Updated on 08/11/2011 3:24PM

American Graded Stakes Committee seeks to ban furosemide in 2-year-old stakes starting in 2012


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The American Graded Stakes Committee has approved a measure to require that the raceday use of the diuretic furosemide be banned in 2-year-old races in 2012 for the races to remain eligible for the grades it assigns, the committee said on Wednesday, upping the ante in a struggle over raceday drugs that is pitting some of the sport’s most powerful factions against each other.

In a statement, the chairman of the committee, which is administered by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said that the association would begin to work with the six states where racetracks conduct 2-year-old graded stakes in an effort to roll back the rules that currently allow all horses to be treated with furosemide on raceday. Furosemide, which is commonly known as Lasix, is used to treat bleeding in the lungs.

“We view this as a positive step for the elite-level horses that will race in graded stakes, the ones most likely to perpetuate the breed,” said the chairman, Dr. J. David Richardson.

The statement released on Wednesday said that the committee would assess the measure at the end of 2012 “to determine whether to continue or expand the policy.”

The six states where the 49 2-year-old graded stakes scheduled for this year are held are New York, California, Kentucky, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey. All but five of the stakes are held in New York, California, and Kentucky, where regulators have already said that they are reassessing the state’s raceday medication policy.

Andrew Schweigardt, the secretary of the committee, said on Wednesday that the committee might explore options other than pushing for a rule change at the state level, considering the amount of time and effort that is typically involved in amending rules and the opposition the measure is expected to face from horsemen. The alternatives could include the establishment of a “house rule,” a measure that tracks use many times to enforce a policy as a condition of entry.

The step by the committee was criticized by Rick Violette, the executive director of the horsemen’s group in New York, where 17 graded stakes for 2-year-olds are scheduled for 2011. Violette said that the horsemen would oppose any effort to roll back the rules, citing scientific studies that have demonstrated that furosemide is effective in mitigating the severity and frequency of bleeding. Violette also said that horsemen would go so far as to ask for a restraining order if the policy were to be enforced next year.

“I would be more than happy to walk in front of a judge who doesn’t know an ear from a tail and put the science in front of him to show the recent and historical data on Lasix,” Violette said. “It is black and white, as opposed to the rhetoric on the other side. Horses bleed. That is a fact. To force an animal to race without it is premeditated, borderline animal abuse.”

Lou Raffetto, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said that his group’s official position is to support the raceday use of Lasix “regardless of a horse’s age,” but he said that the TOC expected to meet with groups representing other constituencies in the state before deciding whether to support or oppose any amendment to the state’s rules.

“Most of the trainers and owners I talk to have serious concerns about limiting the use of Lasix,” Raffetto said.

The approval of the measure follows a decision by the Breeders’ Cup to ban the use of furosemide on race day beginning in 2012 for any of the horses entered in the five races of its year-end event that are restricted to 2-year-olds. As part of that measure, the Breeders’ Cup also approved a ban on the use of furosemide and other raceday drugs for all 15 races in its year-end event beginning in 2013.

Furosemide is currently legal to use in every racing jurisdiction in North America. All other racing jurisdictions ban the use of the drug, though many trainers in Europe have acknowledged that they use the medication for training.

Calls to roll back the raceday use of furosemide surfaced this year in March when influential representatives of racing commissions announced that they would support a ban on the raceday use of the drug. Since then, a number of industry groups have endorsed the call, citing their concerns over the public perception of racing and the isolation of the North American racing community, but horsemen have resisted.

The American Graded Stakes Committee has no enforcement power, but the committee has used its control over the assignment of grades to influence racing policy in the past. Several years ago, the committee required that states have rules in place banning the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids in order for races to be eligible for grades, but that was at a time when many racing commissions were already beginning to pass rules to regulate the drugs. Horsemen supported those efforts.

The graded stakes committee was formed to provide guidance to buyers of Thoroughbreds by assigning numbered grades to stakes races so that the quality of a horse’s competition could be assessed in shorthand on the pages of sales catalog. The committee, which is composed of representatives of the owners’ and breeders’ association and racing secretaries, meets in November every year to re-assign the grades.