By Jennifer Morrison

The Ontario Racing Commission urges the sport to take on a ban of all race-day medications except for the anti-bleeding drug Lasix by 2015.

A horse works out at Woodbine racetrack on Sept. 8 in advance of the Woodbine Mile. A ban on race-day medications may come into effect by early 2015.

A proposal to ban all race-day medications, with the exception of the anti-bleeding drug Lasix, could become a reality in Ontario horse racing as soon as early 2015.

Dr. Adam Chambers, manager of veterinary services for the Ontario Racing Commission, has been a proponent for the elimination of any race-day medications, most of which are simply therapeutic, such as vitamins, for several years.

“I think it is important that we show the public that we care about our horses, that were are not over-medicating them,” said Chambers. “The bettors never know what a horse has received the day of the race and I don’t think that is fair.”

For bettors and fans of the game, banning race-day medications gives a sense of a level playing field with only Lasix being admissible in a regulated dose on race day. Fans want to know that one trainer does not have an advantage over another.

The Uniform Medication Reforms has been adopted by a handful of U.S. tracks and gathering steam south of the border.

Several racing jurisdictions in the U.S. have already signed on to adopt model rules and penalties for medications not deemed therapeutic that appear in the horse’s post race tests. A positive test can result in an automatic suspension for horse and trainer.

And some industry members including many leading trainers and veterinarians say banning the race-day administration of Lasix should also be on the table.

Noted equine vet Dr. Larry Bramlage, in an acceptance speech for being recognized for his veterinary contributions at the Thoroughbred Club of America dinner recently, said race-day Lasix has to be banned because “the general public can’t understand it” or discern the difference between a scientifically proven drug that helps horses, such as Lasix, and other race-day medications.

“I believe furosemide (Lasix) is valuable to the horse when racing,” said Bramlage. “

[But] the connotation that has been created is unsavoury to the general public because they can’t discriminate between furosemide and cocaine, they just read the headline ‘race day medication.’ ”

In August, Frank Stronach, a racetrack owner whose Adena Springs has been the continent’s top breeder of horses for years, sent a letter to fellow track operators asking for the banning of all race-day medications, including Lasix.

“We as track operators must do everything we can to eliminate race-day medications,” Stronach said. “The integrity of our sport and the safety of our athletes, both human and equine, should and must always be of paramount concern.”

Chambers believes the public can, however, be educated on medication issues in horse racing and said Lasix is still proven to help many horses who suffer from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding from inside the lungs.

Lasix was made legal for race-day use in North America during the 1980s and was scrutinized through dozens of studies in the last two decades. It is not, however, allowed in any other jurisdictions in the world.

As recently as two years ago, however, race-day Lasix was banned from the two-year-old events at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships before being reinstated for this year’s Cup races later this month. There can be up to two dozen other “medications” administered to a racehorse on a race day including settling agents, vitamins and other anti-bleeding products.

“Most of them are pretty innocuous,” said Chambers. “But we can make it a level playing field for everyone involved in racing by banning all of them. The smaller trainers, who may not be able to afford to vitamins, are on the same level as the bigger stables who can.”

The response through many meetings between the ORC, horseman’s groups and industry members, including bettors, has been positive.

“On the whole, everyone thinks it is a good idea,” said Chambers, who began work on this proposal some 18 months ago.

“What is important going forward is figuring out the nuts and bolts of the program — for instance, what is the exact definition of “race day” — and making sure everyone knows about it and is educated about before it is put into place.”