06/14/2011 7:15PM

Lasix talks to resume in July


ELMONT, N.Y. - The board of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium will meet in late July to discuss how the industry should go forward in addressing concerns that have been raised about the sport's raceday use of the diuretic furosemide to treat bleeding in the lungs, participants in a two-day summit at Belmont Park said on Tuesday at the close of the conference.

The meeting is the next step in attempting to forge a consensus in a debate that has split the industry over the past several months. Before the meeting, members of the board will gather additional information on topics raised during the summit, said Alex Waldrop, the chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, one of three groups, including the medication consortium, that organized the summit.

The summit was scheduled following a call earlier this year by a handful of influential industry groups to ban the use of furosemide on race day. The drug is legal to administer on race day in the United States and Canada, but is prohibited in all other major racing jurisdictions.

Given the complexity of the issue and the opposition of many horsemen to a ban, organizers of the summit said that they had no expectation that the industry would emerge from the conference with consensus on whether to roll back furosemide regulations or maintain the status quo. That expectation was clearly met.

"There is clear consensus that we have to keep moving," Waldrop said at the close of the conference.

The medication consortium was chosen as the vehicle to advance the discussion because its board is comprised of representatives of nearly every major racing constituency in North America, according to Chris Scherf, the executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and the vice chairman of the medication consortium's board. The consortium was formed 10 years ago to identify areas of research for drug testing and provide guidance on model rules for the industry. It is funded by a broad array of industry groups, including both opponents and supporters of raceday furosemide use.

The organizers said that participants in a closed-door session of the summit on Tuesday identified four "broad areas" for further exploration of potential changes to industry policy or practice: options for the administration of furosemide; security issues; penalties; and education. The areas were identified after 72 participants in the closed-door session were broken into nine groups and asked to consider the consequences of an array of options to address furosemide, including the advantages and disadvantages of those options, the organizers said.

"There were a lot of ideas put forward," said Scherf. "We identified those that would be most productive to finding a consensus."

Opponents of raceday use of furosemide contend that the administration of the drug has eroded public confidence in the game and provided barriers to recruiting new fans. In addition, representatives of international jurisdictions have been highly critical of the raceday use of the drug, contending that the North American policy is isolating the United States at a time when racehorses are increasingly crossing national borders to race and breed.

Supporters of the policy contend that furosemide is the only drug that has been demonstrated to be effective to treat bleeding, a malady that affects all horses who exercise intensely. To allow horses to race while suffering from bleeding when a drug exists to treat the condition would be inhumane, the supporters argue.

Looming over the discussion is the prospect of federal legislation introduced in May that would ban the use of furosemide. The legislation has not yet been scheduled for hearings.

Even as the summit broke up, participants were raising questions about whether the industry would be able to achieve a level of consensus that would result in uniformity among all 38 racing jurisdictions in the United States. Racing commissions have often disagreed on what rules best serve the industry in their states, and the participants acknowledged that they did not have the power to force states to adopt specific rules or changes.

"This is not something we can mandate," said Dr. Scott Palmer, the chairman of the racing committee of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the third group to organize the summit. "All three of the groups that met today have influence, but we don't have rule-making authority."

Scherf did say that the participants agreed that the industry should not take steps to ban furosemide use in stakes races without an overall change in policy, an idea that had been advanced by some supporters of reform.

"You would be asking the public to wager on something that is very different from everything else that led up to it," Scherf said.