07/15/2011 2:28PM

Lasix-free Breeders' Cup races may prompt wider action

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The decision by Breeders’ Cup on Thursday to ban the use of Lasix for its year-end races is likely to embolden other organizations that oppose the raceday use of the drug, officials said on Friday.

With the ban, which will be applied to the five races for 2-year-olds in the 2012 championships and all 15 races for the 2013 event, the Breeders’ Cup has signaled that it will not wait for ongoing talks to produce an agreement on an overall Lasix policy for the industry. Instead, Breeders’ Cup has struck out on its own, familiar ground for an organization that adopted house rules banning the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids in 2008 before state racing commissions adopted prohibitions on such drugs.

“Whenever you go out and talk to people in the industry, all you hear is people talking about the need for leadership,” Tom Ludt, the chairman of the Breeders’ Cup, said. “This is a step in that direction. We felt this is important, and we’re hoping the states are going to follow along.”

Lasix, a diuretic that is used to treat bleeding in the lungs, is legal in every racing jurisdiction in the United States and Canada. It is banned, however, in every other major racing jurisdiction in the world, and the North American policy has been criticized consistently by participants in international racing, who cite its perception as a performance enhancer.

It remains unclear whether the ban by Breeders’ Cup will have an immediate impact on the willingness of state racing commissions to tackle the subject, especially in light of industry-wide talks about the issue at a conference in June. Following the conference, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a research group that has a cross-section of industry stakeholders on its board, was given the task of developing an overall policy.

Supporters of a ban include the Jockey Club, the racetrack trade group Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella group for state racing commissions. But horsemen remain opposed and contend Lasix is the only treatment proven to reduce the severity and frequency of bleeding in the lungs, a condition that affects all horses who exercise strenuously.

In addition to invigorating efforts for an industry-wide ban, the Breeders’ Cup decision may sap momentum for a compromise that is being sought by horsemen to allow raceday use of the drug but restrict the injections to state veterinarians rather than private veterinarians and ban the use of so-called adjunct bleeder medications, which are legal in only three states. Horsemen were hopeful that the compromise could be reached as part of the larger discussion being led by the medication consortium, but the prospect of more aggressive efforts to ban the drug outright on raceday will probably move compromise talks to the backburner.

Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said that the Breeders’ Cup ban did not “come as a surprise,” citing talk in the industry that such a decision was forthcoming. But he suggested that the ban may have been premature because of the discussions conducted by the medication consortium, which has scheduled a meeting on the issue for Aug. 4.

“Breeders’ Cup can obviously decide what rules they want to adopt for their event,” Bellocq said. “The fact remains that the [June conference] clearly showed that this is not a black-and-white issue. We’re still focused on working with all these groups on a policy that’s best for U.S. racing.”

But other groups are also considering using their powers to influence the effort. The American Graded Stakes Committee, which is administered by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, will discuss on Aug. 9 whether the committee should require a ban on raceday Lasix for granting graded-race status, according to the committee’s secretary, Andrew Schweigardt. The discussion item was added to the agenda after the June conference.

“The committee really hasn’t had a discussion yet on it because all of this cropped up this year,” Schweigardt said. The committee has previously passed rules requiring higher-grade races to include postrace drug tests and banning the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids as part of its eligibility standards.