Endorsement in the Whitney: The True Cost of Giving up Lasix


Endorsement runs in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga this weekend without the use of Lasix, vs a full field of those on the drug. Just what are owner Bill Casner and trainer Eoin Harty giving up by racing on just hay, oats, and water? First and foremost, weight – and lots of it.

An oft-cited South African study for proponents of raceday diuretic use gives us the following data:

‘Mean ± SE weight loss during the 4 hours prior to the start of the race was 12.7 ± 0.33 kg (27.9 ± 0.73 lb) when horses were given furosemide (n = 160) and 5.4 ± 0.28 kg (11.9 ± 0.62 lb) when horses were given saline solution.’ –  http://www.rmtcnet.com/resources/Study-_JAVMA_Furosemide.pdf

In English: horses given the injection 4 hours to post lost, on average, 16lbs more weight via increased urination/perspiration before ever setting one foot on the track. Important to note that horses not receiving the drug still lost weight in this timeframe, but much less.

How is this possible? Try the following experiment: weigh yourself on your bathroom scale tonight before bed and write that number down. Immediately upon waking tomorrow morning, do it again and compare. You will lose somewhere in the vicinity of 2-4lbs even if you slept a solid 8 hours with no bathroom visit. That’s just your body giving off energy as heat, remember a typical body temperature is 98.6 degrees and your bedroom temps are probably around 70. Humans do it, and so do horses.

Back to the issue of weight loss in the 4 hours after Lasix administration but before heading over to the paddock at Saratoga this Saturday. 16 extra pounds of fluid is lost per 4 hours, or 4 lbs/hour, when using the drug and simply standing still in the stall. Not walking, not jogging, etc. Just standing there. So now we begin the walk to the saddling enclosure, likely 0.2-0.5 miles – tomorrow in upstate NY to be done in 95+ degree weather with high humidity according to local weather forecasts. If a Lasix horse loses 4 EXTRA pounds per hour while standing still, surely we can tack on an extra 4 lbs during the 15 min journey to the paddock.

Now we are at an even 20 lbs weight difference between Endorsement and the rest of the field.

After saddling, and probably some nervous behavior, we now head to the post parade before loading into the gate. No more standing in the stall, no more walking without tack or rider – now we are attached to a lead pony with 115 lbs on Endorsement’s back and begin the jog/canter/gallop phase of a typical warmup before breaking from the gate. I will be very generous here and estimate another 4 lbs of additional fluid loss for Lasix using horses.

As the bell sounds to begin the race, Endorsement is now 24 lbs heavier than he would be if he took that injection 4 hours earlier. The entire 2012 Whitney Handicap field is given weights ranging between 115-120lbs to carry, for reference’s sake. But we are nowhere close to being done as we have 9F to race. How much weight will Endorsement lose compared to the field during that first mile run in the neighborhood of 1:40? To keep the math simple I will assign an extra 6lbs, bringing our total sacrifice to an even 30lbs that Endorsement will cede to the field entering the final furlong.

30 lbs. Nearly 4 gallons. That is what Mr. Casner gives up to the field by racing ‘clean’ and attempting to win a share of the $750k purse. Remember, trainer Larry Jones goes nuts if his fillies are at a 2lb disadvantage. Bill Casner is not alone, here is the full list of owners pledging to run their 2yo this fall without Lasix:

Josephine Abercrombie, Antony Beck, Gary Biszantz, James Bryant, Robert Clay, Nelson Clemmens, Dennis Dale, Darley Stable, Shawn Davis, Adele Dilschneider, Karl and Andrea Donaghy, William S. Farish, John D. Gunther, Arthur Hancock, Seth Hancock, Barry Irwin, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, Stuart Janney III, Corey Johnsen, Juddmonte Farm, Jon and Sarah Kelly, William Koester, Magdalena Racing, Helen Masek, Reiley McDonald, Michael McMahon, Ro Parra, John W. Phillips, Ogden Mills Phipps, Dr. J. David Richardson, Fred Seitz, Shadwell Stable, Bill Shively, George Strawbridge Jr., Frank Stronach, Team Valor International, Waterfalls Stable, Peter Willmott, and Woodford Racing.

