10/26/2012 3:32PM

Crist: A closer look at the Breeders' Cup Lasix ban

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Whether you are an advocate or an opponent of permitting the raceday use of furosemide (Salix) on racehorses, there is no denying that racing has a problem when the first year of a Salix ban at the Breeders’ Cup produces a 50 percent decline in entries for nation’s richest 2-year-old races. You also have to wonder what will happen a year from now when Salix, formerly called Lasix, is scheduled to be prohibited from all 15, rather than just five, of the Breeders’ Cup races.

When pre-entries for the Nov. 2-3 Breeders’ Cup were announced last Wednesday, only nine horses were entered first-preference for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and only six such fillies for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, down from 15 and 14 last year. That’s a total of 15 pre-entrants for the two races versus 29 a year ago, a 48 percent dropoff that also accounts for nearly the entire 16-horse decline in Breeders’ Cup pre-entries from 196 in 2011 to 180 in 2012. A prospective field of six or fewer in the Juvenile Fillies would be the smallest in the 29-year history of the Breeders’ Cup and probably the smallest for any $2 million race in the sport’s history.

There are may be other factors in play for the entry-box desertion of racing’s premier juvenile races. Horsemen east of the Rockies are not thrilled about a Cup site-selection process that has landed the races in California four times in six years. Also, Churchill Downs’s widely criticized new system for determining Kentucky Derby starters, which virtually eliminated any impact the Juvenile will have on securing a Derby berth, was no help. Still, the Salix ban was the stated reason that Mike Repole, New York’s leading owner, kept four of his 2-year-olds at home and was a factor in other defections.

The problem is not whether one believes racing would be better off without Salix, but whether the Breeders’ Cup’s new policy is perhaps prematurely out of sync with the rest of the sport in this country. Proponents of a ban say that smaller fields this year and next are a necessary growing pain in an overdue change on which they are taking a leadership position. Opponents say that the Cup has overreached and is trying to impose an elitist minority opinion on a sport that permits Salix in every one of its other 30,000 or so races a year.

When Cup officials announced the policy last fall, they hoped to have more support for their position by now. Some Cup officials say privately that they were virtually assured that Kentucky and New York were going to ban Lasix in 2-year-old races this year, and the American Graded Stakes Committee announced it would not award graded status to any 2-year-old races leading up to the Cup where Salix was permitted.

Those bans never happened, the graded stakes committee rescinded its plan several months later, and if anything the prospects for industry-wide consensus look bleaker than ever. The national Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California have all made strong recent statements reiterating their support for the continued use of Salix. The day after the Breeders’ Cup announced pre-entries, the Thoroughbred Owners of California issued a statement about medication reform saying it would “insist that Lasix continue to be allowed on the day of a race.”

There is a massive disconnect between the two sides about support for a ban. Both claim that a majority of horsemen and fans support their position, but there is little data to back widespread support for a ban. An effort to get owners to pledge not to use Salix on their 2-year-olds this year was a commendable case of practicing what you preach but hardly showed majority support: only 2.7 percent of 2-year-old starters at Del Mar raced without it, as did 19.7 percent of such starters at Saratoga.

Supporters of the ban also continue to cite a single, obscure online poll, which did not refer specifically to Salix, as indicative of widespread support from bettors. The respondents to that poll may well have thought they were disapproving of the use of illegal drugs rather than therapeutic and regulated medications. The vast majority of public comment from wagering customers has been that it is not reasonable to ask them to bet on horses who have been permitted to run on the drug all year but will suddenly be racing without it at the Breeders’ Cup.

They have a point. Whether a Salix ban is a noble mission or a misguided crusade, it has to apply to more than 5 or 15 races a year to have any integrity or fairness.

