11/19/2015 1:34PM

Crist: A Lasix argument that doesn't hold water


The results of a Daily Racing Form survey on medication last month attracted scant attention when published Oct. 26, understandable since entries had just been taken for the Breeders’ Cup races later that week. They are worth another look, however, as they contained a key finding that contradicts a theory that many in the industry have been promoting for years.

That finding was not that the 1,860 survey respondents were virtually split on the issue of whether the legal diuretic Lasix should be permitted on race day, with 42 percent opposed and 41 percent in favor. It wasn’t that frustrated customers overwhelmingly support federal rather than local oversight of testing for illegal substances. The surprise came when respondents were asked to rank 10 issues facing the industry in order of their importance: Lasix usage ranked ninth of 10 overall and dead last among those who bet the most.

From the way the industry presents itself to the public, you would have thought Lasix was 3-5 to finish first instead of ninth. Much of the narrative surrounding the sport in the general media for the last five years has been that the industry is locked in a fierce debate over Lasix, a debate that is driving customers away from the sport and whose outcome will determine the future viability of the industry. In fact, respondents ranked Lasix usage as significantly less important than genuine integrity issues involving illegal drugs or wagering issues including takeout rates and field size.

This overwhelming repudiation of the importance of the Lasix issue is important rather than merely interesting. The results finally disprove the flimsy premise that disagreements over Lasix are why racing is slowly losing customers in an increasingly competitive sports and gambling market. This always sounded like fantasy to anyone who has actually ever talked with a horseplayer, but the fiction has been perpetuated in one industry symposium and hand-wringing editorial after another.

It all stemmed from a naïve, if not willful, misreading of a completely ambiguous online survey several years ago that asked horseplayers if they approved of medication. The question was so vague, never mentioning Lasix, that respondents likely thought they were voting against illegal, race-altering hops, not a heavily regulated and transparent program of giving diuretics to virtually every horse in the game. When more than 80 percent of the respondents unsurprisingly answered that they were “opposed to medication,” Lasix opponents misrepresented this to mean that an overwhelming majority of customers was deeply disturbed by the routine administration of Lasix.

Rather than going back and doing any further research to see if it was Lasix or illegal drugs that customers were truly concerned about, Lasix opponents ran with the statistic that more than 80 percent of racing’s customers are opposed to all medications, regardless of whether they have therapeutic value or are used to cheat, and repeat it to this day. Now we know this simply is not true.

The blurring of the enormous difference between the administration of Lasix and the pursuit of chemical cheaters has damaged efforts to make progress on that latter issue, the area of actual customer concern. Legislation to establish federal oversight of medication and testing is opposed by many horsemen’s groups, partly because they are fearful that it is really a proxy scheme of empowering pliable bureaucrats to ban Lasix. The best way that proponents of the legislation could broaden its appeal would be to clearly and publicly divorce the Lasix issue from the issue of federal oversight.

There are plenty of well-meaning people on each side of the Lasix debate and plenty of legitimate reasons to favor or oppose its use. Wherever one stands, perhaps we can all agree to stop pretending that one of those reasons is the loss of business from outraged fans.

Perhaps, too, the industry leaders who have consistently misidentified Lasix as a primary customer concern could turn to more legitimate ones. Racing’s central problem is that it presents a frequently unappealing product of small and noncompetitive fields with wagering conducted under high takeout and unfair taxation. If one-tenth the time spent talking about Lasix were devoted to those issues, the sport might actually make some progress on them – and it would be addressing matters that the customers actually care about.

