11/02/2012 10:00PM

Beyer: Day one of Lasix ban - distraction but no conclusion

Jenny Burgos
Beholder wins the Juvenile Fillies under Garrett Gomez. She won her previous race by 11 lengths with Lasix, the diuretic that was banned from 2-year-old Breeders' Cup races this year.

On a day when Royal Delta delivered a brilliant performance to defeat an all-star field in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, one of the prime topics of conversation at Santa Anita was not about horses. It was about the drug Lasix.

Although the use of Lasix has been an established part of American racing since the 1970s, the Breeders' Cup on Friday instituted a bold change that has stirred intense controversy throughout the U.S. Thoroughbred industry. It prohibited the use of Lasix in its five races for 2-year-olds as a precursor to a ban in all Breeders' Cup events beginning in 2013.

A significant majority of U.S. horsemen object to what the Breeders' Cup has done. The diuretic controls the tendency of horses to bleed in the lungs after exertion - a common phenomenon. Most trainers believe strongly in its benefits and use it routinely. "Eighty to 90 percent of my horses bleed," said trainer Graham Motion, "and the bad [bleeders] . . . need Lasix."

In recent years, some prominent owners and breeders have made efforts to stop the widespread use of medications in U.S. racing. They argue that most countries ban the race-day use of Lasix, and they point to statistics showing that those countries don't have epidemics of bleeding.

The anti-drug forces have clout within the Breeders' Cup organization, which had its own reasons to get rid of Lasix. The Breeders' Cup sees itself as an international championship, encourages European participation and is sensitive to European attitudes - such as their opposition to the liberal medication policies in the United States. The Lasix ban, said Craig Fravel, the Breeders' Cup president, represents an effort to conduct racing "under international standards."

People on both sides of the argument will examine the Lasix-free 2-year-old races - three of them on Friday's card, two on Saturday - to judge how the ban may have affected the races and horses' performance.

The small fields for some of the 2-year-old events caught everybody's attention. The Juvenile Fillies - whose $2 million purse is exceeded by only three races in North America - attracted only eight entrants, equaling the smallest field in its history. The Juvenile, with a $2 million purse Saturday, drew only nine. And although there ought to be a small army of 2-year-olds with good form at six furlongs, only five started in the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint. One owner, New Yorker Mike Repole, declared that he was boycotting the Breeders' Cup as a protest against the Lasix ban, but there was no way to know how many possible starters were missing for this reason.

Fravel anticipated - or hoped - that the absence of Lasix wouldn't affect the outcomes, and that superior horses would win regardless. This is what happened in the three 2-year-old races:

* Beholder, after winning her prior start by 11 lengths when treated with Lasix, led all the way to capture the Juvenile Fillies, holding off the favorite Executiveprivilege by a length. The result was perfectly logical, and Beholder certainly didn't suffer from a lack of medication.

* Merit Man was the heaviest favorite of the entire day, but the 1-to-2 shot was outdueled in the stretch run of the Juvenile Sprint by Hightail, the longest shot in the field. The upset gave legendary trainer Wayne Lukas his 19th Breeders' Cup victory, but did the absence of Lasix have something to do with Merit Man's failure?

* The French 2-year-old Flotilla accelerated powerfully in the stretch to give Europe its first victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Unlike her American rivals, Flotilla had raced Lasix-free throughout his short career.

There is no way to draw any meaningful conclusions about Lasix from such evidence. But as the Lasix ban is applied to the entire Breeders' Cup, bettors and horsemen will always be guessing about its effect on individual horses; when horses run after competing in the Breeders' Cup, the impact of Lasix will become a question again.

If the Breeders' Cup ban represented the start of a move to drug-free racing in American racing, it would serve an important purpose - but this is never going to happen. Medication rules are set by state racing commissions, not by any national governing body.

With Lasix permitted, virtually every horse in the Breeders' Cup was treated with it (including the Europeans) and they competed on a level playing field. Lasix was a non-issue. Now it has become a distraction.

There shouldn't have been any distractions from the racing action on the first day of the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. The $2 million Ladies' Classic drew one of the strongest fields of fillies in its history with three Eclipse Award winners (two of them undefeated) in the lineup.

Royal Delta, the defending champion, was the favorite, but few people expected her to win the way she did. Against a field that included two brilliantly fast rivals, jockey Mike Smith let her go to the lead and set a lightning-fast pace: a half-mile in 45.81 seconds. She disposed of the speedsters, then repelled the stretch-runners, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over the previously undefeated My Miss Aurelia.

The fact that all eight fillies in the field ran on Lasix - as they had for most of their careers - hardly detracted from the spectacle. It's hard to imagine that if this were 2013, and they were all Lasix-free, that the race could have been any better.