marcelo canonico More than 1 year ago
Perhaps , in a few time ,bleeders horses in USA are running with the same medicine use in South Africa , Europe and Australia . It is not Lasix but have similar function . We must learn how to use it .
Tony Regalbuto More than 1 year ago
The racing industry is totally lost, and they have no one to blame but themselves. As far as I'm concerned they have virtually ruined the sport by allowing the use of lasix. I dont understand Mr Crist's defense of this drug. This is crazy! I'd rather have 6 or 7 clean horses race, then 15 drugged up ones. I've been playing this game for well over 40 years, and I've seen the decline in this sport, and one thing is certain, and that is, I dont bet nearly as much as I use to, and I wont, not until they fix the problem. It's really, really pathetic what they've done to this once grand sport.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Tony, as a relative newcomer to the sport, I value the opinions from "oldtimers" like yourself. I totally agree with you, and further, I would like to state that I applaud the Breeders Cup for sticking to its guns and being willing, literally, to put its money where its mouth is. They haven't "blinked" yet, and I sincerely hope they don't. They are putting everything on the line. Next year, NO HORSE can run in the BC races on Lasix! If trainers want to be irresponsible and continue to condition and train horses as if they were going to be able to run on Lasix in the 2013 BC, then a pox on all their houses! Could be the Euros may send over more horses....maybe more will come from other countries....wouldn't it be a shame if more overseas horses than American horses show up in the Breeders Cup? And, it could well take that to happen to shame the American trainers into getting over their adolescent temper tantrum at being told what they are doing to the horses is flat out wrong, and it's the trainers that are the problem. Until the U.S. trainers can answer the question of why overseas trainers are able to put horses on the track without Lasix and they can't, as far as I'm concerned they have no credibility. JMHO
timurlenk26 More than 1 year ago
When everybody learn to play fair and "free", the Breeders´Cup will have the normal number of entrants in each of the races. Don´t defend "Salix" it´s on his way out for good...of the industry and mainly horses. Change always scares the unsure.
jttf More than 1 year ago
who says lasix is good for horses. the 9 year old argentine horse wins the marathon for fun. when he runs on lasix, he runs poorly. this horse is winning a breeders cup race at the age of 9 and runs without lasix on a regular basis (his choice). what does that tell ya?
GOODWIN More than 1 year ago
Of course they are not going to supoort the ban - they can't train a horse without an army of vets and needles! Bravo to the BC for taking a bold step in the correct direction and shame on Repole for being a whining baby about it. maybe he should be looking at horses at the sales who can race without meds. What a concept: racing without meds. Thank you Charles for pointing out that it can and has been done. When the ROW (rest of the world) breeds horses that can run without them, it doesn't take an expert to see that the American TB is becoming an inferior race horse.
Jeffrey Tretter More than 1 year ago
There needs to be some intense studies on the use of hypoxic training/therapy for race horses if they are indeed going to ban lasix. Initial reports seem to substantiate claims that there is indeed some benefit to using hypoxic training/therapy to alleviate the bleeding. Hypoxic training is used for endurance training all over the world and is totally natural. It produces a physiological reaction increasing red blood cell counts and natural epo. This reaction helps the body deliver oxygen more efficiently. Healthier stronger horses are the result. I saw two companies that currently offer equine devices and one uses a mask while the other has a sealed stall. The stall has a Hambletonian winner and Breeders Crown winner as feathers in their cap so seems to have some merit. Michael Phelps did very well with it too.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
The Good Ol' Daze.... Back when a Racing Form was $1.25 and you had to unfold it in the middle and tear the perforation to put it back together: - No 2 year-old race at ANY track allowed any race day medication whatsoever. - No race day medication whatsoever at any race in New York; that's what made New York racing the premier venue. At most tracks, it was common for a horse to run every 7 or 10 days when they were in shape. (Handicappers would not consider a horse as being recent unless it was within 14 days. I remember Oscar Barrera bringing horses back in 2 or 3 days...and he would win with them.) What was once considered common is now uncommon. Has race day medication and in-breeding has taken its toll? Not allowing lasix in the Breeder's Cup is at least a good way to start things back to the good old days...
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Oscar Barrera used other drugs.
Todd More than 1 year ago
I am done with the Breeder's Cup. Not having the Cup races in NY in such a long time has totally turned me off and now this Lasix ban just ices the cake. I won't be wagering a dime on any of these races this year and will hardly even pay attention to who wins. Here's hoping for a safe but low handle Breeder's Cup day, especially on the 2 year old races!
Marvin Keene More than 1 year ago
Well, wouldn't a New York Breeders Cup have been awful this year with the storm? Weather is often "not nice" this time of year up there. If the BC were in the early Fall or late Summer, New York would be wonderful. Why not have the Breeders Cup at the Fair Grounds sometime?
James Mindel More than 1 year ago
How about a standard that requires a state racing board veterinarian to review and approve the use of Salix based on medical evidence indicating the need for the drug such as the presence of blood in the sputum after a race or workout. I agree with those who feel the indiscriminate use of the drug can mask a serious problem which can go undetected until there are more serious complications.
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
Racing horses on medications which improving the joint fuctions, hides the real problems aswell, those horses are not natural designed for becoming top notch quality The vet,s took the game over in order to make the buisiness payable for lots of owners
JeffJ More than 1 year ago
It seems like there's a massive disconnect between the horse racing industry and those that consume their product. Judging by the polls taken by HANA and fan reaction on message boards, the majority are opposed to race day medications. This industry has done a horrid job of delivering a high quality product at a fair price. The proliferation of drugs is absolutely disgusting. We're told the drugs are 'therapeutic' and promote humane racing. Ironically, many of the same people who tout the benefits of race day medication are vehemently opposed to synthetic racing surfaces. They claim - perhaps correctly - that synthetic surfaces undermine the traditional game. However, the available evidence demonstrates that synthetic racing surfaces (on average) reduce fatalities. If safety takes precedence over nostalgic feelings for the traditional game, then why do commentators like Steve Crist take such hypocritical stances? If today's thoroughbreds are so fragile that they need to be propped up with lasix and other pharmaceuticals, I wonder if it's ethical to consume today's North American product. It's appalling how many top three-year olds are out of action due to injury. Futhermore, it's now standard to run a horse every 5 or 6 weeks. Other racing venues have demonstrated it's possible to use pharmaceuticals in a safe and responsible context. They also produce sturdy horses that run often and can navigate a distance of ground. Unfortunately, the American industry reflexively rejects almost any attempt at reform. We have a drug-addicted industry that's in heavy denial.