When is a scientific study not a scientific study? That was a question posed by several panelists during a two-hour session on medication Jan. 25 during the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) winter convention in Pasadena, Calif.

Panelists and audience members suggested that questionable studies might be the basis for medication policies that affect horsemen and racehorses.

Kent Stirling, chair of the National HBPA medication committee and the executive director of the Florida HBPA, moderated the panel. He began by questioning a study done at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup on furosemide by way of introducing Hugh Townsend, DVM, MSc, BSc, an expert in study design and affiliated with Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

Townsend analyzed a Breeders’ Cup furosemide study that examined 2-year-olds competing in the 2-year-old Breeders’ Cup races as well as those in the Golden State Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, two non-Breeders’ Cup races conducted during the same two days at Santa Anita Park. The study concluded that horses treated with furosemide (also called Salix or Lasix) were more likely to bleed, and bleed more severely than non-treated horses.

Townsend believes the study is "fatally flawed" and said "no meaningful conclusions could be drawn" because it did not follow proper study protocol. He noted that the horses were not chosen randomly, it wasn’t a blind study, and it didn’t include an adequate number of horses.