The first time that French horse Helwan raced while on the drug Lasix was his last. At Belmont Park on June 6, just hours before the Belmont Stakes, in the fourth race, he suffered a broken leg and was euthanized. In a letter sent today to the New York State Gaming Commission, PETA asked for an investigation into whether he should have been given the drug in the first place.
In the letter, PETA points out that in France, Helwan had raced his entire career—and had won or finished in the top three in every race—without Lasix, which is prohibited from being used on race days outside the U.S and Canada. In the U.S., Lasix is used regularly, supposedly to prevent pulmonary hemorrhage. But it’s also reportedly used as a performance enhancer to make horses run faster, as it is a diuretic that dehydrates the animals, making them lighter and faster. Nearly every horse at Belmont that day, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, raced on Lasix. But the use of this drug is controversial because it also can debilitate horses by making them dehydrated and deficient in calcium, potassium, and chloride—which can lead to muscle fatigue and weakness and may have contributed to Helwan’s broken leg and subsequent death.
New York racing regulations ban the use of Lasix unless horses meet certain qualifying conditions, such as a bleeding incident during a workout or a precedent of previously racing while on the drug—qualifiers that PETA says Helwan’s history indicates he likely didn’t meet.
“Why would Helwan only need this powerful medication on U.S. soil?” asks PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “We urge officials to find out whether there was credible evidence that Helwan actually bled during a workout, especially since he had never raced on Lasix before, or if he was given the drug so that he wouldn’t lose his competitive edge against the others horses—all of whom were on Lasix.”
Every dollar spent at the track contributes to horses’ suffering. Don’t watch and don’t bet.