Each and every one of those horses will face a similar 30lb weight discrepancy forgoing the use of diuretics. Now, when the race is over and they’ve lost a cumulative 40lbs instead of 60+ – the advantage swings in their direction as logic dictates it’s much easier to recover after a big effort if you haven’t lost in excess of 5% of your bodyweight. Endorsement should be ready to run again sooner than the rest. But what does that matter if he runs dead last?

Interestingly enough, there is a movement out there aiming to saddle Lasix users with additional weight on their backs, but the penalties being discussed are a minor 3-5 lbs, which is insignificant in my opinion based on the above figures: http://www.bloodhorse.com/pdf/TheIdealBalance08042012.pdf

Suffice it to say that Endorsement will have to be 3-5% better than the rest of the field to cash a check tomorrow. He’s got 2 Grade 3 wins to his credit, one with and one without Lasix, but thus far has faltered at the Grade 2 level and the Whitney is a major step up in competition. However, he fired a big bullet 2 weeks ago in his first work at SAR :

Saratoga

7/23/2012

Dirt

5F

58.96

Breezing

1/39

That didn’t bode so well for Dullahan prior to the Belmont, but we’ll soon see how Endorsement fares in the capable hands of trainer Harty.

Endorsement also has a few longer works over the polytrack at Keeneland:

Keeneland

6/24/2012

All Weather Track

7F

1:25.00

Handily

1/2

Keeneland

6/17/2012

All Weather Track

6F

1:12.00

Handily

1/2

Those long works sure have done the trick for I’ll Have Another, Paynter, and Bodemeister – but Endorsement is facing an uphill battle in the 2012 edition of the Whitney. This blogger would like to see someone prove it can be done on the largest stages of US racing without the crutch of Lasix, and wishes the connections nothing but the best.

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About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on August 3, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Carrying weight like a rider and lead pads is different than carrying weight in bodily fluids.
    If actual total weight were to be the answer for maximum performance than the lightest horse should be the fastest. We know that is not true. A hydrated horse will perform better than a dehydrated horse.

    • You are half right and half wrong.

      Yes, I will stipulate live weight such as a jock and lead pads is more difficult to handle than the dead weight of evenly distributed bodily fluids. But hydration level doesn’t mean squat in a race lasting anywhere from 50 to 120 seconds. Multiple studies show horses using lasix and losing additional body fluids are 3-5 lengths faster. Why do you think the FTL (first time lasix) is such a successful handicapping angle?

      Now, racing in that dehydrated state is most certainly damaging to the ability to recover.

  2. David Besenfelder

    I agree that Endorsement will have a disadvantage, based on the studies that have been done. But I have two questions – I understand the loss of weight from Lasix, but 1) is there really an additional impact (multiplier effect) of the Lasix when the horse is exercising such that it increases what otherwise would have been lost from exercising? And 2) how can the loss (or difference) in body weight be compared to a difference in weight on the horses back? A 195 lb man running a mile race with a 5 lb weight on his back is not the same as a 200 lb man running the same race.

    • I guess I assume that if there is a 4 lb per hour difference in weight loss between the 2 groups while standing still, that effect would be magnified during exercise. Certainly one burns more calories during exercise than at rest, for example.

      I doubt there is any valid method to compare the effects of ‘live’ weight on a horse’s back to ‘dead’ weight represented by bodily fluids. Does my 30 lb example compare 100% to adding 30 lbs to the rider’s weight? Of course not. But I believe my main point remains valid: forgoing the use of the drug may benefit you in recovery from a race, but that lunch ain’t free: during the race itself you are at a marked disadvantage.

  3. According to all the advocates of giving Lasix, it is to prevent bleeding during the race. Are they now acknowledging that the true reason is a weight loss benefit?
    I disagree with giving Lasix to bleeders because as they win and subsequently breed, they are passing on the bleeding propensity to their offspring. I DEFINITELY disagree with the use of Lasix just for weight loss and racing advantage!

    • No proponent of Lasix is admitting it’s a performance enhancer, as far as I can tell. Primarily, they argue the opposite. However, any handicapper acknowledges the importance of weight carried – often citing as little as 2 lbs as a difference maker. The very mechanism, excessive fluid loss from the blood via plasma, that alleviates EIPH is the same that improves performance and hurts post race recovery.

      The dehydrated state of our runners doesnt impair performance, as they are only racing for 50-120sec, its the after effects that are debilitating, primarily to young bone in need of calcium – which lasix leeches.

