American racing faces is finding a way to phase out race-day furosemide (Lasix or Salix). Trainers and veterinarians tend strongly to be on one side of the issue—in favor of race-day Lasix—and racing's administrators, owners, breeders, and international observers tend to be on the other.

One issue that was at least brought out into the open for the first time was the definition of “bleeding”. Prior to the 1970s and '80s, before the big push from trainers and veterinarians to legalize furosemide, a bleeder was a horse who visibly bled from the nostrils after a race or workout. That in fact was pretty much the universal definition of the malady in use at least since the days of the line-founding stallion Herod, born in 1758.

Advocates of race-day furosemide use, though, managed to conflate the term bleeder with exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), a condition that is common in human athletes, greyhounds, and racing camels as well as equines. EIPH, essentially means the presence of blood, even tiny flecks, in the airway as a result of exercise. In horses, EIPH occurs in a significant percentage of horses after mild canters. That means, by the way, that some horses cantering and playing in their paddocks would likely incur EIPH. And, no, I am not trying to minimize the humane significance of EIPH, just stating facts.

Racing jurisdictions abroad, however, have never changed their definition of bleeding. Visible blood from the nostrils (epistaxis) is required for a horse to be defined as a bleeder. In some jurisdictions, such as Australia, observed epistaxis requires a lengthy ban from racing, and repeated episodes can lead to a permanent ban.

American trainers tend to assume that their situation—training at racetracks in large cities—is uniquely stressful on their horses. Have they ever been to Hong Kong? That city of seven million people is a match in terms of crowding, pollution, and other stressful factors for any American city. Race-day Lasix is not allowed in Hong Kong, and their horses have started to win races all over the world.

American horses do not win nearly as many races all over the world as they once did. That is no doubt partly because we have sold many of our best potential stallions and broodmares abroad for 30 years and the rest of the world has caught up, but that is not the only reason. If you understand genetics at all, it is not hard to understand that race-day medication is bound to increase dependence on such drugs over time.

American trainers and veterinarians need to understand that if they wish to have a business to run, horses to train and doctor ten or 20 years from now, they are going to have to adjust their viewpoint. American racehorse owners are not going to continue in a business the public increasingly sees as tainted by drugs. American breeders cannot continue indefinitely breeding horses that no one but vanishing American owners will buy.

Even if we agree that American conditions are different from foreign conditions—and they are—in the long run it does not matter. Globalization is here in Thoroughbred racing, and it has been here for about 15 years.

Our choice is either to retreat from the global village and die a long, painful death, or to embrace it and compete on even terms.

1 comment: