Op/Ed Feedback: Eric Hamelback


I was very intrigued when I read the title of the Op/Ed written by Bill Finley about the effect of Lasix on the racing performance of Effinex in the December 2nd issue of the TDN (click here). Mr. Finley chronicles the story of a horse who broke his maiden in state-bred company after a relatively lackluster debut. Effinex then won his next race, at long odds, in an entry level restricted allowance race, only to then be badly beaten in his very next start, the GI Wood Memorial. Effinex did beat his odds, running third to last, despite being the longest shot on the board. The relatively inexperienced Effinex found himself pitted against some of the best horses in the country in his fourth start and still outran his odds. Many a good horse has been intimidated to the point of no return under similar circumstances, however then trainer David Smith and owner Tri-Bone Stables had many reasons to be proud of their horse.

After his next start, another New York-bred allowance race, Effinex ran third, again surpassing his odds, beaten 6 1/4 lengths. It is at this point that Dr. Cohen, out of frustration, put his talented colt on Lasix, despite his deep-seated conviction, not shared by most horsemen, that Lasix is not good for horses. In the horse's next start, on Lasix, he finishes 7th, beaten 12 3/4 lengths in the Easy Goer, again, running now with Lasix. The next race was a New York restricted allowance race, where Effinex finished sixth by 12 lengths, still on Lasix. As I now closely examine the past performances of Effinex, I begin to wonder “how many races on Lasix are required?” before one sees the proclaimed performance enhancing effect that Lasix is said to have in this article.

As I see it, former trainer David Smith did a nice job with the horse. Effinex outran his odds in most of his starts under Smith's care. However, the true change of course for Effinex came with a shift to conditioner Jimmy Jerkens after a two month layup.

The question then becomes whether the improvement in performance was related to the freshening or the factors that attended the trainer change. Dr. Cohen himself stated that horsemanship, along with the later maturing pedigree we find in Effinex as well as the infrastructure that accompanied the move, certainly helped take Effinex to the next level.

I found this Op-Ed seemed to reflect only a portion of the story revolving around Effinex and Dr. Cohen's claims against Lasix. Certainly we know there are those with an anti-Lasix agenda who want to show support for their position. However, those of us who see Lasix as a therapeutic medication could be misled if only reading the surface of this article as it relates to the past performances of Effinex. My hope would be to have articles written that support either side of the Lasix issue, not be written in such a way that cause either supportive group to be intentionally or non-intentionally misled. I believe there is ample scientific research readily available that shows unequivocally that the majority of horses bleed from the lungs during exercise, and that Lasix is the only scientifically proven treatment for this condition. On the other hand, there is a paucity of evidence to support an opinion that Lasix is performance enhancing beyond this anti-bleeding effect.

As I have found in others, I find this Op-Ed is missing the key ingredient we all must demand for medication debates within horse racing: proven facts, not anecdotal evidence. Every article, including Letters To the Editor and Op-Eds, should be accurately researched and thus conveyed fairly before being released to main stream media. We all have opinions which are important and have merit in any discussion. However, when one makes statements and has convictions unsupported by facts, one can expect to get a response. As an industry we are obligated now more than ever to carefully consider facts and data before disseminating claims, insinuations or even opinions such as we find in this Op-Ed.

I believe it is incumbent upon all of us in our industry to challenge a version of any article, regardless of content, that we feel only points to one side, or the other. We are inundated with sound bites, and information of 140 characters or less. However, in order to be fully educated on any topic, one must be willing to go beyond one side of a story in hopes of educating yourself, regardless of one's own opinion. We hope, and I ask that our turf writers aid in that education, while still offering plenty of room for opinions.

In this piece we have an owner and veterinarian Dr. Cohen, throwing out quotes such as “I don't care what anyone else says, 99% of horses run on Lasix and 99% of horses do not bleed. Period. End of Story.” I represent and stand for horsemen and women throughout the country, and I am here to tell you, that I do care. I care that we get it right, for the health and welfare of our equine athletes. The scientific evidence, not just the opinions of the majority of my constituency, disputes many of the comments in this piece. I for one would applaud Dr. Cohen for wanting to take a stand, and measure the ability of his horse Effinex without Lasix. It is my belief that running on Lasix is, and should remain, a choice for owners, but I also offer my congratulations to Dr. Cohen's management and care of one of the great stars of Thoroughbred racing. By allowing for the proper usage of a proven therapeutic medication, he has ensured that the racing fan will continue to see Effinex in the winner's circle for some time to come.

Warm Regards,

Eric J. Hamelback

CEO, National HBPA


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