ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Last month, an American horse won the world's richest horserace: the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The horse was former Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. It's not just the money that makes this notable. Animal Kingdom's victory highlights a big divide in the sport between America, where many horses are drugged on race day, and the rest of the world. To learn more, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley went to the races in France.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In France, horseracing season kicked off this month at the famous Longchamp hippodrome just outside of Paris. Crowds came out to cheer and bet on sleek thoroughbreds galloping down the verdant, turf course.
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BEARDSLEY: Horseracing in Europe is different from the sport in the U.S., from the shape and surface of the track to the distance of the races and the length of the racing season. But the biggest difference is drugs. There are none allowed in European horse races. But in America, drugs aren't just legal, they're widely used, particularly furosemide, better known as Lasix, which helps prevent horses' lungs from bleeding during races.
GINA RARICK: Come on.
BEARDSLEY: Gina Rarick is an American horse trainer in France. She grooms a horse at her stables in Maison Lafitte, lush horse country to the west of Paris. Rarick feels the practice of administering Lasix is ruining the sport in America.
RARICK: Every horse in America starts his day with a shot or two in the neck. I'm sorry, but it's wrong. It's just wrong. The Americans will have these horror stories about, oh, if we don't use Lasix, they're going to bleed to death and drop in front of people, and how pretty is that? It's ridiculous. I mean, we don't use Lasix in the rest of the world.
BEARDSLEY: The two-length win March 30 by American horse Animal Kingdom at the Dubai World Cup shows that a horse can run without Lasix, says Rarick, and it comes at a time when drugging is a top issue in the U.S. racing industry. The Breeders' Cup has banned race day drugging of 2-year-olds and was going to extend that ban to all of its races this year. But last month, the Breeders' Cup board rolled back on those plans in part due to lack of support by many in the racing industry.
Rarick rides one of her horses on a morning training run. She says Lasix is a powerful diuretic.
RARICK: If you give a horse a shot of Lasix and then watch what happens, he'll start to pee and pee and pee. He will lose 30 pounds of body weight in fluids. It's a tremendously powerful drug.
BEARDSLEY: Rarick says the horses are then so dehydrated after the race that other drugs are needed to help them recover. She describes it as a vicious circle.
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BEARDSLEY: Animal Kingdom won the Dubai classic clean, but when he won the Kentucky Derby in 2011, he raced on Lasix. In fact, there are 14 medications allowed in America's top horserace, says Rarick. Critics say the legal drugs help mask a raft of illegal drugs. Barry Irwin, Animal Kingdom's owner, wants the use of drugs in American racing stopped. He says 95 percent of American racehorses are being medicated for bleeding, a problem that only affects about five percent.
BARRY IRWIN: I'm more interested in not having any drugs in racing at all, so that everybody can play on a level field, and that we can be more in line with international sport. All other sports are getting rid of medication, and we're stubbornly hanging on to one drug.
BEARDSLEY: Veteran thoroughbred trainer Dale Romans disagrees. He believes using Lasix is the right thing to do and says horseracing in the rest of the world should catch up with the U.S. and modern science.
DALE ROMANS: A lot of people don't realize we have this problem because they don't come back to the barn with the horse. They don't see blood running out of their nose. They don't see that they're bled inside, and it causes lung infections. So we have an inexpensive medication to prevent it from happening, and I think we should use it. I think the horse should be put first.
BEARDSLEY: Tom Lute is the outgoing chairman of the board of directors of the Breeders' Cup. He says the issue of medication in the U.S. horseracing culture is extremely complicated.
TOM LUTE: It's very hard for us to compare racing here and Europe because they run a different style, and they take many more seasonal breaks. We're much more commercialized here. If you look at what the horses run for in purse money in Europe versus here, it's crazy. They run for nothing, except for a very few races.
BEARDSLEY: The use of Lasix and other race-day drugs has created two worlds of horseracing: the U.S. and everywhere else. Trainer Gina Rarick wishes that weren't so.
RARICK: You know, it would be nice to have an ambition of one day getting a horse good enough to run the Breeders' Cup or, you know, win the Kentucky Derby. But that's not my ambition at all because I could never run under those conditions. If they make it drug free, yes, that would be a dream to go back and one day compete in one of the races I used to watch as a kid growing up.
BEARDSLEY: But for now, Rarick says she's more than happy to stay in this racing world. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news, Paris.
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