Sounding Off On Race-Day Medications, 'Super Trainers'

Published: May 9, 2011 02:54 pm EDT

It is very rare to read about a driver or jockey broaching the topic of race-day medications and 'super trainers,' but a Hall of Fame horseman has now let his feelings be known


In his horseracing blog on The New York Times' website, retired American thoroughbred jockey Chris McCarron has let his feelings be known about the topics.

McCarron's blog entry seems to have been in reaction to the recent push in the United States to see the banning of race-day medications and strict fines and banishment for violations.

"I probably won hundreds, if not thousands, of races on horses that were treated with medications on the day of the race or the day before," McCarron wrote. "I believe that training and racing horses that have been given medication — whether to mask pain or to control other medical issues — is inappropriate and shortens the careers of those horses."

He also added, "To some extent, we riders act like ostriches with our heads in the sand: we rationalize that what we don’t know won’t hurt us."

Having had the luxury of experiencing the industry both in the irons and behind a desk, McCarron also opined about what racetrack brass has to deal with in regard to perceived 'super trainers.'

"During my time as the general manager at Santa Anita," he wrote, "I would watch as the winning percentages for certain trainers escalated suddenly. And it wasn’t as if they had a great meet and then a bad one because their horses had run through their conditions. These trainers started winning races at high rates and kept on winning.

"I had three or four people, including big players, trainers and owners, stop by my office each week to complain about how a small percentage of trainers were winning the majority of the races. The assumption was that the edge those trainers (was) because of the medication. And the number of medication violations over the years has increased, so how could anyone conclude anything else?"

(With files from The New York Times)

Related Stories

Whitfield, Udall File Raceday Medication Bills
Waldrop Reacts To Racing Drug Bill
Legislation Proposed To Ban Drug Users



In all fairness it is the track vets who ultimateley decide if a horse is aloud to go on lasix, also Ontario probally has the lowest number of race horses on this compared to NJ NY where you couldn't get one field out of a 12 race program where the horses were not on lasix

I am well aware of what Mr.Robinson's reputation was when it came to illegal drugs but that's for another debate. I was simply trying to make the point that not everybody in the industry feels the same way towards lasix as Mr.Macdonald does and there are many down sides to the drug being used such as it's ability to mask other drugs plus the fact that it is terribly hard on the animals. This sport needs to get it's head out of the sand when it comes to issues like this that continue to damage it's image.

Mr. MacDonald I appluad you for trying to stand up for the industry, I wish you had better back up and support.

Mr.Carter, Mr. Robinson really isn't the example I would have went with to try and make a point on drugs and horse racing although I understand what you are trying to say.

Lasix is the white elaphant of horse racing, there are much better remedies to use on raceday to treat bleeders which are not as hard on a horse as lasix and much more effective.

My question is, why isn't the industry (trainers and owners) or racing associations(are you out there?), trying to promote this to the ORC for the good of the horse and for better transparency to the fans and bettors?

Greg Parke

It all comes down to horses starting training and racing at too young an age. It's all for money,money,money.

I agree with what Chris is talking about, I have been playing the horses for over 40 years and now We have people that have been caught cheating voicing their opinion on the lasix problem, Mr Macdonald You were suspended as a trainer, do You remember why? There are a lot of trainers' that should be into a retention program by the WEG track, not only single out a few. They have one trainer that was winning a lot of races and forced Him to move all His horses to the WEG barns and His win percentage went down to almost half. Three other trainers with high percentage were put in the retention program and They rarely win any races, which is not fair to the people that pay for racing (the betters). There are a few trainers right now that are winning left an right, when are they going to be put on retention?? One trainer has a horse winning every week in a top purse, afew years ago He was in the retention program regularly, what has changed? The other trainer wins races even with cheap horses comming from the small tracks, what is He using? I don't know anything about lasix but all the lab studies can not be wrong. This is My opinion.

In reply to by horse-man

mr connors
I absolutely remember why i was suspended. it was for that wildly exotic drug baking soda! I found it in the far reaches of the himalayan mountains, I never thought to mask it with lasix, all my chemist trainer buddies really let me down.

Seriously sir, I've never hid behind my positive test - a horse that had tied up 3 weeks before was getting baking soda daily(great treatment widely used) and obviously received it on race day.....I raced 846 times in 2007 and i got a positive test accidentally (btw the horse was last that day). I cooperated with the ORC fully and served my time followed by 6 months in retention at WEG.

