Updated on 08/13/2014 4:06PM

Gulfstream will hold Lasix-free juvenile races

Barbara D. Livingston
Beginning in 2015, Gulfstream Park will hold a number of juvenile races that prohibit the raceday use of Lasix.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Gulfstream Park, the South Florida racetrack owned by Frank Stronach, will begin to write races for 2-year-olds that will ban the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide beginning in the summer of 2015, officials for Stronach said Wednesday.

The condition books at Gulfstream next summer will include juvenile races in which furosemide, or Lasix, will be banned and some in which it will be allowed, according to Alon Ossip, the chief executive of the Stronach Group, the private company controlled by Stronach that also owns Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields, Laurel Park, and Pimlico Racecourse. Lasix is currently allowed to be administered in Florida on raceday, as it is in every racing jurisdiction in the U.S. The fall condition books next year at Calder Race Course, which the Stronach Group is leasing from Churchill Downs, also will include the two-tier juvenile races, Ossip said.

Ossip, who spoke about the plan after Stronach gave an extemporaneous speech as the keynote speaker at the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming Law Conference in Saratoga Springs, said that the intention of writing the races banning the raceday use of Lasix would provide “education” to the industry about the use of the drug.

“You have to educate people, and the only way to educate people is to show them,” Ossip said.

The use of furosemide on raceday has been a controversial topic in racing ever since the drug was first allowed in U.S. racing jurisdictions in the 1970s. In the past several years, several high-profile groups, including the Jockey Club, have aggressively lobbied for the industry to ban the drug. The movement is supported by a segment of owners and breeders who have so far been outnumbered by rank-and-file horsemen.

Stronach, 82, is a billionaire owner-breeder who has won the Eclipse Award as outstanding breeder eight times. He took private control of the racetracks owned by the Stronach Group several years ago following the bankruptcy of a public company he controlled that had been set up to hold his racing assets.

Earlier this year, Stronach announced that the Stronach Group planned to put in place several initiatives designed to address concerns about the integrity of racing and the sport’s medication policies. He expounded on several of those initiatives during his 30-minute address to the law conference attendees, including a proposal to establish an on-track pharmacy at Gulfstream that would dispense all medications administered to horses on the grounds.

The proposal would be an entirely novel approach to the practice of veterinary medicine in both the U.S. and Europe, using as a model the highly regulated Hong Kong racing industry, which is tightly controlled by a non-profit company that oversees all aspects of training and racing.

While Stronach’s comments on the pharmacy were vague, Dr. Robert O’Neil, who was recently hired by the Stronach Group as the company’s equine health and safety director, said that the pharmacy may be in place at Gulfstream sometime in 2015.

“We’re working on it right now,” O’Neil said. “It’s a massive undertaking.”

Although Stronach indicated during his speech that Gulfstream would employ the veterinarians allowed to administer treatments to racetracks, O’Neil said after Stronach’s speech that “for now” private veterinarians would be allowed to practice on Gulfstream’s backstretch.

“At this point, they would be practicing [vets],” he said. “That’s until Frank says differently, that that’s what he would want to do.”

The dispensary, according to Stronach and O’Neil, would require veterinarians to submit prescriptions for therapeutic medications to the pharmacy. Any veterinarian who is caught on racetrack grounds with a medication that was not obtained by the pharmacy would be subject to warnings and then suspensions, Stronach said.

The concept of a racetrack pharmacy has been discussed in several jurisdictions in the past, including California, but the proposal has not been pursued at length because of the complexity of the project and other ancillary concerns. Those concerns run a wide gamut, ranging from racetrack liability to the fact that horses that ship in to the tracks will not have faced the same treatment restrictions as horses on the grounds.  

Stronach reiterated during his speech that Gulfstream will be the company’s “prototype” for the new initiatives, and said that if they are successful, they could be ready to be expanded to other tracks under the company’s banner in 2016.