10/28/2013 3:56PM

Breeders' Cup: Lasix ban for juveniles gets one last hurrah


The Great Lasix Experiment ends here, but the debate is expected to continue.

The waning effort to ban the race-day use of Lasix, an anti-bleeding medication legal to administer in every jurisdiction in North America, will have one last hurrah at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, where the drug will be banned for the second year in a row for all horses entered in races restricted to 2-year-olds.

Starting with next year’s event, the policy will no longer be enforced, and it’s unlikely that any piecemeal bans like the one enacted by the Breeders’ Cup will find firm footing in years to come.

That is not to suggest that a ban on the drug, which is prohibited on race day in almost every other major racing jurisdiction worldwide, has lost its most ardent supporters. Scores of powerful owners and breeders, along with several major organizations representing them, remain opposed to the race-day use of furosemide on the grounds that the North American policy is out of step with the rest of the world, and that the race-day use of any drug, even one proven to have therapeutic benefits, presents a hurdle to selling the sport to new fans.

But the rollback in the Breeders’ Cup ban is clearly a setback to the effort. Under a policy adopted in 2011, the Breeders’ Cup was supposed to expand the 2-year-old ban of 2012 to all of its races in 2013, but that expansion was suspended in a controversial vote by the organization’s board this year. Then, in August, the Breeders’ Cup quietly acknowledged during a meeting at the California Horse Racing Board that even the ban for 2-year-olds would be rescinded, effective with the 2014 event, also at Santa Anita.

The pullback from even a limited ban was an acknowledgement of two recent developments. The first was that horsemen in California had told the organization that they would block the event’s simulcast signal in 2014 if a ban remained in place. The second was that the Breeders’ Cup had become an island on the national racing landscape, following a pullback by the American Graded Stakes Committee and the failure over the past three years for a ban to gain traction in everyday racing events in U.S. jurisdictions.

“We continue to believe that uniformity in medication and integrity policies among major international championship events is a worthwhile goal, but we also recognize much more work needs to be done to build meaningful consensus among all of our stakeholders,” the Breeders’ Cup said in a statement Monday, issued in response to e-mailed questions.

Last year, in the first year of the partial ban, field size in the five races restricted to 2-year-olds dropped 22 percent, with handle declining 23 percent for the races. The biggest drop occurred in the Juvenile Sprint, from nine horses in 2011 to five horses in 2012, the smallest field ever for a Breeders’ Cup race. That race was discontinued this year.

This year, field sizes for the juvenile races are back to their robust numbers, leading to questions as to whether the drop-off last year was just an aberration. After the draw Monday, 51 horses were slated to run in the four juvenile races, compared with 45 in the four races last year. (It’s also possible that the Juvenile Sprint siphoned some runners away from the other four races last year.)

In its statement, the Breeders’ Cup suggested that the falloff last year might not have been due to the race-day Lasix ban, even if some horsemen had been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the policy.

"We have been consistent [in saying] that last year's juvenile races and this year's juvenile races are a relatively small sample from which to draw firm conclusions,” the statement said. “We are encouraged by the entries in the juvenile races nonetheless, as they are indicative of the enthusiasm that owners and breeders have for our racing program.”