with Horse and Hound

Thoroughbred Industry Woes Linked to Medication

The Thoroughbred racing industry is tanking in the U.S., and racing industry leaders from around the world blame the decline on our permissive medication practices.

From 2007 to 2010, on an annual basis, the registered foal crop in the U.S. declined nineteen percent, races run declined almost ten percent, purses fell more than twelve percent, and betting dropped twenty-two percent.

World racing leaders spoke up at a recent International Summit on Race Day Medication at Belmont Park on June 13 and 14. Denis Egan, the chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, said, “European buyers are drifting away because we view the performance of U.S. horses with skepticism because of the medication policies, and the stallions are not comparable to clean European stallions.”

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has perhaps the most stringent medication rules in the racing world. Yet Hong Kong, with a population of seven million, and with racing only eighty-three days per year, saw nearly $10.3 billion in bets pass through the windows last year—almost as much as the entire U.S.

The strict policies are good for business, insists Bill Nader, executive director of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Over the past five years only one racehorse in 5,692 experienced sudden death while racing. In the U.S. the fatality rate is one in five hundred starters—worse by a factor of more than ten.  

Much of the conference’s focus was on Lasix, a drug used to reduce exercise-induced bleeding in the lungs. Lasix also improves performance, so nearly all horses in the U.S. go to the gate with a dose of the drug, whether they need it or not.

Dr. Anthony Stirk, senior veterinary advisor to the British Horse Racing Authority urged American horsemen to get in step with the rest of the world, not only in medication policies but also in racing less frequently.

Joe Drape’s article of June 13 in the New York Times is the source for this material.

Posted June 15, 2011