Royal Delta: To Be or Not To Be (Injected Pre-Race)
Many casual horseplayers don’t even realize that she just won the G1 Delaware Handicap over 10F on a fast dirt surface during the high humidity of an East Coast summer, without the ‘benefit’ of a pre-race Lasix injection. I, too, am guilty of no longer combing the racing form for that missing ‘L’ designation – I’m just used to seeing it 99% of the time in all the big events.
So, what happened?
Well she won handily as expected, even coming off a disappointing effort at Churchill Downs in her last race (on Lasix). Through her now 20 race career she has run without the drug thrice, this past weekend and a few times in Dubai. She has run both well and poorly with and without the drug. Scuttlebutt is that Royal Delta didn’t fare too well after her recent CD defeat, behaving poorly and perhaps listlessly – pretty much the same reaction that Life at Ten gave us in the Breeders Cup a few years back. To Mr. Mott’s credit, he gave her A shot (without THE shot) in Delaware this weekend.
Much further away from the spotlight; one of the 2yo I have worked with in Camden, SC over this past winter recently romped in her second Lasix-less start:
That’s a 12+ length win in a dirt 5F sprint in hot and humid Iowa, again with no Lasix. She made her first start over turf at Colonial Downs last month and disappointed – so congratulations are due to the connections for keeping with the ‘no unnecessary medication’ plan, even though she’s been claimed away and is likely to run with the drug next time out. Will she improve further due to the FTL, or first time Lasix, angle? My gut says no.
Now we are left with the 2 camps: one who says ‘see, it’s not a performance enhancer’; and the other who says ‘see, most horses don’t need it and can still run well’. Who to believe?
Just twice this past week in the world of sports I have come across the issues of diuretic use. First, I read a fascinating book by cyclist Tyler Hamilton called The Secret Race. Essentially this is the closed door testimony that gave the proper authorities the confidence that Lance Armstrong was dirty. But of most interest were the concepts of blood doping and/or EPO use.
At some point, cycling authorities set a benchmark for an appropriate concentration of red blood cells (RBCs) in the bloodstream: 50%. That leaves the other 50% for plasma (water). Kind of sounds like permissible levels of medication in horses. More specifically, there is a threshold for TCO2 concentrations in the equine blood as well – I think 37 mmol. (Just as in cycling it’s not the administration of a banned substance that is being tested for – but the effects in the bloodstream.)
Therefore a higher concentration of RBCs in the blood of a cyclist, which also means a lower concentration of water/plasma – has been repeatedly tied to improved performance. Therefore, cyclists would take EPO to bump up this number towards the threshold of 50, and if too close – would guzzle water and take IV fluids to get in under the threshold. Conclusion: anything that lessens the water component of blood will necessarily increase RBC concentrations and is a performance enhancer. Lasix qualifies.
Secondly, a wave of Jamaican track sprinters have also been recently suspended due to diuretic use. The athletes compete in 100-200m events, are both male and female, and the drug concerned is also considered a masking agent by WADA – meaning the diuretic effect, in addition to being performance enhancing, is also a potential cover-up of other drug use. Agenda-driven equine veterinarians swear this is not the case in their industry. Of course not.
This jibes with my feelings on the subject: weight loss via Lasix is a performance enhancer during the relatively brief event lengths of US horseracing: 50-120 seconds. However the hours of post-race recovery probably aren’t too pleasant for many, and repeated episodes of dehydration over the years likely shorten careers and increase unsoundness.
From what I read; Royal Delta is likely to make her next start without Lasix. Kudos to Mr. Mott – perhaps some of his other stable superstars will try it in the future?