…I’d say dis post ain’t gonna do nuttin’ but confuse da issue.
The unlikely source for commentary in today’s post is the Daily Racing Form, the venerable horse racing publication since 1894. Over the weekend, DRF’s David Grening reported that three horsetrainers at New York’s Belmont Park were fined $500 each and given a suspended seven-day suspension for giving herbal medicine to horses on race day (yes, the suspension was suspended – provided they don’t have another violation for the rest of the year. Otherwise, the suspended suspension will be suspended.).
Trainers Faustino Ramos, Chris Englehart, and Michelle Sharp were each fined $500 for giving their horses either Air Power or Wind-Aid – classified by the stewards as similar to cough medicine despite containing all natural ingredients – on the day their horses were to race at Belmont [source]
The trainers were ruled in violation of section 4043.2 of the New York City Racing Commission rules and regulations on, “Restricted use of drugs, medication and other substances,” as follows:
Drugs and medications are permitted to be used only in accordance with the following provisions.
(a) The following substances are permitted to be used at any time up to race time:
(1) topical applications (such as antiseptics, ointments, salves, DMSO, leg rubs, leg paints and liniments) which may contain antibiotics but do not contain benzocaine, steroids or other drugs; and
(2) antibiotics, vitamins, electrolytes, and other food supplements as long as they are administered orally and as long as they do not contain any other drug or by their nature, exhibit drug-like actions or properties [emphasis mine; source: 9 NYCRR 4043.2]
Okay. So what are Air Power and Wind-Aid?
Air Power is manufactured by Finish Line Horse Products and is marketed as an all-natural herbal product that “will stop a horse from coughing all day.” Like other products in this category across equine supply shops, it is advertised as safe for pre-race use and claims are made that it does not contain any compounds that would test positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Wind-Aid is a somewhat similar product manufactured by Hawthorne Products and is marketed as offering “temporary relief of equine bronchial congestion, minor throat irritation and wind problems.”
Neither manufacturer was particularly good at actually telling you what’s in their product. But, fortunately, secondary equine product marketers do a much better job. (btw, they don’t sell the products but reading the website of Southern Missouri Mule made me want to buy some leather chaps and drink some whiskey from a mason jar.)
According to information available at Jeffers Equine, Air Power is comprised of honey, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, ethyl alcohol, menthol, lemon juice, oil of eucalyptus. Wind-Aid contains potassium iodide as a main component with eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, glycerine in aqueous base. Potassium iodide is more often classified in pharmacology texts as an expectorant – an agent that thins bronchial secretions facilitating their expulsion – rather than a bronchodilator.
So, these products are essentially liquid versions of cough drops, full of soothing essential oils and, at worst, an expectorant. These are not strong bronchodilators as compared with ephedrine, theophylline, or inhaled β1-agonist bronchodilators such as albuterol. Pharmacology studies with menthol and essential oils are often quite old and/or written in French or German (yes, yes, that’s no excuse for a writer with a German surname – and that’s why US chemistry academic programs used to require German proficiency), but these compounds are so universal that they have been used in over-the-counter products for decades and even before in their plant forms by indigenous cultures.
Nevertheless, FDA has long regulated menthol, for example, as a drug when it is claimed to have a medical effect and restricts its concentrations in human products such as lozenges or inhaled vapor solutions and ointments (pharmacology word for the day is insufflation – administering a medical gas or vapor into a body cavity).
But as many of you know, the regulation of naturally-occurring plant extracts for wellness or “support” of the body falls under a less stringent series of regulations as defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Not to be too flippant, but as long as a direct drug claim or disease-treatment indication is not made for a product, it is regulated as a supplement and not a drug that must undergo a long path of preclinical and clinical testing. Naturally-occurring extracts such as eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil are sort of in the middle because they can be used in cosmetics and as flavoring agents for food products so the same product can be regulated differently – in a manner I’m now realizing deserves its own blog post.
But back to the trainers – this is a bum rap. Section 4043.2 doesn’t really define what a drug or drug-like action really is. Perhaps based on the intended, labeled use of these products, they might be considered drugs. But they are labeled as acceptable products for pre-race treatment – perhaps they need to have a disclaimer that trainers need to check their local regulations.
But I’m hard pressed to find anything in the veterinary literature that specifically notes that these kinds of products improve performance. However, I’ll call out to my equine and vet colleagues for clarification or direction to any literature.
Disclaimer: I have no financial relationship with Southern Missouri Mule or Jeffers Equine – they just showed up on the first page of Google searches. However, I’ll gladly take a set of chaps or – at least a T-shirt.