Several pro-sports athletes have been in the news lately for failing drug tests. We know there are problems with performance enhancing drugs in certain human sports, but perhaps the sport that has the worst reputation when it comes to drugging is horseracing. However, this perception may not be accurate.
There are a variety of drugs that are used illegally in horseracing to help improve a horse’s run. Anabolic steroids are used to build muscle and speed, corticosteroids are used as anti-inflammatory medications, and milkshakes made up of baking soda and other ingredients help decrease lactic acid build-up. Lasix (Furosamide), a diuretic, is also commonly given to horses in order to prevent nosebleeds and pulmonary hemorrhage.
A Perception of Drug Problems
There is a general perception among the public that horseracing is plagued with a drug problem. Many of us have heard about the different performance enhancing drugs used on horses, and about the controversy over whether or not to allow drugs like Lasix to be used.
However, some race officials claim that there is no drug problem. Ed Martin of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) declared that racing has “the most aggressive drug testing program in professional sports, testing for more substances with greater sensitivity than anyone else.” (1) Indeed, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is very thorough when it comes to regulating tests for racehorses, and few horses fail tests. In 2010, less than half of 1% of the 324,215 samples tested contained a substance not allowed by racing’s medication rules. 94% of violations were overages of legal medications. 47 samples tested in 2010 contained Class 1 or 2 drugs, which the ARCI would consider doping, accounting for 0.015% of total samples tested. (1) Still, some would argue that there is no national testing system in place that all states follow, and small venues are much more likely to go untested and therefore not included in these statistics.
The Debate over Lasix
There is also a debate over the use of the drug, Lasix, in horseracing. A strong movement in recent months has worked to ban Lasix from racing. Proponents of the ban say that the diuretic dehydrates horses so much before a race that they lose noticeable weight, allowing for a faster fun. The ARCI has called for an end to all race day medications, including Lasix, and legislation has been proposed in New York that would ban Lasix in horseracing. Senator Duane, who announced the legislation stated, “New York has been the gold standard in horseracing for close to 150 years. It was not until 1995 that we allowed the shameful practice of pumping horses with these drugs – and for very little gain. New York can do better than this and I am confident this legislation will guarantee an end to this practice.” (2) The hope with this new legislation is that the integrity of horseracing will be maintained without a shadow of a doubt.