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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Race Day Medication

The debate about banning all race day medication in the United States has surpassed the alternative gaming issue in the discussion about how to bring our sport back to national and international prominence.

My husband, trainer Jere Smith Jr., doesn't like to get involved in political debates, so when asked if he believes in banning all race day medication, he replies, "I can race with it or I can race without it." Despite his reluctance to enter the debate, we know that he will probably benefit from a ban on race day medication because he has the experience and skill to prepare horses to race successfully without drugs. We also know that a ban on race day medication could help struggling owners by eliminating some vet expenses. So from a purely selfish business standpoint, I support a ban on race day medication in the United States because it will probably help my husband's business.

My personal belief about Lasix/Salix in horses on race day is that it never made much sense to me. Horses on Lasix/Salix pee out their hydrating fluids in the hours before a race, then if they're lucky enough to have owners who can afford it, the vet comes out the following morning to rehydrate them through a tube after each race. Bute can cover up a problem that may get worse in a race, and the sooner the problem is dealt with and not covered up for a race, the better it is I believe for the horse and the owner in the long term.

I know there are all kinds of implications about the economics of racing in this issue. Owners, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, tracks and fans will have to lower their expectations and give horses the necessary time and attention to be ready to race without drugs - more time to develop, more time to prepare for each race and more attention to the overall health of the horse. I'm guessing there will be a "correction" in the US thoroughbred racing market after a sweeping drug ban, but just think of the possibilities if all major racing markets of the world operate on the same rules, making thoroughbred racing a truly global sport - the economic possibilities could be huge for all.

On a related subject, I recently read a comment from someone who said the US is the only black sheep in the major world thoroughbred racing jurisdictions that allow race day medication - but that's not true. Saudi Arabia is a small to medium size thoroughbred racing market which is patterned on a mix of european and US rules - and I'm sure there are plenty of other small countries with similar rules. But Saudi Arabia is a closed system - it's rare for them to race outside their country and rarer still for outside horses to come there to race. I found it to be a microcosm of US racing with a lot of the same problems.

When we were there we often wondered how great it would be if there was a true international thoroughbred racing league that includes Saudi Arabia and the rest of the middle east, all the Americas, Africa, Europe, Australia, Asia. It would be incredible and I hope I see it in my lifetime.

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