11/14/2011 5:07PM

Lasix ban effort meets opposition in Kentucky panel

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FRANKFORT, Ky. – Supporters of an effort to ban the raceday administration of furosemide on Monday received a mostly cold reception from members of a committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission during a hearing here to open debate on the use of the drug.

Three of the six committee members made pointed comments during the six-hour hearing that clearly indicated that they would resist the effort to ban the drug, a diuretic commonly known as Lasix that is used to treat bleeding in horses’ lungs. Coupled with the uncertain stances of the other three members, it seemed unlikely that the committee would make a recommendation to ban the drug in the near future without further examination of the issue, which could jeopardize supporters’ efforts to implement bans by early next year.

The hearing was the first formal meeting on raceday furosemide to be held by any state regulatory agency in the United States since calls to ban the drug were launched in March of this year. Several influential organizations, including the Jockey Club and Breeders’ Cup, have thrown their weight behind the effort since then, and the Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association has also adopted a measure that would deny grades to any stakes race for 2-year-olds held in 2012 in which horses are allowed to be administered the drug.

To support its measure, the owners’ and breeders’ group has targeted the racing commissions in the six states in which 2-year-old graded stakes are held: Kentucky, New York, California, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey. Supporters of the effort have acknowledged that the ban will be ineffective if there are states that hold out, so the apparent setback in Kentucky could have large ramifications for the effort as a whole.

The three committee members who made their opposition to a ban clear during the hearing were Foster Northrup, a Kentucky racetrack veterinarian; John Ward, the trainer; and Alan Leavitt, a Standardbred owner and breeder who is a member of the sport’s Hall of Fame. The committee is chaired by Tracy Farmer, a Kentucky owner and breeder who is a member of the Jockey Club, and also includes Betty Lavin, a Kentucky owner and breeder who is married to a veterinarian, and Dr. Jerry Yon, a physician.

Farmer said during his opening remarks that the committee invited 30 organizations to provide testimony during the hearing, which was held in a meeting room at the Kentucky Capitol Annex building to accommodate the large crowd. Sixteen individuals provided testimony on Monday, including representatives of the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who both supported the ban.

The testimony opened with a one-hour presentation by Alice Stack, a doctoral student at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine who is finishing up her thesis on exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. Stack said that bleeding is common in racehorses worldwide and that furosemide is the only drug that has been shown scientifically to mitigate the frequency and severity of bleeding, citing studies that opponents of a ban have also used to support their claims that prohibiting the raceday administration of the drug would cause racehorses’ distress.

Supporters of a ban, including Matt Iuliano, the executive director of the Jockey Club, and Dr. J. David Richardson, the chairman of the American Graded Stakes Committee, said that the continued use of furosemide on race day has isolated North American racing jurisdictions among other major racing countries, which ban the drug on raceday. In addition, supporters contended that a ban on the drug would not negatively impact many racehorses, and that it would improve the public’s perception of the sport.