New Maryland Safety Committee lays groundwork for Lasix study

Posted: July 24, 2020

A newly formed committee that falls under the Maryland Racing Commission met for the first time July 23 to lay the groundwork for a study that will examine the effects of Lasix-free racing for 2-year-olds this year.

The Equine Health, Safety and Welfare Advisory Committee was formed as part of the Racing and Community Development Act, which became law June 1, 2020. The committee is made up various industry stakeholders, including veterinarians.

“The need for this committee is paramount to a lot of issues we will face the next few years,” said MRC member Dr. Thomas Bowman, who chairs the committee. “We’ll look to develop a method of study to make recommendations based on data over a period of time.”

Race-day Lasix use in 2-year-olds is the first project committee given the recent agreement—approved by the MRC July 16—between the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and The Stronach Group to institute a pilot program for Lasix-free 2-year-old races this year and also in 2021, 2022 and 2023. No 2-year-old races have been carded in Maryland so far this year, and they won’t be until a state agency approves an emergency regulation to facilitate the writing of such races.

The agreement for the experiment included the following language: “The parties agree to discuss in good faith, in consultation with the MRC, the development, implementation and funding of a study and related protocols for post-race scoping of horses to obtain relevant data (as part of a Lasix-Free Racing Study). The protocols for such study shall include, but not be limited to: establishment of study research parameters and objectives; identification and selection of the horse population for the study; development of scoring, criteria and other scientific methods; selection of persons to conduct the study; and other matters relevant to the study.”

Bowman said there would be no discussion on the pros and cons of Lasix use—”That’s for a debate at a later time,” he said—and that the point of the study “is to examine the effects, or non-effects, of Lasix-free racing in Maryland.”

Bowman said he has discussed the matter with others in the industry and found “there is a paucity of information” on the subject. Committee members were be asked for input to help prepare the parameters for the study, which could involve up to 1,000 starts at Maryland tracks from early August through Dec. 31 of this year.

Bowman suggested, and others agreed, that it’s important to scope every horse in every 2-year-old race—including shippers—for the study and for the resulting analysis to be as comprehensive as possible. At an estimated $70 per horse for scoping, the study would cost about $70,000.

MTHA President Tim Keefe said the organization is working with the TSG-owned Maryland Jockey Club on funding, and during the meeting Maryland Horse Breeders Association President Dr. Michael Harrison indicated a willingness by the organization to contribute financially to the endeavor.

During the meeting, there also was support for video endoscopies in order to provide even more information for review. Dr. John Sivick, a member of the committee, said “having a picture would be pretty valuable.”

Dr. Dionne Benson, TSG Chief Veterinary Officer, said it’s important to ensure a third party independently assesses the scopes. A decision will be made by the committee on which veterinarians will perform the scopes.

“One of the most important things (of this study) is just to gather data,” Bowman said, noting there will be 2-year-olds racing in Maryland that have raced on Lasix in neighboring states. “It would be fantastic if a sister track would simultaneously do the same thing (and scope 2-year-olds on Lasix). Feelers have been put out.”

(Photo courtesy of Jim McCue)