Trainer Joe Orseno issued a statement April 8 clarifying the status of his starter Imprimis , who finished second by a nose to Bound for Nowhere in the April 3 Shakertown Stakes (G2T) at Keeneland while racing without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix.
Orseno initially believed the 7-year-old Broken Vow gelding suffered from Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhaging after the race, and spoke out about his disapproval of new Lasix rules in place this year.
Kentucky is one of a number of jurisdictions that is prohibiting the use of Lasix in graded stakes races in 2021, irrespective of the age of the horses entered, as the industry moves toward the elimination of raceday medication. Last year many of these same jurisdictions began prohibiting Lasix in races for 2-year-olds in a start to the phase-out of the medication, which is used in racehorses to control respiratory bleeding. Some of its critics believe it can enhance performance and is overused.
Kentucky has also expanded the prohibition on Lasix to include all of its stakes, for which the drug may not be given less than 24 hours before post time.
Instead of EIPH, however, Orseno revealed Thursday that Imprimis essentially developed a nose bleed after breaking through the starting gate prior to the Shakertown.
“Thank God the considerable blood coming from Imprimis’ left nostril after the race was not pulmonary hemorrhaging,” his statement read in part. “It also was not from what has been erroneously reported as being a cut on his nose sustained when he broke through the gate prior to the start. Imprimis does have a sizable bump on his nose—about six inches from his nostril—from where his head apparently hit the gate, but he did not sustain any cuts. The endoscopic examination that I had my private veterinarian conduct did reveal trace levels of Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhaging. I’m just so thankful that it wasn’t more severe.
“The bleeding episode apparently was like being punched in the nose, when you can develop a nose bleed without being cut. So Imprimis must have banged his head pretty hard and it went unnoticed. … The state vets at Keeneland did a very thorough examination on my horse in the morning. I’m sure they looked at him after he broke through the gate, saw no cuts, saw no head abrasions, no blood in his nose then. They put him back in the gate and let him run. If they had seen anything, I’m sure they would have scratched him.”
Imprimis, who was making his 19th start Saturday and has a 9-2-2 record with earnings of $865,983, won the Shakertown in 2019. He has run 16 times on Lasix, and three times without. In his two other starts off the medication, he won the Jan. 1 Janus Stakes at Gulfstream Park—another track that has enacted a no-Lasix policy for stakes races this year—and ran sixth in the 2019 King’s Stand Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot in Great Britain. Lasix has a withdrawal time of two days before a race in Great Britain and Ireland.
Orseno was not immediately available Thursday to comment on whether Imprimis bled in either of his other starts off Lasix.
Although Imprimis did not sustain a major case of EIPH in the Shakertown as Orseno initially thought, on Thursday he stated he would not retract his post-race comments regarding Lasix.
“I’ll say it again right now: It’s not good for the industry what they’re doing forcing horses, particularly older horses, to run without Lasix in stakes races,” he said. “And apparently that’s not just one trainer’s opinion. I didn’t know so many people had my phone number, all the horsemen who called or emailed me and said, ‘Thank you for speaking up’—trainers I don’t even know. Someone in California called me out of the clear blue and said, ‘Thank you; someone had the guts to say something.’ I don’t look at it that way. At the time, it wasn’t about guts, it was about being very upset over my horse. I’ve been doing this 44 years, and it’s not just my livelihood, it’s my life.
“I made my statement that someone has to explain to me why we’re making horses bleed, older horses that have run on Lasix their whole life, and now all of a sudden you’re going to penalize the best horses in the country. It’s not good for the game, when we can stop it with an easy fix.
“My veterinarian’s endoscopic exam of Imprimis showed that most of the blood was from banging his head. He did have traces, a trickle down his throat, showing that he did bleed a little in the trachea. We were very lucky. … There are many horses that bleed significantly but not always externally. It is wrong and naïve to think no damage is being done to horses just because they didn’t bleed through the nostrils. It is also deceptive for those who are trying to label an EIPH episode only by visible blood from the nostrils. How are you going to tell an owner this horse is going to only run four times this year instead of eight or nine because I need more time in between to heal them up because he bleeds, and we can’t use Lasix? They are going to start to get disgusted, and horses will be hurt if they return at all. Owners are not going to be as excited about buying horses and racing if they can’t run them more than four times a year.
“I am on the board of the Florida (Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association). We are scoping stakes horses—which must run without Lasix at Gulfstream Park—and we’re paying for it, so we hopefully can all learn something and together make informed and intelligent policy decisions from transparent data going forward. I’d say overall that the overwhelming majority of these horses are bleeding to some degree. The numbers aren’t good. Do we really want to do this to our horses? I sure don’t.”