      • This is the first time that I’ve read your blog, and I’m very impressed with your knowledge and rationales . . . thanks for what you do! I am definitely now a “fan”, and will keep up with your work!

    • 99 percent of bleeding is nothing more than not enough fitness. The entire body has to be properly conditioned especially the lungs

  4. Shelle deVergie

    If an owner wanted to run their horse without Lasix what would be your recommendation to level the playing field against the horses that are on Lasix?

  5. It’s second time lasix that is the edge… not because of weight but because of physcologicaly.. the horse who is a bleeder is now not apprehensive about bleeding!!

  6. oh and thats a great idea… add more weight to a horse who suffers from bleeding… real smart!

    • You have it all wrong – the point is that horses who don’t bleed get Lasix just for the weight loss and performance edge. If you bleed you can still have it, but you are going to have to carry extra weight. NOw you have to scope and know your horses instead of training via syringe.

  7. One point being overlooked is the fact that when a horse is losing all these fluids,he may be ‘flushing’ out other meds from his system and they may not be found in a test.

    • That is a common point of contention between the two camps, does the lasix mask other drug use? Both sides will cite scientific evidence to prove their point.

  8. None of the arguments stand. Diuretics or not, European horses who are not allowed to use the drugs beat the U.S animals most of the time and tie in the factor they carry a average 7 pounds more due to the handicapping weight regulations, its a mockery. Train your horses scientifically without drugs and success is the fruit.

    • The Euros only beat the US on turf and synthetics, not dirt. Drugs or no drugs, surface and pace muddy the waters when we try to draw comparisons. But I agree wholeheartedly with the need for science in conditioning, that is what I have blogged about in this space for 4 years and 150,000 words.

    • And all the Euros that come over here to beat us use the hell out of Lasix, because they know the score-

  9. We have a livestock scale and have actually done the weight testing! No guess work and your estimates of weight loss are actually pretty light. A horse on lasix will lose depending on the horse and outside temps between 40 and 60 lbs in body fluids by the time they have finished a race.

    The other problems this creates is enough reason to NOT use lasix! We did the experimenting to have facts and we still chose to not use it. I would love to see no race days meds and strict penalties for even slight overages of therapeutics

  10. I’m loving the fact that this is finally coming into perspective. I agree we need to train according to how we are going to race! NO MEDICATIONS of any kind would be like a dream come true to me and I’m sure to many others who put the horse FIRST! Thanks for all your input!

  11. I guess if all horses are on Lasix, as is usually the case in the US, then the advantages are washed away (pun intended). Interesting stuff, Bill.

  12. I say MONEY talks …always loud and clear, why dont they start raising the purses on non lasix running horses.Have a couple of races with big purses! soon it will be more and more until the “weight is shifted” (no pun inteded really) until the top side is the NO lasix side! Let’s face it the ONLY WAY that this thing is ever going to change is to hit them in the pockets, unfortunatly that is the ONLY thing that changes ANYTHING in this country anymore.Then G1s would be able to make an across the board clean sweep, as No lasix would be the norm, and no one would have to debate.

  13. Just read what the effects of dehydration are in humans and at 5% extreme fatigue and muscle cramps are big problem. That is 50 to 60 lbs for a horse. At 10% they start to see lethal effects in humans. Get them off Lasix!!!!!!!!!!

    • Just 3% in humans is enough to begin worry. In horses the dehydration effects don’t come into play until after the race – which is why no one seems too worried about them.

  14. Its interesting.Some of these very same breeder, owners
    are racing their 3 y.o.s on Lasix. The prevailing argument is that its fair if everyone uses the same drug.
    I know I raced against the breeder with no Lasix his Lasix horse did better than mine. My trainer said lets get him scoped. There was a drop of blood on his throat. The vet said all we need to see is blood in the airway.Id be glad to certify him for you. Just like his vet before told me.Everyone races in horseshoes its not fair if your horse doesnt wear shoes.So now my horse is dead of EPM. I guess its just not fair.Protozoa dont know class or care.Neither do the few vets at Penn National. 50-80 % of US thoroughbreds have been exposed to EPM This is a silent killer. But those with cash dont know.Wake up our US foal crop is infected.!!!!
    Vets dont care, trainers dont know but you should owners. At least get mortality insurance and owner liability. There is an epidemic occuring.Our horses are exposed and suffering with EPM.Learn about it before its too late.

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