Anthony DiMartino More than 1 year ago
The game has been good to me. I have been at it grinding away for over 20 years. The cheaters, takeout rates, and drug regulations have to be clarified. It's an issue to will make the game obsolete if not addressed swiftly.
Michael Dagnell More than 1 year ago
One more thing… As a fan of the sport I take exception to the continuous drumbeat from horsemen’s groups that lasix administration is the only humane way to treat EIPH and the lack of its administration would constitute animal cruelty. They contend it is in the best interest of the horse. That contention strikes me as completely disingenuous. From what I understand, it is in the best interest of the horse to “treat” their lungs with abundant fresh air and continual locomotion. How can a horse confined to a stall most of the day, hardly able to move and subject to breathing stale air, be expected to have healthy lung tissue devoid of inflammation? Does the daily regimen of these horses set the pre-conditions for inflamed lung tissue that gives rise to EIPH? And horseplayers are naïve if they are convinced Lasix administration given to all horses levels the playing field. Does Lasix effect all horses equally? Does Lasix have the same exact effect for the same horse every time it is administered? I think it is important to remember racing is first and foremost a sport. Every horseplayer I ever met becomes an ardent fan and devotes untold hours to handicapping because they fell in love with the majesty and spectacle of racing. This industry will have an uphill climb trying to appeal to new players when the “spectacle” of racing is that the athletes are over medicated and cannot compete without aid of medication. Now that appears to be animal cruelty.
Owen Pennant Jones More than 1 year ago
You're missing the point Steve: many of the people who care about the use of Lasix are no longer customers and therefore did not respond to any survey. And it is the declining, and aging, number of customers that is the biggest issue. If the people who ran horse racing would try, just for a day, to go to Saratoga with a ten-year-old and show her/him the horses in the paddock and try to get somewhere to view them race, then watch them return to unsaddle...and then do it again. There are a million things to bet on these days - it's the child's love of the horse that is needed to sustain horse racing. When horses are racing on medication and can barely be seen at the nation's finest race meeting you have two major problems. I do not discount your version of 'an unappealing product' but to minimize the issues of medication is just wrong as it pertains to the future of the sport.
David Stevenson More than 1 year ago
Lasix is a PED !!!
David Stevenson More than 1 year ago
Lasix is a PED
Richard Holmes More than 1 year ago
I totally disagree with Crist. I am against the use of lasix. Is banning lasix at the top of my list of changes that need to be made in racing? It may not be at the top of my list but I still think it is important. I want to see all drugs banned including lasix. I want injecting of joints to either be banned, or highly regulated. The number one thing that needs to be done in racing is to be bring the integrity back. We have lost tons of big bettors because they don't trust the game. There are too many trainers whose results are too good to be true. Some of it is from cheating and some of it is from using tons of legal drugs. You can get a major form reversal from injecting a joint. If a horse has been running poorly because his knee is bothering him, shouldn't it be public record if the trainer has the vet inject that knee for the next race? If it's not public record, you could have a major form reversal that is totally unpredictable to everybody but the connections. The public deserves better. Handicapping is tough enough as it is without the wildcard of a new drug being introduced to a horse, unbeknownst to everyone but the trainer. How can we allow that?
TRacingLifeMore More than 1 year ago
I'd prefer is Lasix was banned altogether. Lasix makes a difference, and I'd rather not go through the hassle of handicapping the effects of its use.
Brian Russell More than 1 year ago
Lasix actually somewhat levels the playing field for the gambler. I remember when it was not allowed in New York and, in the late 80's/early 90's, all kinds of odd results occurred as some trainers obviously had medications that would have the same effect and some didn't. The problem was that the ones that did would choose when to use them and when not to. I, of course, am referring to day to day racing, not the stakes races.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
Finally, I have thought the players were never treated well in this game. That might be an understatement. It really hasn't changed over the years. Ultimately, the game has got to focus on its customers. And it also has to remember there is only one customer, the horseplayer. Players are passionate. Most industries would love to have that type of customer base to learn from.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Here is what they should do. Increase the takeout to 50% like they do with the lotto numbers. Then they should allow trainers to use anything they want on the horses. Then the racing form should charge $20 for the form. I don't care what they do with horse racing. I quit the game.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
Don't give them any ideas.
Sal Carcia More than 1 year ago
I don't beleive that horseplayers really have the time to study all of the issues related to the use of Lasix. Personally, I would not like the government involved. I am not anti-government. I would rather see the stakeholders work this out themselves. I realize it never happens this way. But, until it does, the game will probably never thrive. As a player, I am just looking for assurances there is a minimal amount of cheating related to drugs. Maybe, just educating us a little will go a long way. With respect to supertrainers, I would prefer to see them run out of town or stopped in their tracks. It can be done; it has been done. Overall, as a player, I don't suspect there is as many PEDs being used at tracks as in previous times.