This is all neither here nor there sir; I agree our game needs scrutiny, I agree that there are shady people in it.(as all businesses have). I will also concede that there are more than therapeutic drugs being used by some. My problem is the people that think "zero tolerance" is the way to go.

I am absolutely positive that every horse i have ever used lasix on needed it. I wouldnt have the foggiest what I would need to mask with it? The majority of people commenting on these topics have no idea what they are talking about, or the ramifications of what they saying.

Sir, all I have been trying to say is that in the pursuit of medications that should not be in our sport, don't wipe away the ones that should.

anthony macdonald

First and foremost thank you Mr Anthony Mcdonald for what you have posted on here! you are one hell of a driver! you always seem to get the most outta the horses you drive! There has to be something with some sorta meds that some trainers are using!!!!! cant blame them for wanting to get the most outta there horses!\kudos for them for doing it! |I am all about the safety of the horses and if using performance enhancing drugs to keep them fit and sound that is a great thing to do! I believe it is no different than a human using painkillers ect to get through there day and to go to work ect! We all do what it takes to get by!!!!! I would rather bet on a trainer using something to keep the horse sound than one who is entering in races with no medictions at all!

The problem being is that lasix can be used to mask other drugs and there are horsemen who do use it for that reason, so how does the sport get cleaned up. We all know that horseman are not going to police themselves. When was the last time a horseman turned in a fellow horsemen for cheating. There must be some of you that know at times things don't add up, so what is the solution to rid the sport of illegal drugs, if drugs like lasix can be used to mask them.

On this point i could be wrong and if i am i apologize in advance as i could not find the story and post a link to it. I do believe that Bill Robinson who knew a thing or two about winning a race once said on here that he basically rarely if ever put a horse on lasix because he considered it to be very cruel and hard on the horse and that it was way overused in the industry. I also seem to recall that when he would purchase or claim a horse that was on lasix one of the first things he would do is take it off lasix.

In reply to by John Carter

Bill Robinson??? REALLY??
That's funny. Seriously. I'm going to assume his "masking agents" were FAR more powerful than lasix.

we all watch the news and sports.Its no secret. let me explain.Why is it that horse racng is the only sport that is trying to evade the question about performance enhacing drugs.READ THESE NAMES, ben johnson,florence griffith joyner,jose canseco,roger clemens,multiple football palyers and baseball players.Every sport has cheaters INCLUDING harness racing.Dont insult our intelligence by saying lasix is not a mask. The only solution and can see that if a trainer gets caught for cheating then suspend the drivers also and then youll see how fast some of these drivers book off a horse. Put the whole racing card in detention so everybody is on neutral ground. It all boils down to MONEY MONEY MONEY and people will LIE,CHEAT and STEAL to get it bottom line ,end of story.

The $64,000 question is: Can Lasix mask performance enhancing drugs? I have a list of over 100 veterinarians who say absolutely yes. Can one be found who says no?

In reply to by Dr Wayne Robinski

it absolutely can.
oatmeal can make me constipated, that doesnt mean thats all its good for sir.
it is first and foremost (lasix that an aid in the treatment of bleeding in horses.
i have had many many horses on lasix and i can say it didnt mask anything.
dont handcuff people that are honestly trying to race bleeders because people may be using lasix to cheat.
thats all im trying to get across here.

I totally agree with Anthony as an owner of horses past and present - lasix has done nothing but good for my horses,funny how some bleed without lasix but after being put on lasix they don't in most cases.

Lasix is a medication most trainers would rather do without they have more to do then bring horses to track four hours before. It is also greater expense for owners at $70.00 a pop in the u.s. $10.00? I would hate to be an owner of a good stake horse that is a bleeder and not be able to treat him with the lasix medication. A horse not on lasix sure is nice to have I have owned some. Come on people smarten up?

I think anthony deserves an applause from his fellow horsmen for trying to argue with people who have never trained before like myself. If everyone is so tied up on race day medications I think the bettors would want to know if the track vet gives a horse a shot of clottall after it warms up which I'm sure most never knew happened. Lastly rather then going after the legal therapeutic drugs why not work on catching the so called "trainers" who are using something much worse and who I have never seen throw a suit on to warm up their horses in years

I'm referring to lasix sir,other medications that help horses perform safely are in jeopardy because of a foolish push by a group of people who are narrow mindedly thinking that banning everything will due anything for this game other that put horses in harms way. Not everyone is a cheater sir.

