Updated: May 9, 2019
The use of lasix and other drugs in horse racing has always been a hot issue. Whether or not lasix should be banned in North American horse racing is a question that has been begging to be answered ever since the Stronach Group announced their plans to phase out lasix. The announcement by the Stronach Group has been followed up with a coalition of 20 tracks forming to phase out lasix and completely eliminate the use of it in stakes races by 2021. This coalition includes all tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc., The New York Racing Association, and The Stronach Group as well as the tracks Keeneland, Del Mar, Oaklawn Park, and more.
Dr. Kathryn Papp is one veterinarian and animal lover that is in support of this ban. She, alongside her family, is working to breed and raise horses that will race without any medication.
Papp was raised in New Jersey. As a child she worked with high-end jumpers and hunters and competed in these circuits into her college years. She attended college at the University of Vermont and Tufts University in Massachusetts. Afterwards, Papp attend the University of Guelph - Ontario Veterinary College in Canada. She graduated in April of 2008.
In her first associate position following her internship, Kathryn Papp worked for Equine Veterinary Care at Fair Hill, a Thoroughbred training center in Maryland. Dr. Papp, now 36, has been practicing veterinary medicine for almost 11 years with a focus on the Thoroughbred racehorse. She owns Hillcrest Meadow Equine where she offers services ranging from vaccines to minor surgeries.
Dr. Kathryn Papp’s dedication to saving animals does not end when she’s finished with her veterinary appointments for the day. In 2012, PA Racehorse Rehoming, Rehabilitation, & Rehoming (PARR) was formed. The rescue group officially became a 501(c)(3) in 2014. “At this time I was working mainly at the Penn National Racetrack in Grantville, PA,” Papp said. “I ended up marrying a TB trainer and in order to be able to sleep at night, knowing we had a hand in making any money off of these horses and recognizing how many horses needed immediate aftercare options following their retirement from racing, we started PARR and rented a farm and began helping as many as we could”.
Recently, Dr. Papp ventured into Thoroughbred breeding with her husband Monti Neal Sims, mother Carol Papp, and father Allen N. Papp. Together they are working to breed horses that will race without lasix. The family established Hillcrest Meadows Farm, LLC. (HMF). They are based out of Cream Ridge, NJ.
“Their first broodmare was one given to them by a client of mine when the horse fell ill while racing,” Dr. Papp explained. “It was brought to their attention that she had very unique bloodlines that traced back to certain founding TB mares and sires and bloodstock agents recommended that they breed her".
In order to not contribute to the overpopulation of unwanted horses, Papp’s family has been developing a program that allows them to ensure the safety of any horse ever bred, owned, or raced by them. They have escrow accounts for any horse that comes into their care. Each month, $200 will be placed into the accounts of Hillcrest Meadow Equine's horses to ensure that they can be claimed back or purchased if in a bad situation or so that they can receive proper medical care if injured.
Hummingbird by Cat Thief is among the first horses to race for Hillcrest Meadows Farm. She currently holds a record for 15:2-1-1, mainly running at Penn National. Inherent Value by Notional is another mare that has started her racing career for Hillcrest Meadows Farm. She has a record of 7:0-3-2. Both mares are trained by Papp’s husband, Monti Neal Sims.
“The few horses HMF have already raced under their ownership have started their careers without lasix,” Dr. Papp said.
However, Dr. Kathryn Papp notes that it is very hard to run your horses without lasix in lower level races. “When racing in claiming races, many trainers or other owners almost force your hand into putting your race horses on lasix to run. If you run successfully without the medication, they know they can claim your horse and easily improve its performance just by putting it on lasix. Some of our claiming horses will run on small amounts of lasix for this reason”.
This is a sentiment that many trainers and owners in the lower levels of horse racing seem to share. It is more difficult for a horse to win a race if they are not on lasix because most of, if not all, the other horses in the race will be running on the medication.
“If more opportunities become available for lasix free racing or if the horses are talented enough to run in non-claiming races, HMF intends not to race them on lasix,” said Dr. Papp.
Dr. Kathryn Papp attributes her desire to run horses without lasix to the knowledge of the medication she learned from her years of school and by working with racehorses.
“The use of an intravenous injection of a strong diuretic just 4 hours prior to our equine athletes performing at maximal capacity in a race does not look or sit right with the betting or watching public. The medication, in addition to helping band aid an underlying condition associated with racing, EIPH, or bleeding from the lungs, is also a performance enhancer via the significant loss of weight it causes as well as hematocrit increase,” Papp said. “Adversely, lasix administration leads the horse to leach calcium and potassium from their circulating system leading to electrolyte imbalances that can have fatal consequences.”
She continued to explain the problem of lasix leaching calcium and potassium by saying, “Calcium is extremely important for muscle contraction, especially in the heart muscle. Calcium is supposed to be kept in close homeostasis with other electrolytes such as Magnesium and Phosphorus for proper function. Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes for maintaining the proper electrical conduction and rhythm of the heart beat. You can stop a heart with a fast infusion of a high concentration of potassium.”
“Horses, once given lasix, take 72 hours or more to return their circulatory systems back to normal with regard to electrolyte and water balance,” Dr. Papp said.
In addition to the current horses in the Hillcrest Meadow Farm program, the family has bred two yearlings and a new colt. The yearlings include Ironiq, a colt by Flat Out and out of Quick Bid. The other yearling is An Easter Lily, a filly by Speightster and out of Spitfire Wind. Spitfire Wind gave birth to a colt by California Chrome last month who is lovingly referred to as “Blaze”.
Phasing out or banning lasix and other race day medications is something that will be debated and talked about in horse racing for years to come. As the times change, sports change too, and this is just one of the many changes horse racing will be going through. Regardless of the feelings of some trainers, owners, and racing fans, the racing industry is moving itself towards rules followed by international courses.
Some people believe that banning lasix will lead to more inhumane practices like injecting formaldehyde. Others believe that Thoroughbreds are oo dependent on lasix to phase out the drug now and that doing so will harm the sport. Despite these feelings, the racing industry is moving away from the medication.
All must adapt to these changes, no matter how hard it may be, if the coalition of tracks achieves their goal of removing lasix and other race day medications from the sport. Dr. Kathryn Papp and her family are already ahead of the game for working to breed medication free racehorses, and will be welcoming these changes with open arms.
In this video, Dr. Papp explains how she got into breeding racehorses and what she does to ensure that all horses receive proper care for their entire lives. Also to be seen in this video are some of Hillcrest Meadow Farm's yearlings and other horses.
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