03/21/2013 10:59AM

Lasix ban: Breeders' Cup's hand forced by waning support

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shanghai Bobby (third from left) leads the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile field in 2012, the first year the use of Lasix was banned for all 2-year-old BC races. The Breeders’ Cup recently decided it would not expand the Lasix ban to all of its races in this year’s championship races.

When the board of the Breeders’ Cup met recently to vote on whether to suspend a policy that would ban the raceday administration of the legal anti-bleeding medication furosemide at its 2013 event, its members had to weigh the changes that had occurred in the racing industry since the policy was first approved in 2011.

As it turned out, the racing industry hadn’t changed much at all.

According to Breeders’ Cup officials and board members, the lack of a substantive industry-wide movement over the last two years to restrict the administration of raceday furosemide – also known as Lasix – was the largest factor leading to the board’s decision to suspend the policy, although other factors, particularly financial considerations, played significant roles. As board members pored over financial projections for this year’s event and looked to the 2014 event, they could not avoid the fact that the anti-Lasix movement in the U.S. had not only failed to advance its goal, but also that many of its supporters had actually retreated in the face of an unrelenting pushback from U.S. horsemen.

The signs of retreat were everywhere. The Association of Racing Commissioners International, whose outgoing chairman had launched the movement in early 2011, was now working with horsemen on uniform rules explicitly allowing for the regulated raceday use of the drug. In August 2012, the Jockey Club amended its model-rules document in the same manner while saying it still supported a ban of the raceday use of Lasix. Earlier in 2012, the American Graded Stakes Committee rescinded a controversial rule that would have denied grades to any race that allowed raceday Lasix. And only one state, Kentucky, had passed even a limited ban on raceday Lasix use – only in stakes races – beginning with juveniles in 2014, and horsemen were confident they could get the rule nullified.

“At the time [of the 2011 vote], the American Graded Stakes Committee, the Jockey Club, and a lot of states – obviously Kentucky, which I know well – said that they were going to go Lasix-free,” said Tom Ludt, the chairman of Breeders’ Cup’s board and a former member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “But we all know what happened. The Jockey Club backed out of the push. The Graded Stakes Committee backed out of the push. Looking back, if you looked at it like it was a race, we saw that we were the only ones that had left the gate.”

Since the Breeders’ Cup decision on March 1 to suspend the policy, one director, Oliver Tait, a representative of the international breeding and racing operation Darley, has resigned, citing his dissatisfaction. European racing officials have widely chastised the board for going back on its original plans, and relations between some board members have become strained, according to several board members.

The initial outcry from European officials has tempered somewhat in the weeks since the vote was taken, according to Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup’s chief executive, in part because U.S. officials have had time to explain their position.

“It’s clear we need to be better in communicating to our partners in Europe the constraints here in the U.S., as far as dealing with the state regulations and horsemen’s rights,” Fravel said.

Under the suspension of the policy, raceday furosemide will still be banned for the event’s four juvenile races this year. Last year, when five juvenile races were run, the aggregate field size in the races declined 21.6 percent, leading to a 23 percent decline in handle on those races. Many directors who supported the suspension of the policy felt that field sizes might decline a similar amount in all the races this year if the ban were expanded, leading to even larger declines in handle.

According to Breeders’ Cup officials, the vote to keep the same policy in place for 2013 was conducted only after a vote calling for a complete reversal of the ban was narrowly defeated. In the second vote, several directors who had voted against the reversal voted in favor of keeping the juvenile ban in place, leading to a 9-4 vote to retain the current policy.

Those votes were conducted after directors spent hours reviewing the organization’s budget, including financial projections that included a “worst-case” $6  million loss in revenue to the organization if the complete ban was implemented and the Breeders’ Cup approved other initiatives the board was contemplating for the 2013 event, according to an official with knowledge of the budget presentations. Those other initiatives included the advance of travel allowances to all horses that entered the races and a one-third reduction in entry fees. Both initiatives, which had been discussed by the board for six months, were approved two weeks after the vote on the Lasix policy was conducted.

Although Ludt and Fravel declined to confirm the exact financial projections, Ludt said that the budget estimates being considered by the board during the Lasix policy review introduced concerns over whether Breeders’ Cup would be able to weather a sharp drop in revenue without cutting its purses or dropping additional races from its lineup. (During the same meeting in which the Lasix policy was suspended, the board voted to cancel the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint, the first time a race had been cut from the event’s lineup.)

“That is the part people forget when they talk about this whole situation,” Ludt said, referring to criticism that the board members cowed to pressure from U.S. horsemen on the Lasix policy. “We’re a non-profit. As a board, our major responsibility is fiscal responsibility.”

