Background Black patients with heart failure have a poorer prognosis than white patients, a difference that has not been adequately explained. Whether racial differences in the response to drug treatment contribute to differences in outcome is unclear. To address this issue, we pooled and analyzed data from the Studies of Left Ventricular Dysfunction (SOLVD) prevention and treatment trials, two large, randomized trials comparing enalapril with placebo in patients with left ventricular dysfunction. Methods We used a matched-cohort design in which up to four white patients were matched with each black patient according to trial, treatment assignment, sex, left ventricular ejection fraction, and age. A total of 1196 white patients (580 from the prevention trial and 616 from the treatment trial) were matched with 800 black patients (404 from the prevention trial and 396 from the treatment trial). The average duration of follow-up was 35 months in the prevention trial and 33 months in the treatment trial. Results The black patients and the matched white patients had similar demographic and clinical characteristics, but the black patients had higher rates of death from any cause (12.2 vs. 9.7 per 100 person-years) and of hospitalization for heart failure (13.2 vs. 7.7 per 100 person-years). Despite similar doses of drug in the two groups, enalapril therapy, as compared with placebo, was associated with a 44 percent reduction (95 percent confidence interval, 27 to 57 percent) in the risk of hospitalization for heart failure among the white patients (P<0.001) but with no significant reduction among black patients (P=0.74). At one year, enalapril therapy was associated with significant reductions from base line in systolic blood pressure (by a mean [±SD] of 5.0±17.1 mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (3.6±10.6 mm Hg) among the white patients, but not among the black patients. No significant change in the risk of death was observed in association with enalapril therapy in either group. Conclusions Enalapril therapy is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of hospitalization for heart failure among white patients with left ventricular dysfunction, but not among similar black patients. This finding underscores the need for additional research on the efficacy of therapies for heart failure in black patients.