Take the time to read this very interesting article (it's a long one) about the use of Lasix from the University of Guelph for another perspective based on scientific research. This is an on-going study. According to Gayle Ecker at the U of G, more information will be forthcoming in the near future. According to this study, Lasix has been found to be ineffective in the treatment of EIPH and can, if fact, be detrimental in that it dehydrates the horse when hydration is of great necessity and it depletes the electrolytes---also much needed during a race. Finding the root cause of EIPH and other respiratory diseases and preventing these diseases would likely be more beneficial to the horses, especially long-term. Perhaps, if young horses were allowed to spend more time outside and less time in stalls harbouring dust and mold spores, these horses wouldn't develop these problems in the first place. Another area where they breath in poor air is in tightly closed up trailers that are not properly cleaned and/or have feed or bedding in them. There is also the amount of track particles that they breath in while training/racing. EIPH can not be cured. Fix the causes and perhaps the health issues would disappear. A horse suffering from EIPH should not be racing---end of story!

Published on Standardbred Canada (


Lasix Effective In Treating Racehorses?
The Fall 2010 edition of Equine Guelph's Research Update features an article by Natalie Osborne which tackles the subject of respiratory issues with racehorses. A segment of the article discusses furosemide, commercially known as Lasix, which many argue the pros, cons, and effectiveness of.

In her article, Osborne quotes Professor Laurent Viel, a member of Equine Guelph's Department of Clinical Studies, as questioning the effectiveness of Lasix, which is currently permitted for use in the North American standardbred racing industry.

“We wanted to know if Lasix treated or somehow prevented EIPH (Exercise Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage),” Viel was quoted as saying. “We found that it does neither. Therefore, it becomes questionable if Lasix has any preventative effect at all, meaning the debate should continue as to whether Lasix is a valid pre-racing medication. In my opinion, it would be a great welfare benefit to the horse in treating them for IAD (Inflammatory Airway Disease), as we treat asthmatics with a simple bronchodilator that opens up their airways to their normal, healthy level. Many of these drugs are approved for use in horses and would offer a safer, more effective solution.”

Osborne's article appears below in its entirety.


Respiration Restoration
Researchers in many fields aim to clear up common respiratory conditions
At a metre and a half in length, horses have one of the longest mammalian airways — three times longer than a human’s. These airways help them obtain the oxygen they need when running…but racehorses and companion horses alike suffer from a myriad of respiratory diseases. To help lead the way to clearer airways, University of Guelph researchers are using a variety of approaches to combat respiratory conditions.

One such condition is exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage (EIPH), which plagues about 80 per cent of racehorses. It occurs after intense activity, when within seconds a horse’s heart rate more than quadruples to over 200 beats per minute. The huge increase in blood pressure can cause the capillaries in the lung to burst, resulting in nose bleeds and in some cases, potentially fatal haemorrhaging.

Dr. Luis Arroyo and Prof. Laurent Viel, Department of Clinical Studies, and Prof. John Runciman, Department of Engineering, are examining the relationship between EIPH and calcified lesions in the pulmonary artery, which are also found in about 80 per cent of racehorses (the body deposits calcium as an ultimate repair mechanism in an attempt to reinforce tissue weakened by injury or stress).

The main trunk of a horse’s pulmonary artery is four to six centimetres in diameter and responsible for carrying more than 250 litres of blood per minute from the heart to the lungs for oxygenation.

Researchers used MRI and CT scans to build a 3-D image computer model that calculated the stress that this huge volume of blood can cause on arterial walls. They also examined the spatial location of the calcified lesions.

If the research finds that calcium deposits are linked to EIPH, then more resources can go towards understanding and preventing them.

“From our models, we found that the highest stresses were right where the artery branches, and this is also where the calcification always starts,” says Runciman. “The blood flow in racing horses is tortuous; it almost becomes their Achilles’ heel.”

