By: Daryl Timms
RACING Victoria will soon be able to test for formaldehyde — an embalming fluid — which stewards suspect is being injected into horses with a history of bleeding from the lungs.
“It is something that is very much on our radar at the moment,” chief steward Terry Bailey said.
“And it will be very soon that we’ll be able to test for it.”
RV chief vet Brian Stewart said there was enough anecdotal evidence to suspect the fluid was being illegally used on race day.
As well as concerns about race-day administration, the use of formaldehyde is a horse welfare issue as it is carcinogenic.
Its use was raised during the cobalt probe in Sydney.
Stewart said it was difficult to say how widespread the use of formaldehyde had become because it was virtually undetectable.
“Our CAT (compliance assurance) team has detected bottles of it that have been made up and compounded for injection,” he said.
“There is certainly plenty of gossip and anecdotal evidence that it may be being used to control bleeders, but whether it’s widespread or is limited to a few is hard to say.’’
Stewart said formaldehyde was used in human medicine a long time ago in an attempt to control haemorrhage, particularly in obstetrics in a uterine haemorrhage where the drug was given intravenously.
“There have been scientific studies that show it doesn’t really do anything, but it’s one of those maybe it works,” he said.
“In veterinary medicine, when you do castrations that keep dripping, there was a recommendation in a test book or an American journal that intravenous administration of 10 per cent formaldehyde would help the clotting.”
Stewart said it was illogical to use formaldehyde to prevent bleeding in a horse’s lung.
“It’s also fairly nasty stuff and horses can sometimes get nasty reactions to it,” he said.
“It’s carcinogenic, there is not doubt about that.
“As a welfare and safety thing, unless you have a dire emergency, its routine use to me is medically unacceptable.”
Stewart said formaldehyde was legitimately and commonly used in stables to treat thrush in horses’ feet and toughen the soles. It is widely available over the counter.