04/17/2012 3:17PM

Lasix opponents will continue efforts


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Supporters of a phase-out of the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide in Kentucky will renew a push for a raceday ban by uniting behind a plan to prohibit the administration of the drug before stakes races in the state, the supporters said on Tuesday.

The plan was introduced at a meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Monday during a vote on a wider proposal to ban raceday furosemide (commonly known as Lasix) in the state by 2015, a measure that failed when the vote was split 7-7. The more limited plan, introduced by commissioner Tom Ludt, the chairman of the Breeders’ Cup and the president of the central Kentucky racing and breeding operation Vinery, is expected to be placed on the agenda for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meeting in mid-May, the supporters said. Earlier in Monday’s meeting, the plan, offered as an amendment, garnered only three votes.

The measure will likely face the same doubts from opponents of the larger plan: namely, that a unilateral vote by Kentucky to limit raceday furosemide use without other states adopting similar restrictions would put Kentucky’s tracks at a disadvantage and provide horsemen with incentives to ship out of state. In addition, the plan, if enacted without changes to existing rules in nearly all racing jurisdictions that restrict the ability of a horse to use furosemide after running without the drug, could limit the options for horsemen after running in a stakes race furosemide-free.

Supporters, however, said that the reduced scope of the plan could induce several opponents of the wider proposal to reverse their positions.

“I understand the argument that Kentucky wouldn’t be able to compete on the lower end [with the wider furosemide ban],” said Dan Metzger, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which has been pressing states, including Kentucky, to adopt rules prohibiting raceday furosemide. “But I think it’s hard to argue that neighboring states can offer the stakes program that Kentucky can.”

Under the Ludt proposal, raceday furosemide would be banned in 2-year-old stakes races beginning in 2013. The ban would be expanded to stakes races for 3-year-olds in 2014, and would then apply to all stakes races in 2015.

Burr Travis, a commissioner who voted against the wider proposal on Monday, said that he would be unlikely to support the Ludt plan unless the measure was scaled back to include only 2-year-old stakes races run before Sept. 1, 2013, coupled with a commitment by the commission to review the impacts of the ban at that date before deciding to extend or expand it. Travis said limiting the plan would allow other states to join the effort before Kentucky committed to a rapid expansion of the policy.

“That’s leaving a little bait in the water,” Travis said. “If [the supporters] are right when they say other commissions are going to join us, that would give them the time to prove it.”

Moreso for 3-year-olds and older than for 2-year-olds, the plan also faces difficulties because most states do not allow horses to go back on furosemide for 30 days after the first time a horse races without the drug. That period is expanded to 90 days if the horse is taken off the drug a second time, and six months if the horse is taken off the drug a third time.

The rules were adopted decades ago for the protection of handicappers in order to provide disincentives to trainers to experiment with going on and of the drug because of perceived differences in how horses perform when racing with or without it. John Ward, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said on Tuesday that changes to the rules are already being discussed within the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which recommends changes to regulatory policies.

The rules being discussed would remove the jail times and treat the issue “just like equipment changes are handled,” Ward said. “The same as blinkers-on or blinkers-off, just so it’s noted in the program.”

The Monday failure of the measure through a tie vote is being considered a major setback to those who contend that the continued use of raceday furosemide has compromised the standing of the North American racing industry among the rest of the world and the general public. Going into the meeting, many opponents said they expected that supporters had already lined up enough votes to guarantee passage.

National supporters of reform of raceday medication rules had focused on Kentucky because the state was expected to be the most amenable to a rollback, largely because of the influence of the central Kentucky breeding community, which is populated by highly influential opponents of furosemide use. In nearly every other racing state, the most influential voices on medication policy are trainer’s groups, which have uniformly opposed prohibitions on raceday furosemide.

As a result, the failure in Kentucky has cast doubt on whether supporters can effect changes in medication policy at the state level, and it has generated renewed calls from supporters of medication reform for a push to get federal legislation passed. Two federal legislators, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, have called for support for a bill that would ban raceday medications, but that bill also would put all regulation of racing under the federal government, a prospect that many supporters of reform find unwieldy.

In a statement released in response to a request for comment after the Kentucky vote, James Gagliano, the president of the Jockey Club, which is leading the effort to ban raceday furosemide, said that the organization “will continue to support all ongoing measures to achieve much-needed reform.”