Arteries will stretch to accommodate each pulse of blood from the heart and contract to move the blood along, thereby acting as shock absorbers so the blood pressure in the smallest arteries is minimal, avoiding rupture. A calcified artery is less elastic, losing its shock-absorbing role, which results in a larger, faster pulse wave that has greater impact when it reaches the lungs. Researchers believe this pressure spike is what bursts lung capillaries and causes EIPH.

Their research is taking a new twist. This summer, Arroyo, Runciman and Viel will put catheters in the pulmonary arteries of ex-racers and young, healthy horses to perform inside-out ultrasounds that monitor the animal’s blood flow and pulse wave.

“This is the first time we’ll be looking at live animals,” says Arroyo. “We can examine them both resting and exercising, to see firsthand if and how the calcified lesions affect arterial stiffness and parameters like pulse wave.”

In many cases, existing EIPH seems to be associated with — and perhaps a contributor to — a respiratory condition found in young racehorses called inflammatory airway disease
(IAD). This condition concurrently studied by Viel is similar to asthma in humans, where the airways become overly sensitive to allergens resulting in bronchial constriction, or closure of the airways.

On the racetrack, horses with IAD struggle to get enough oxygen. In an oxygen deprived state, the body’s natural response is to constrict blood vessels. During intense exercise, blood vessels must dilate to accommodate increased blood flow. These counteracting mechanisms could result in the damage and bleeding associated with EIPH.

That’s where research by Viel and graduate student Modest Vengust comes in. They examined the effect of the drug furosemide on the lung. Known commercially as Lasix, it is used on many racehorses and believed to treat EIPH; specifically, fluid in the lung.

Before high blood pressure causes the lung’s small blood vessels to rupture, some of the fluid in the capillaries will be forced out into the lung in an attempt to reduce pressure. Lasix was thought to prevent this accumulation of fluid, called pulmonary oedema, reducing excessive small artery blood pressure.

However, when the researchers put Lasix treated horses on a treadmill to increase their heart rate and blood pressure to racetrack levels, they found that it had no effect on reducing fluid build-up.

Lasix also has many side effects, including dehydration and blood electrolyte imbalance.

“We wanted to know if Lasix treated or somehow prevented EIPH,” says Viel. “We found that it does neither. Therefore, it becomes questionable if Lasix has any preventative effect at all, meaning the debate should continue as to whether Lasix is a valid pre-racing medication. In my opinion, it would be a great welfare benefit to the horse in treating them for IAD, as we treat asthmatics with a simple bronchodilator that opens up their airways to their normal, healthy level. Many of these drugs are approved for use in horses and would offer a safer, more effective solution.”

Some veterinarians also believe that effectively treating IAD early on, could prevent the onset of recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), or 'heaves,' amore advanced respiratory illness of older animals.

RAO is commonly found in hunter-jumpers, ponies, dressage and companion horses. The condition causes frequent allergic respiratory responses which include performance disruptive coughing and animal discomfort. It’s especially prevalent in colder countries like Canada where horses must be stabled for a portion of the year, since mouldy hay and dusty stable conditions are known to induce symptoms.

Prof. Dorothee Bienzle, Department of Pathobiology, is studying Clara cells, the cells that line most of the bronchi in the lung, to understand how the disease progresses. Clara cells produce a protein – Clara cell secretory protein (CCSP) – which reduces the inflammation caused by inhaling harmful dust and fungal spores.

Bienzle found that years of continuous exposure to poor quality air eventually exhausts the Clara cells, which means lower CCSP levels and less ability to limit the inflammatory allergic response. Older horses with advanced RAO produce very little CCSP.

Researchers can measure CCSP levels in the respiratory tract with lung washes, where water is flushed into and then collected from the lung. From these tests, researchers have determined the amount of protein present in normal horses compared to those with severe RAO. This allows them to tell how advanced the disease is based on CCSP levels. They also found that CCSP leaks into the blood of animals with inflamed lungs.

“We’d like to develop a CCSP test for blood, which might be a very good indicator of how severe the disease is,” says Bienzle. “This would allow us to simply take a blood sample and be able to give the animal’s owner an accurate prognosis.”

Over the summer, Bienzle and her team performed lung washes on horses from several nearby farms. The hope was to obtain realistic data by testing animals that are housed in conditions typical to Ontario stables.

