08/07/2014 11:58AM

Crist: Lasix debate will end in another draw


It’s that most wonderful time of the year again in American racing. Fish are jumping, the days are longer, the mercury is high, Del Mar and Saratoga are in full swing. This can all mean only one thing: It’s time for everyone in racing to start yelling at one another about medication again.

This Sunday morning in Saratoga Springs, members of The Jockey Club, and other important and self-important leaders of the sport, will gather at the Gideon Putnam Hotel for the annual Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing, where they will reprise their shaky annual refrain: The permitted raceday use of the diuretic Lasix (Salix) is what most ails American racing, and banning the stuff would restore integrity to the game, make America the envy of the world’s racing once again, and usher in a golden era of such explosive gains in attendance and handle that the sport won’t know what to do with all the lucre.

The discussion will be as civil and respectful as ever: The anti-Lasix forces will call the pros a bunch of cheaters and animal-haters, while the pros will call the antis cruel and elitist hypocrites trying to deprive horses of a therapeutic medication they need.

There are a few new notes in the same old song this summer. Last week, a star-studded list of trainers, all of whom routinely treat their horses with Lasix and have supported it in the past, signed a letter endorsing a phase-out of Lasix over the next two years. That they mostly work for Jockey Club members leading the charge against Lasix, and that this allegedly spontaneous epiphany came just a week before the Round Table, surely are mere coincidences. Or maybe not:

“It is quite obvious that the proposal [for a Lasix phase-out] and its timing are part of a thinly disguised and carefully orchestrated effort,” said a letter released Wednesday signed by the presidents of seven state horsemen’s groups. “It is designed to revive a divisive issue that has already been debated at great length and settled. It will polarize the industry.”

However you feel about Lasix, and it seems there is no changing anyone’s mind at this stage, reasonable people can probably agree on the likely outcome of this year’s skirmish: The same as every other year. The reformers will fulminate righteously, their opponents will call them barbaric, The Jockey Club will threaten to endorse a Federal takeover of racing if a ban is not enacted and then … absolutely nothing will change.

It’s right there in the past performances. No matter how strongly or genuinely Lasix opponents may feel, they are outnumbered by the rank-and-file horsemen’s organizations that wrote the Wednesday letter. Every previous attempt to ban Lasix has been blocked by these groups, and there have been no reported changes of heart. Even much milder proposals, such as banning Lasix from only Breeders’ Cup or Grade 1 races, have not gotten off the ground, so there is no reason to think an industrywide ban stands a ghost of a chance.

Without the agreement of the owner-trainer organizations and regulators on a state by state basis, there will be no change. In the two-years-ago version of this lost crusade, proponents thought they were going to get regulators in Kentucky and New York to agree with them, and that this would create a domino effect. That didn’t happen, and there’s no evidence that will change this time around. But by all means let’s revive the issue and encourage the public to think that the sport is defined and dominated by a crisis involving animal abuse.

Asmussen belongs in Hall

Curlin’s scheduled induction into racing’s Hall of Fame on Friday should have been by unanimous vote. It was not, only because a few misguided voters thought the horse should be punished because they disapprove of his trainer, Steve Asmussen, and his history with medication. An inflammatory video released by animal rights activists in April also led to Asmussen himself being removed from the Hall of Fame ballot, despite the lack of any credible charges against him.

That error should be corrected next year. Asmussen, who trained not only Curlin but also Rachel Alexandra, is nearly as much of an automatic, no-brainer Hall of Fame selection as those two horses. He is one of the top five trainers in American history in nearly every important category. Assuming the various “investigations” prompted by the release of the video, which thus far have led to nothing, continue to do so, Asmussen thoroughly deserves the honor and it’s a shame it had to be delayed.