The Crowd of 86,531 that attended last Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course included some animal lovers who were ready to dial the local Humane Society if Summer Squall turned in a bad race. The day before, the colt had bled from the nostrils while grazing, leading to the widespread belief that a grueling spring—the Preakness would be his fifth race in nine weeks—had finally caught up with the little bay. At 950 pounds, Squall was the runt of the nine-horse field that was entered for the second jewel in racing's Triple Crown.
When it was announced that Squall would run in spite of the bleeding, trainer Neil Howard and Cot Campbell, the president of Dogwood Stable, who heads the syndicate that owns the horse, became the most second-guessed men in Baltimore. Yet Howard and Campbell insisted that a race-day dose of Lasix would take care of the bleeding and that Summer Squall's heart, which accounts for about 99.9% of his body weight, would do the rest.
It was a gutty decision—and the correct one. When a hole opened on the rail at the top of the stretch, jockey Pat Day gunned Summer Squall through it and into the lead. Squall then briefly matched strides with Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled before drawing off for a 2�-length victory over the colt who had beaten him by 3� lengths at Churchill Downs. The time for the 1[3/16]-mile race was 1:53[3/5], equaling the second-fastest Preakness ever, and Summer Squall covered the final[3/16] in 18 seconds, which is flying.
On his way to the winner's circle, Campbell obviously felt both relieved and vindicated. "That bleeding stuff was blown out of proportion," he said. "You saw what happened today. He was magnificent."
Summer Squall was, indeed. But he is also the focal point of a debate that will occupy the racing news over the next few weeks. In almost any other year, the public's disappointment over not getting a Triple Crown winner would be offset by the excitement of a rubber match between Squall and Unbridled in the June 9 Belmont Stakes, in New York. However, Squall won't be there.
The week after the Derby, Campbell announced that Summer Squall would pass on the 1�-mile Belmont, regardless of the outcome of the Preakness. The reason: New York, unlike Kentucky and Maryland, doesn't allow a horse to race on Lasix.
Nobody knows for sure exactly what causes pulmonary bleeding in horses, but everybody in racing realizes that it has become a serious problem, with no easy solution. The lack of uniformity in the Triple Crown medication rules is only one example of the inconsistencies that have damaged the integrity of racing and confused the betting public.
In 1988-89, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study of Lasix, commissioned by The Jockey Club, and concluded that the medication enhances the performance of racehorses—just as most trainers and handicappers had long suspected. Over a mile distance, Lasix improved the performance of bleeders by an average of .26 of a second (1.3 lengths) and the performance of nonbleeders by .48 (2.4 lengths). Furthermore, the study concluded that Lasix didn't stop bleeding in 62% of the cases.
When the results of the study were revealed, a few days before this year's Kentucky Derby, they rekindled an industry-wide debate. At one end of the spectrum are the idealists, who believe the only good medication for a racehorse is no medication. At the other end are the realists, who contend that without the use of Lasix and other medications, racetracks wouldn't have enough horses to fill their daily cards.
Campbell said he hadn't read the study, but he had read a summary of it. From his experience, however, he said, "I think Lasix prevents a horse from bleeding. I know it prevented Summer Squall from bleeding. I have no feeling or experience that it makes a horse run faster."