(LIsten to this story on All Things Considered)
At the famous Hippodrome de Longchamp just outside of Paris this month, crowds came to cheer and bet on the sleek thoroughbreds that opened horse racing season by galloping down the verdant turf course.
Horse racing in Europe is different from the sport in the U.S., from the shape and surface of the track to race distances and the season itself. Another big difference is doping.
Drugs are not allowed in European horse races. But in America, they aren’t just legal, they’re widely used — particularly furosemide, better known as Lasix. The drug helps prevent horses’ lungs from bleeding during races.
Gina Rarick, an American horse trainer in France, is grooming a horse at her stables in Maison Lafitte, lush horse country west of Paris. Rarick feels the practice of administering Lasix is ruining the sport in America.
“Every horse in America starts his day with a shot or two in the neck. I’m sorry, but it’s wrong. It’s just wrong.” she says. “The Americans … have these horror stories about, ‘Oh, if we don’t use Lasix they’re gonna bleed to death and drop in front of people.’ … It’s ridiculous. We don’t use Lasix in the rest of the world.”
Last month, the American horse Animal Kingdom, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Derby, had a two-length win at the Dubai World Cup. That victory, Rarick says, shows that a horse can run without Lasix.
It also comes at a time when drugging is a top issue in the U.S. racing industry. The Breeders’ Cup has banned race-day drugging of 2-year-olds and was going to extend that ban to all of its races this year. But last month, the Breeders’ Cup board rolled back on those plans, in part due to lack of support by many in the racing industry.
A Powerful Drug
Rarick says Lasix is a powerful diuretic.
“If you give a horse a shot of Lasix and then watch what happens, he’ll start to pee, and pee, and pee. … [It] gives the [phrase] ‘piss like a racehorse’ a whole new meaning,” she says. “He will lose … 30 pounds of body weight in fluids. … It’s a tremendously powerful drug.”