09/16/2011 1:46PM

N.Y. state senator lacks the facts on Lasix


We got a glimpse of the looming war over Lasix in American racing last week when a New York state senator announced that he is sponsoring a bill to ban it in the state. If it is any indication of similar efforts likely to follow around the country, this is going to be a battle fought with misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric rather than science, common sense, or any consultation with people actually involved in horse racing.

The announcement came from State Sen. Tom Duane, a Democrat representing Manhattan’s West Side who is best known as a gay-rights advocate and whose record indicates no previous involvement with horses or racing. His proposal surprised his colleagues on the state’s senate and assembly racing committees, who did not know it was coming, and should shock anyone in racing for its very first call to action:

“Until this legislation becomes law,” Duane said, “I urge everyone to refrain from wagering on any horse that is being dosed with Lasix – or worse.”

Perhaps Duane does not understand that more than 95 percent of horses at every track in the country run on Lasix and that a call for the public to stop betting on them amounts to urging a national boycott of the sport. Perhaps he does not understand that virtually all horse owners, both here and abroad, run their horses on Lasix when they run in the United States. In any case, it was an astounding action for a politician to encourage the boycotting of a perfectly legal, highly regulated activity, especially as the rest of his announcement made it even clearer he is entirely unfamiliar with racing.

His announcement repeatedly referred to an “Office of New York State Gaming, Racing and Wagering .” There is, and never has been, any such office. He incorrectly states that for two decades New York was the only state that prohibited Lasix and then blames the fictional office for allowing “the shameful practice of pumping these horses full of drugs.”

His science is no better. Apparently unaware of the source of the exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging that Lasix treats, here is his explanation of the condition:

“Many horses, dubbed ‘Bleeders,’ have a tendency to suffer from nose bleeds. Too many nose bleeds can permanently bar a horse from racing thus ruining the owners’ investment made on the horse. . . . Lasix made thousands of younger horses eligible to compete.”

This shoddy presentation not only reflects badly on him but also clearly illustrates that no one with even cursory knowledge of the sport read his announcement.

Fortunately, the initial reaction from Duane’s colleagues suggests his bill won’t get too far, just as there appears to be little support for similar federal legislation announced several months ago.

“I think it’s a non-starter,” said Gary Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly’s standing committee on racing, in an interview with The Blood-Horse. “I understand there’s a move afoot to have absolutely no drugs at all being used, but my understanding of Lasix is that it’s not a performance-enhancing drug.”

There is not a racetrack operator or trainer in the state who has expressed his support for a national or local Lasix ban.

“I would be glad to sit down with the good senator to educate him and show him the error of his ways,” Rick Violette, president of the state’s Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, told Daily Racing Form ’s David Grening. “But the overwhelming science shows that over 80 percent of horses bleed without the administration of Lasix and to introduce legislation banning the therapeutic use of Lasix would simply be premeditated animal abuse.”

It is tempting to relegate Duane’s announcement to the file of misguided legislative dabbling in racing by poorly informed politicians – like the congressman who once famously proposed a minimum $4 for $2 payoff on all racetrack bets – but it is likely a forerunner to what we’re going to see in other states. The Breeders’ Cup – which last month announced a Lasix ban in its five juvenile races in 2012 and in all its races starting in 2013 – can control what medications are used in its 15 races a year, but it will require a change in existing laws to ban Lasix in the other 99.9 percent of horse races around the country.

There is reasonable and sincere disagreement over whether racing would at least theoretically be better off without Lasix, but that discussion is not taking place. If the proponents of a Lasix ban can’t do a better job of lining up political support than they have with Sen. Duane, and find legislative sponsors who get their facts straight and don’t irresponsibly call for a boycott of the sport, their chances of changing any hearts or minds appear quite slim.