03/23/2015 4:51PM

Kentucky committee approves rule allowing Lasix-free races

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday approved a rule that will allow Kentucky tracks to offer races in which horses will not be allowed to be administered the anti-bleeding medication furosemide on race day.

The rule passed by a voice vote, with four members of the commission opposed, after discussion of the issue was limited by the commission’s chairman, Robert Beck, who indicated that he supported the rule. Officials of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Kentucky HBPA, and the North American Association of Racetrack Practitioners briefly spoke against the rule prior to the vote.

The rule, which will need to go through several more formal steps before being implemented, was pushed by Keeneland Racecourse, the central Kentucky track that has many high-profile breeders on its board. So far, Keeneland has been the only racetrack in the state that has said it is interested in writing the races.

Rogers Beasley, the vice president of racing at Keeneland, told the commission that the track is likely to write two races for 2-year-olds during its 2016 spring meet that will prohibit race-day furosemide and another two to four races during the 2016 fall meet in which the prohibition will apply.

“We’re talking about a very few number of races,” Beasley said.

The issue of race-day furosemide use is highly controversial in U.S. racing. The drug is currently legal to administer up to four hours prior to a race in every U.S. racing jurisdiction, and many states tightly regulate its dosage and administration, including Kentucky. Most major foreign racing jurisdictions prohibit the race-day use of the drug, which is also known as Lasix.

Opponents of the rule contended that the approval would lead to racetracks writing more and more races that include the prohibition, against the wishes of the vast majority of trainers. In addition, Peter Ecabert, the legal counsel of the National HBPA, contended that the rule violated provisions of the constitution by “delegating” the authority of the commission on medication policy to private companies, an interpretation that could form the basis of legal challenges by horsemen’s groups down the road.

Frank Jones, a commission member who voted against the rule, said the exception would prove frustrating to horseplayers if the races lead to horses continually going on and off furosemide, which is used to mitigate bleeding in the lungs. “It’s consistently inconsistent when you do it like this,” Jones said.

Beck countered that the rule will likely “affect” only 20 horses under Keeneland’s stated plans, and that it would “give Keeneland a marketing advantage” by providing opportunities to trainers and owners who wanted to compete against a field of horses who do not run on the medication.
John Phillips, a commission member who voted for the rule, echoed that view when he said at a rules committee meeting earlier Monday that the rule “creates the opportunity for a level playing field; two level playing fields, in this case.”

Last August, the same rule was tabled by the Kentucky commission’s rules committee after many groups complained that they had little to no advance warning that the rule was going to appear on the agenda.

Although opponents of race-day Lasix use have made little headway in the past five years in achieving large-scale rollbacks in the permissibility of the drug, the effort to prohibit race-day use has not let up. Opponents contend that the U.S. is out of line with the rest of the racing world in permitting race-day use of the drug and that it damages racing’s public perception. Supporters contend that the drug is useful in mitigating the incidence and severity of bleeding in the lungs, pointing to scientific studies that have provided significant evidence of the drug’s efficacy.

In New York, the issue of Lasix use also cropped up on Monday, when, at the end of a New York State Gaming Commission meeting, commissioner John Crotty asked the commission to schedule a forum on the topic.

“I think it would be useful now that we have some uniform rulemaking in place to take a look at this either in a panel or open forum to discuss this and educate us a little more; this is still a controversial topic,” said Crotty, a former member of the board of directors of N.Y. Off-Track Betting. “Other jurisdictions have looked at this, I think it would be good for us to understand the science of it and what would make sense for us as a state moving forward.”

Although no date was set for a forum, Crotty asked the commission’s executive director, Robert Williams, to “invite some of the experts” on Lasix to participate in a discussion on the topic.

– additional reporting by Dave Grening