Lasix and the Horse Race

Almost every thoroughbred that runs on a racetrack gets injected on the morning of a race with Lasix, noted on the racing form with a boldface “L.” The given reason is to prevent pulmonary bleeding that hard running causes in many horses. But Lasix also has a secondary function: to make horses unload epic amounts of urine–twenty or thirty pounds worth, at least. The resulting dehydration is a common cause of injury to both horse and jockey.

There are a few things about horse races that never change, like the way you feel the earth shake as a mass of hooves thunder down the stretch. Or the fact that horse races attract old money, new money and dynastic money, all eager to bet with breezy impunity. Or that most people in the horse business have a relationship with their horses rooted in ancient projects of war, work and play and are accustomed to the grift and sorrow that comes with gambling.

But horse racing is also a creaky old pastime, with few young fans and an image that’s been tainted by all the death and misery it has brought to the American public. The industry needs a major overhaul, and horse safety must be made its top priority. But even with the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act in 2020, progress is sluggish, with states that refuse to simulcast their races across state lines able to dodge federal oversight. And a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law’s constitutionality threatens to undermine it yet again.

The history of organized horse racing is not very firmly established, but the four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) races that figured prominently in the Olympic Games of 700-40 bce are widely accepted as the precursors to modern racing. It is thought that racing subsequently spread to China, Persia, Arabia and North Africa, where horsemanship was early and intensively developed.

Until recently, the United States was a leader in horse racing, but its horse-related deaths and injuries have shaken the industry. Increasingly, racing faces criticism for a system that is based on betting and has been soaked in all the grift and misfortune that come with gambling. As betting handles decline, the industry must make fundamental changes that ensure horse welfare and safety are always first. Ultimately, the future of horse racing depends on it.