In 2011, the latest year for which Breeders’ Cup’s financial documents are available, the organization had $27 million in revenue from its two-day event. Operating income that year was $2.6 million, a figure that would be entirely wiped out by a $6 million decline. Worse, it would put the organization in cash-negative territory.

Over the past five years, Breeders’ Cup has had to tighten its belt to deal with a decline in nominations, the expansion of its race card, and a significant drop in the value of its investment holdings. Its investment holdings have rebounded over the past several years, but Breeders’ Cup remains wary about risky strategies after criticism in recent years of the organization’s financial performance, mainly voiced by Central Kentucky breeders.

“Here’s what the directors were considering: let’s say you have a boycott or people holding horses out of races because of the Lasix policy, and then on top of that, you get a market crash,” said one person with knowledge of the board’s deliberations. “They wouldn’t have been able to withstand both of those things at the same time.”

On top of the financial concerns, board members were also briefed on the difficulties that the organization would face when trying to come to an agreement on a host site for the 2014 event. Horsemen’s organizations have made no secret of their opposition to restrictions on raceday furosemide use, and board members were told that no state horsemen’s groups had indicated they would be willing to sign off on the Breeders’ Cup’s simulcast contracts without an assurance that the ban would be lifted.

Both Ludt and Fravel stressed that the Breeders’ Cup’s medication and security policies, which are typically far more strict that those on an average raceday, illustrate that the Breeders’ Cup remains committed to ensuring that the event is conducted with the highest levels of integrity.

“We clearly have nothing to apologize for as far as integrity,” Fravel said.

But for now, at least, the Breeders’ Cup bid to lead the way in rolling back the raceday use of Lasix has stalled. Unless the landscape dramatically changes in the next six months, when Breeders’ Cup is expected to reach an agreement with a host track for the 2014 event, it is fair to wonder whether the 2013 policy will survive and whether the event will return to a policy that once again gives all horsemen the option of raceday furosemide, an option that nearly all owners and trainers – even Europeans – have exercised in the past.

“We haven’t made any determination for future events,” Fravel cautioned. “We still believe in uniformity in the U.S., and we still believe that uniformity on an international basis is an important goal. But we have to acknowledge the reality on the ground.”

Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
In 1961, the Horseracing Authorities of the United States of America, France, Great Britain and Ireland have decided to coordinate their action in order to protect the integrity of horseraces and keep their basic aim, which is the organization of competitions to select the best horses in order to improve the quality of breeding. With the use of raceday medications, this is not possible anymore, as the natural ability is gooiing down under the carpet
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loop_diuretic As lasix is loop diuretic, this might be interesting. It can cause serious kidney problems.
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
http://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/ray-paulicks-top-ten-top-10-reasons-to-sue-the-breeders-cup/
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5p_BPPAIdfeYmVrSFZHTnFoNDQ/edit the letter from the wests attorney
mdavis8357 More than 1 year ago
So what do the big foreign racing operations really contribute to our American racing program? I continually read on this site the dire reports about how American racing is going to suffer greatly without the support of the large foreign racing operations, namely Godolphin, Darley, Juddmonte and Shadwell (the four biggest). So, I decided to do something novel and actually look at the statistics provided by Equibase, our ‘official scorekeeper’ for American racing. Here is the ‘dirty little secret’ that no one either knows or conveniently does not want to talk about, and I do mean LITTLE. In the entire year of 2012, Godolphin, Darley, Juddmonte and Shadwell collectively started a grand total of 519 horses out of 389,568 starters. That is .0013% of 1% of the total starts or 1 out of every 750 starts!!! Now does anyone honestly think that if they never raced here again that would do great harm to our racing program?
matt More than 1 year ago
Have you been to a dispersal lately? Those four you just mentioned, they are buying all the top quality broodmares. Take them out of America and see what happens.
Dancederoche More than 1 year ago
Oi Einstein, while you are doing all that hard work. Check out how much those operations spent on yearlings, stud fees and breeding stock, just in the last 5 years and how many horses are running around that are by stallions they own.....
Chas More than 1 year ago
The problem is not Lasix...The problem is the Breeders and hypocrisy...The Breeders only care about $$$ as in 500,000(+) yearling auction sales. Only a small group can pay those prices and many are Europe, Japan, etc. which also means these horses go racing overseas and not here in the USA. Breeders have made no attempt to help grow the ownership ranks in the USA, especially via partnerships. And the breeders only care about breeding the 'Baffert type horse' - 1 1/8 dirt, run on the front end aka speed with some distance ability, good luck find a 1 1/4 horse today. Empire Maker was sold off to Japan and he won the Belmont Stakes. Plus, the likes of Darley have no problem buying up the top 3-yr. olds aka Street Sense, Hard Spun and thus keeping them from running as 4-yr. olds or even 5-yr. olds..It is about breeding which = $$$ to the breeders and the selling race owners... Hypocrisy as in Tait and the other Europeans who cry about the use of Lasix and in turn worry the US breeders that those overseas buyers might stop buying the horses. Over in Europe they TRAIN on Lasix! So what is the difference if you TRAIN on it but don't race on it? Hypocrisy is what it is called. No racing on lasix means no training on it! But, not according to the view point of the Euorpeans. Also, how about blood doping which is common in Europe sports including humans and horses. And one more hypocrisy goes to those running the Breeders Cup. This event was started as an All-Star Event to show case the top horses in the US. No Euorpeans. No self-proclaim World Championships. Just a good old fashion All-Star racing day. Find a 1984 program and read what John Gaines wrote about the 'orginial' Breeders Cup. To those running this sport it is all about POWER! MONEY! And catering to those who have MONEY! and more MONEY$$$$.
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
This is no place for the truth good sir.
russell More than 1 year ago
Pagani you make some good points. The reason why Euros are far superior on the Turf is twofold. First, their pedigrees are exclusively for turf and usually distance. That's not the case is America. Secondly, the horses are better trained in Europe and run long gallops sometimes twice a day in groups at Newmarket and Chantilly. That will never happen here. And just an FYI, I love betting American turf racing. There are plenty of handicapping angles when you run on dirt/turf and vice versa. But... I aint buying your angle that American dirt horses aren't that good. Go to youtube and watch the 2012 Met Mile and tell me what you think. As for the BC Lasix issue. It's a joke that American racing officials are so weak. You made a policy now give it a chance to work.
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
I like the understatement of this sentence: "Many directors who supported the suspension of the policy felt that field sizes might decline a similar amount in all the races this year if the ban were expanded, leading to even larger declines in handle." YES !! NO KIDDING !!! I'm glad that our U.S. horsemen stood firm for the good of the horse and U.S. racing in insisting that their charges have to have the option of using lasix. I'm also glad we will not become like Europe, where there are only small meets and racing is dominated by the Coolmores, the Darleys, the Aga Khans, etc. I guess I'll have to pay the air fare, hotel, etc., to come to Santa Anita just to support this good decision.
Dancederoche More than 1 year ago
Dude, you obviously did not do your homework before you wrote that. If you look at the countries where racing and horse ownership is actually growing, like Japan and/or Australia, you´ll notice that they DON'T run on lasix. And funny thing is, a lot of their bloodlines are american, so you can´t even say that american horses needs lasix. I´m not saying those countries don´t have problems or don´t make mistakes, but they are doing a hell off a lot more than the people that run racing in the states. As for yor argument re. "for the good of the horse" Why are you retiring 4yr olds with only 12 to 15 starts? In Aus the horses run a lot more and they last a hell of a lot longer than american horses, its not uncommon for a topflight horse to run 2 or 3 times a month. And that is not even including the trails, which is in sessence a race without the prizemoney. Speaking of purses, Aus and Japanese purses are higher than american purses, in Aus the statebred programs are offering huge bonusses, all without casinos, because they have more people interested in racing, either as owners, but more importantly as punters. They know they can bet on the races and have a CLEAN result. So mate, do a bit of research and you will see how your drug use is killing racing in the states. It is quite sad, because all of us in the industry around the world, still see KY as the horse utopia, but it is slowly going sour.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
I live outside the USA in Europe. I have tried so hard to really watch American Racing. Your turf racing is horrible(you have a couple of nice turf horses especially Point of entry) but your 3 year olds are impossible to watch leading up to and after the classics because non virtually make it to the Breeders Cup. Your handicap horses are good, but no real stand out aside from Fort larned, Wise Dan, or Mucho Macho Man. It is one thing trying toget racing fans to watch Dirt racing, but when your horses are so fragile, and drugged up just to get them to the track, makes for a real turn off. In the end the real shame is for the great horse people who live and die with the sport. They are the ones who get the shaft in the end. Their wonderful sport gets dilluted.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
American Horsepeople. You are great folks.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
The Breeders cup could have set a new standard and eliminated race day drugs for all their races and folded when the heat got turned up. DISGRACE!.
Matthew More than 1 year ago
I guess you don't know that all of your horses use lasix EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR except on race days when they are in training. Do you know why? To PREVENT bleeding in and long term lung damage..... You mean well but do not understand what you say. If you owned a racehorse and paid a vet bill you would understand.
Dancederoche More than 1 year ago
Dude, do the research. Less than 1% of horses in Europe actually train on anti-bleeder meds. And those that do have to wait for 2-3 weeks for the drug to be out of their system before they can race....
Matthew More than 1 year ago
All other drugs I would agree in banning OUTSIDE OF LASIX.
Robert Smith More than 1 year ago
Its understandable that the Euros would dictate conditions of the BC. So few actually participate in it!