Updated on 08/28/2014 10:59AM

Lasix-free entries proposal tabled in Kentucky


LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Wednesday tabled a proposal that would allow the state’s tracks to offer races that would only be open to horses that did not receive race day administrations of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide.

The rules committee tabled the proposal by a vote of 4-1 after approximately 15 minutes of discussion. The lone vote against tabling the proposal was made by committee member Bob Conway, an attorney and horse owner who made clear during the discussion that he opposed any rule re-opening the debate about race day use of furosemide, also known by the brand name Lasix. The vote to table the proposal was made ostensibly to give racetracks, horsemen, and racing secretaries time to consider the issue, at the insistence of committee member Burr Travis.

The proposal, which was announced on an agenda distributed one day prior to the meeting as “international medication protocol as condition of race,” was presented to the committee as a fully written regulation, complete with penalties for horses that failed post-race tests for the drug. The placement of the item on the agenda attracted a vast cast of racing officials to the meeting, including the chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup, Craig Fravel, along with representatives of Keeneland, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and multiple officials of the state horsemen’s group.

John Phillips, a member of the rules committee and the owner of Darby Dan Farm, said during the discussion that he supported the rule as a way to “open up the market” to horsemen, especially those from foreign countries who did not want to run against horses that were administered furosemide on race day. The use of furosemide on race day is banned in most major racing jurisdictions outside of North America, and the North American policy is frequently criticized by international horsemen, who nonetheless often run their horses on the drug when in the United States or Canada.

As has been the case in the past in discussions over the use of the drug, Conway and Travis expressed skepticism about changing current regulations, noting that the racing commission has already conducted numerous debates over the race day use of furosemide only to arrive at the same place the commission started – stuck in neutral due to the seemingly irreconcilable positions of the two sides on the issue.

Conway said that the rule was an end-run around the current policy that allows for regulated use of the drug four hours prior to a race, making the argument that because the current rule "permits" a horse to use the drug on race day, the entire regulation would have to be rewritten to accommodate the new proposal.

The proposal was presented to the committee two weeks after officials for the Stronach Group said that some 2-year-old races at one of the company’s tracks, Gulfstream Park in Florida, would be written next year for horses that are not administered furosemide on race day. Phillips referenced the Gulfstream plan during the discussion.

Kent Stirling, the executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said on Thursday that he did not anticipate that state law or Florida racing regulations would need to be changed to allow Gulfstream to write the Lasix-free races.

The Kentucky rule would authorize “licensed racing associations to require adherence to International Medication Standards,” which the rule later defines as requiring that horses “shall not be administered furosemide less than 24 hours prior to post time for the race.”

The race day use of furosemide erupted into a decisive issue for the North American racing industry approximately four years ago when several high-profile groups, including TOBA and the Jockey Club, began to press for a prohibition on the race day use of the drug. TOBA’s American Graded Stakes Committee and the Breeders’ Cup both put in place policies designed to curtail use of the drug, but the policies were abandoned after it became clear that states and rank-and-file horsemen were not willing to support rules prohibiting race day use.

The Breeders’ Cup two-day event is scheduled to be held next year at Keeneland. Fravel said after the meeting that he learned about the placement of the rule on the committee agenda on Wednesday morning and said that he had no specific comment on the proposal.

“We obviously want to work with Keeneland on what races they want to write,” Fravel said. “That being said, Breeders’ Cup has always said that we want the races to be run consistent with the rules in international racing jurisdictions.”