(c) Copyright 2012, The Washington Post

John More than 1 year ago
Mark Casse said he wished all the folks that wanted the lasix ban had seen all the blood that came out of Spring in the Air. Capo Bastone and Monument were also listed as have bled. John B
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Hey Andy, Perhaps now you can tip your hat and apologize to Breeders Cup Champion, Jockey Willie Martinez, along with Shivananda Parbhoo for an excellent job with Trinniberg.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
robert More than 1 year ago
Lasix permits a human to unhinge the webbing on a stall of a horse entered that day four hours before post with a loaded needle.//period/// With a ban on lasix a human can't enter a stall with a loaded needle. Also, stop with the lets see what off or on lasix means when one only has to interview a trainer with a runner whose's pps show lasix every race but he wasn't administered lasix the last three races then today the money run the juice.
Kevin More than 1 year ago
So, where was the performance drop in Beholder and Merit Man which should have resulted from them not being treated with their SUPPOSED “performance enhancing drug” (Lasix)? Seems to me they ran to their odds … even without the so-called “juice” in their systems. What happened? As, for Hightail at 15-1, well, I guess the Lasix was masking the “performance diminishing” drugs Lukas has been giving him all this time.
PeterG More than 1 year ago
Merit Man ran to his odds? Wasn't he 3-5 or something like that? He got beat by a maiden.
PeterG More than 1 year ago
"The fact that all eight fillies in the field ran on Lasix - as they had for most of their careers - hardly detracted from the spectacle. It's hard to imagine that if this were 2013, and they were all Lasix-free, that the race could have been any better." And how many of those 8 fillies who have been juiced up on Lasix their entire careers have actually bled after a race Andy? I'm going to guess that none of them have actually bled.
Morris More than 1 year ago
ban lasix, & lets see who will profit from it. the owners will be affected the most. with no prevention of bleeding, when the horse bleeds he will be on the bleeders list & not be able to race,& he will be placed on a farm off track. so lets count the people who will profit. the testing people will profit. because the absents of lasix will make testing cheaper.( this is the main reason that they want to do away with lasix). the vets will profit. as they do any how. the lay up farms will profit. a horse on the bleeders list cant be raced SO the track loses a entry in a race . the trainer loses a potential income from purse money. (as does the owner). the jockeys lose mount money & potential purse money. the track loses the horse at the entry box. i could go on forever with this. but any reasonable person can get what the drift is here. forbiding the use of lasix, does way more to hurt racing, than it will ever help. the only 1s that are pushing this issue, here are the few fans, that far the most part are $25 a day gamblers, that dont own a hair on a race horse of any kind. destory lasix & it is just 1 more rule to take away from the good of racing.
Brigitte de Saint Phalle More than 1 year ago
Owners will save money and vets will make less because the Lasix plus electrolyte injections every time the horse breezes or races add up. A bleeder list would be very helpful in selecting a sire or brood mare (heavy bleeding is heritable) - this will hurt owners and breeders of bleeders. Everyone will be better off when the tendency to bleed heavily stops spreading and when horses recover quicker from their races (racing dehydrated is stressful). The lost entries you refer to? Well, before Lasix horses raced more often. Yes, this is a different picture from the one you painted. One more thing: when they say "all horses bleed" it's mediscare - they are referring to traces of blood observed with an endoscope. Check out Graham Motion's comment that 90% of his horses bleed (sounds bad) and the bad bleeders need Lasix (hmm). I'd have liked to know the percentage of bad bleeders ...
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
the main issue that was resolved here is that none of the horses bled.the best filly won and won well,merit man was a very close 2nd,against a d wayne lucas horse with a lot of bottom in longer races.so the trainers apocalyptic predictions did not materialize.one interesting note if lasix is only usefull for bleeding why do the euros use it here after their horses have proved they dont bleed or need lasix by racing with out it in europe,some have had 30 starts with out it .suddenly they come over and they need it to stop bleeding?.i dont think so they just want to be able to have the same advantages our needle happy trainers have.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
Andy's article is very neutral, presenting both sides of the issue. I'm not complaining about Andy personally, but I'm wondering why there seems to be little support for the lasix ban among the racing media. For years, Andy and others have been moaning about drugs and the need to clean up, but now that someone is starting to do something, there seems to be little support. During the peak of racing's popularity, Lasix was not legal.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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PeterG More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a surprise. (sarcasm)
John Bradley More than 1 year ago
I think a 1 to 2 shot like Merit Man, not being able to hold on the 15 to 1 maiden Hightail, seems pretty conclusive to me Mr. Beyer. I didn't lose a dime on the juvenile races because I didn't wager. I won't lose any money on the saturday juvenile races either.
James Eccles More than 1 year ago
The fact that a long-shot beats an odds-on horse proves nothing other than there is a reason that they run horses on tracks instead of paper. One race or one day of racing proves nothing either way. If people don't want to bet on races for any reason, that's their choice. People should vote on this with their money just like they do in any other business, but horses running clean hasn't hurt the Dubai festival. Perhaps the problem could have been addressed differently but the objective is a good one.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
pretty conclusive are you kidding.whats conclusive.that maybe merit man needs more than lasix,he did not bleed.and he got beat by a head.also merit man had been training badly for weeks and it was no secret the trainer was even asked about it in interviews.beholder did just fine with out lasix,and executiveprivelige ran 2nd.so the top 2 in the exacta.
Jeffrey Tretter More than 1 year ago
Hightail was taken off of Lasix for the race too and closed stoutly to win. All horses were on even terms and had chances to win. I think Merit Man just got out ran and would have come back and won had he seen Hightail sooner. He looks like a green somewhat lazy horse who hasn't figured it all out yet. He was still running hard at the wire and coming back on the winner. Did not look like bleeding was an issue to me. Not sure what the figures will be but Hightail probably ran a career best. Will be interesting to see what the figs are for all of the lasix/non lasix two year olds.