Previous studies by Bienzle have identified three types of fungal agents that may be responsible for RAO cases throughout Ontario. She will examine the fungal agents found in the lung washes as well as CCSP levels and the different types of inflammatory cells present in horses with and without RAO.

Research funding has been provided through the funding agencies of Equine Guelph and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

(By Natalie Osborne)

In reply to by Lynne Magee

i dont need anyone to tell me if lasix is effective ma'am....i raced many many "bleeders" and it absolutely essential.
im not saying it is the best way to treat a horse or that a better way isnt around the corner. but to say lasix is "ineffective" is preposterous. ive personally seen the difference and about 95% of the thoroughbred community might likely agree with me.
if there is one thing im sure of in this world it is that one vet or doctor will say one thing and dozens will disagree.
im saying ive seen results,not on mice or monkeys....directly from race horses that are racing.

Sorry Mr. Macdonald it is not that"gamblers are angry about cheaters". They just want to be in the know when horses have or have not been pre raced etc. Unless they are or feel they are they have wisely taken their "action" elsewhere!!

To Mr. Macdonald, to even suggest that 95% of thoroughbreds need lasix is complete and utter nonsense. If 95% of the t'breds are on lasix then that would tell anyone that in many cases it is being used to mask other drugs. You maybe able to sell people on the idea that 10 even up to 20% of t'breds may legitimately need the drug but to suggest that 95% need it is a joke.

Of course the safety and health of the horse is paramount. Also the thoughts and concerns of the wagering public are very important. The fact is there are medications used in our sport, some good, unfortunately some bad. As I respect the trumpeting of Mr McCarron I find it ironic that he himself has rose to the stature he has now under his own admittance of driving what seems to be horses illegally medicated?

It seems to me that zero tolerance is getting a huge push from somewhere, I would question the safety and wellness of eliminating a medication (lasix) that 95% of thoroughbreds are in need of. Simply squashing a productive program because there are voices from the crowd saying it could be a masking agent is simply "throwing the baby out with the bath water".

Horsemen that own and race horses should be speaking out???
where are you?? All i read are gamblers angry about cheaters. Now jockeys turned GM's! People who haven't touched brushes??? Can no-one else out there see the writing on the wall????? Vets, horseman, trainers, owners........please have your voice heard because this form, these people, are the ones that will be changing our rules, our industry.

Anthony MacDonald

This part of the sport has to go. It has been hurting the industry for a long time and only the trainers "That know what to do"win a much higher percentage of races.I hope the day will come when racing in Ontario will be clean because the small guy will get tired of waking up very early in the morning and realize that he or she is in a no win situation against certain trainers.I applaud WEG for at least trying to help the industry and to clean up this major problem.The playing field has to level out and let the "real horsemen" get the credit they deserve.

It's easy to throw stones when you are no longer a licensed participant. What did Chris do about this when he was the GM at Santa Anita?

Many of us in the industry who have the nerve to talk about the use of drugs in horse racing (perceived or otherwise) are usually told that we are "jealous" and we "don't like to see others succeed" and "are creating bad press for the industry". Those accusations couldn't be further from the truth. We want our horses to compete on a level playing field. We want all horses to compete clean for the fairness (to bettors and the horsepeople) of the sport and the welfare and safety of all horses. It's about time something is done to clean up this ever-growing problem in racing. I applaud Chris McCarron for speaking out against the use of race day medication.

Bravo to Chris Mccarron for speaking out and saying what we all know. I could name the names of many of the super trainers from weg and the big m from the last 20 years but if in did this would not get posted. They get red hot right out of the blue and then 2 or 3 years later many of them can't win a fixed race, did they forget how to train or jog there horses or were the authorities closing in on them and they had to stop using what they were using. It is not only hard on the horses but unfair to other owners, trainers and drivers and last but not least cheated the gamblers out of there money. These people are a straight out cancer on the sport.

I certainly appreciate someone with the integrity and experience of Chris McCarron speaking on the subject. This has been something us bettors have been complaining about for years and it really destroys the game on so many levels. First and foremost it hurts the animals while at the same time possibly putting the safety of riders and drivers at risk. Secondly it causes big bettors such as myself to walk away from the game because of the unfairness in the playing filed. You might as well throw away your program and from when horses suddenly start going 2 seconds fater then they have ever gone with no feasalbe explanation to offer.

Have something to say about this? Log in or create an account to post a comment.