10/10/2014 3:15PM

Casner sends out two runners to victory without Lasix


LEXINGTON, Ky. – For those interested in how the controversy over the race-day use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide is playing out on the racetrack, last Wednesday’s card at Keeneland is an interesting case study.

Four races on the nine-race card were won by horses who ran without furosemide, the legal diuretic commonly known as Lasix. Only nine horses of the 73 horses on the card did not receive the drug, and four of them competed in the same 2-year-old maiden race.

In statistical terms, horses who weren’t administered furosemide represented 12.3 percent of the horses on the card, yet the non-furosemide horses won 45 percent of the races. Those are outsized results by many measures, especially when considering that none of the non-Lasix winners was favored and that only 5 percent of horses nationally in 2013 ran without the drug.

Many owners have said they oppose race-day Lasix use but fear they will put their horses at a disadvantage if they are not given the drug, citing evidence from a 1999 study showing that Lasix horses run several lengths faster than non-Lasix horses. It’s disputed whether the Lasix horses ran faster because they were not being slowed down by blood in the lungs. The performances by the horses Wednesday at Keeneland – and the performance of non-Lasix 2-year-old horses the last two years at Saratoga Race Course – is introducing doubt to the notion that Lasix horses are competing on a tilted playing field.

Two of the horses who won Wednesday are owned by Bill Casner, a longtime horseman from Texas who probably is the most consistent proponent of running horses without Lasix. Casner has been running his horses without race-day Lasix for several years, not necessarily because he is a staunch opponent of the drug’s race-day use, but rather because he sees benefits to running without the drug.

The first horse of Casner’s to win on the day was Soldier Inthe Rain, a 3-year-old colt who never has been administered Lasix in eight lifetime starts. The second was Only in America, a 4-year-old gelding who also never has been administered the drug on race day. With the win Wednesday, Only in America ran his record to 13-3-4-4. Both horses are trained by Eoin Harty.

Casner, along with dozens of other owners and breeders, have signed a pledge to run their 2-year-olds without Lasix, but Casner stands out among them. While most of those owners discard the pledge when their horses turn 3 or an endoscopic exam shows trace amounts of blood in the trachea, Casner has put his money where his mouth is.

Though Casner couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, in earlier interviews he has said that the effectiveness of furosemide is overblown, as a therapeutic tool and as an alleged performance enhancer. He also has extolled the benefits of running without the drug, saying the fitness of horses is easier to maintain and that horses recover far more quickly between races. A 2009 study showed that horses lose approximately 28 pounds if administered Lasix before running, compared with 12 pounds for non-Lasix horses, and most of that is water and mineral weight that needs to be replenished.

Another non-Lasix winner Wednesday was Courtier, a Juddmonte homebred trained by Bill Mott. But perhaps more telling was the case of Husky Clipper, who ran in the same race and is owned by Charles Cella. Earlier this year, Cella announced that horses running at his Oaklawn Park next winter will receive purse bonuses if they run without Lasix. Husky Clipper, a 2-year-old who has been administered Lasix before both of his lifetime starts, finished seventh.