Commentary: To Medicate or Not to Medicate Thoroughbred Racehorses?

It’s the question that always ignites a fierce debate in the racing world: Should people be able to race Thoroughbreds under the influence of therapeutic medication?
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medicating racehorses
The debate over therapeutic medications, such as furosemide, is unlikely to be resolved soon. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

By Christopher M. Riggs, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Equine Hospital Department of Veterinary Clinical Services, and WEVA Board Member

It’s the question that always ignites a fierce debate in the racing world: Should people be able to race Thoroughbreds under the influence of therapeutic medication?

Some believe restricting the use of furosemide (Salix or Lasix), anti-inflammatory drugs, and other medications so they do not affect a horse’s body when it races can have a profoundly negative impact on horse welfare. Conversely, many others believe racing horses while under the influence of drugs is bad for equine welfare, demeans the sport, and undermines the ability to select for optimal genotype. As society increasingly questions the use of animals in sport, this discussion becomes more relevant. It is probably not melodramatic to state that the outcome of the debate could impact the future existence of racing itself.

Many racing jurisdictions around the world are signatories to Article Six of the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering, published by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. The article, entitled “Biological Integrity of the Horse,” sets the standard for practices that could artificially influence the horse’s ability and control. Included in these is the use of therapeutic medications, which are considered “prohibited substances” in racing. Specifically relevant, the article states that, “Following any therapy given to a racehorse, a sufficient period should elapse prior to racing such that the therapy (i) is not capable of giving the horse an advantage or causing it to be disadvantaged contrary to the horse’s inherent merits or (ii) is detrimental to its welfare

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