Maryland committee gives OK to begin Lasix survey study for 2-year-olds

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Aug. 1, 2020

The Maryland Equine Safety, Health and Welfare Advisory Committee July 31 approved a motion authorizing a survey study of all 2-year-olds who race in the state this year to determine the extent of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

The committee, which falls under the Maryland Racing Commission, said the process of veterinarians taking video endoscopies will begin with the first 2-year-old races at Laurel Park. No 2-year-old races have been run this year—an agreement between the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and The Stronach Group/Maryland Jockey Club on a no-Lasix “pilot program” ended the impasse that has forced 2-year-olds to race out of state for two months—but a ruling from the Maryland Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee on an emergency regulation allowing non-Lasix 2-year-old races was expected within days.

The majority of the committee voted to move forward with the survey study after a lengthy back-and-forth over the objective of the endeavor and questions by TSG officials whether the survey study would be “independent” under its current structure. TSG officials also argued that language in the company’s agreement with the MTHA allowed for a broader study of use of race-day Lasix regardless of the age of the horses, but MTHA officials disagreed; that issue wasn’t brought up when the committee first discussed the 2-year-old survey study in late July.

MRC Executive Director Mike Hopkins said the racing commission directed the committee, which was created as part of the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020, to survey 2-year-olds only through Dec. 31, 2020.

“The decision the racing commission made is consistent with the agreement entered into by the MJC and MTHA,” said MTHA counsel Alan Foreman, who helped draft the agreement. “Our view is when the horsemen agreed to the elimination of Lasix in 2-year-olds, they wanted (the effect of that action) studied. We’re pleased with what the committee has done. This is something no one else is doing.”

“It’s impossible to make this a study to do everything,” said committee member Dr. Michael Harrison, President of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. “This is a survey that will garner tremendous useful information.”

During the last meeting of the new committee in July, it was estimated the scoping of up to 1,000 2-year-old starters would cost about $70,000. The MTHA and MJC agreed to fund it, and the MHBA also said it would contribute financially. TSG Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Dionne Benson during the July 31 meeting indicated the company “will have to agree to protocols and parameters and objectives” in order to participate in funding the survey. She suggested the group take more time to contact and employ researchers, including one who could draft a budget.

“I’m not someone who believes in kicking the can down the road,” said MRC member Dr. Thomas Bowman, who chairs the committee. “This is an initial study requiring a very low budget, which is the key. At some point we need to get going on this and I think it needs to be today.”

Dr. John Sivick, a committee member who is part of a Laurel-based veterinary practice, said the veterinarians are willing to participate in the scoping survey and that the objectives “were very clear.”

“To undertake the study the Maryland Jockey Club wants is great in theory but a little out of our scope, at least for now,” Sivick said. “It should be very easy to get done what we need to get done.”

Hopkins said the MRC would maintain all records, including the video endoscopies and information sheets submitted with each horse. He said the videos of each procedure would allow for multiple individuals to gauge the level, or grade, of EIPH.

Bowman said the committee can entertain “add-on” parameters in the future pending further discussions between the MTHA and TSG/MJC, but that he wanted the process underway so the first 2-year-olds to race in Maryland this year are video scoped. “The faster we get started the more the numbers accumulate,” he said.