05/09/2014 2:13PM

Op-ed: Banning Lasix on race day is smart move

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Cobra Farm Lexington, Ky.

The May 1 issue of Daily Racing Form featured an article about prominent New York trainer Richard Violette. Violette’s criticism of The Jockey Club and his support for the proposed uniform medication rules are informative and certainly portray one of New York’s leading trainer’s position on Lasix and many other therapeutic drugs, which were originally intended for use to “cure an injury or help clear an illness.”

Uniform medication rules as presently presented clearly are better than existing state rules that vary from state to state – nobody disputes that fact.

However, what Violette misses or doesn’t want to acknowledge is that all therapeutic drugs, including Lasix, when given close to race day and often on race day, are not popular with most owners and most of the wagering public. The public perception is “drugs are drugs.” Lasix is a “performance enhancer,” and owners of Thoroughbreds as well as the wagering public know it. Using Lasix on race day forces all trainers to use it because they know their competitors have an edge if they don’t.

Another fact, not opinion, that Violette doesn’t understand and may not want to understand is that when owners of horses, those who invest capital into the sport, are not able to start their horses more than six or seven times a year on average because it takes longer for horses racing on Lasix to rehydrate, gain weight back, train, and run again, it is very costly to the owner.

If you have numerous horses in training and three or four more starts per year are denied, the owner of the horse pays the price. This is the same owner who pays trainers and veterinarians for a full 12 months of training and vet work. Before Lasix was allowed in the 1970s, horses raced 10 times per year. Last year, according to The Jockey Club, horses averaged six starts per year.

For me as an owner, I would much prefer to run the risk, which is quite small, of a horse bleeding so profusely that he has to be retired in order to get those three or four additional starts per year. We all know that all horses bleed to some degree, but those who fall into the 4 to 5 range after a vet has scoped them are few. The economics clearly say no Lasix, more starts – more starts to help the investors, the owners, have a chance for additional purse money.

Over the many years I have raced horses, I have experienced just a few severe bleeders who had to be retired for their health and safety. But I would risk having to retire that small percentage for the opportunity to run each horse three or four more times per year. The economic advantage to the owner is immense.

Also, there are other ways to reduce bleeding risk without Lasix. It was done before and can be done again.

Again, in my opinion, trainers’ win percentages and standings are not as important as owners having a chance to pay all bills and break even or possibly be profitable. Excessive vet bills don’t help the owner. Huge vet bills eat up owner capital that could be used to buy or breed more horses. Every trainer should hope his owner knows that his horse is getting quality care and is racing free of drugs, which encourages the owner to invest more in horses, thereby benefitting trainers. We need the industry to grow, not decline.

I’m sure Violette knows what Lasix does, and his reference to the science not supporting the fact that Lasix is a performance-enhancing medication is not factual.

I personally respect trainers, including Violette, and most veterinarians who are still willing to diagnose injury or illness and are willing to provide both trainer and owner with options on how to proceed. Instant medication and/or injection without diagnosis is not always the correct choice for the horse but often does get the horse to his next race and allows the vet truck to go from one barn to another in a short period of time.

The proposed uniform medication rules certainly would improve public confidence. However, to complete the reform is to remove Lasix as a given on race day. Removing Lasix will help the wagering public and all owners to believe that the field is level for everybody. It will improve the integrity of the sport.

The Jockey Club has always endorsed eliminating medications on race day. I gave a speech to the Round Table in 2002 outlining the exact problem we still face today. Therapeutic drugs should not be used to “enhance performance.” We got it wrong a long time ago; let’s try to get it right now and improve the image of our great sport. The racing industry worldwide, which bans Lasix on race day, will be pleased that we are complying with international standards.

Criticism of The Jockey Club is not becoming or warranted. The Jockey Club provides great services to our industry and essentially has no power or leverage to establish rules it believes to be correct. It can only offer opinions.

It will take effort and leadership by owners of horses to set the right environment for the public.

Trainers and veterinarians may not be presently violating rules; the current rules allow too much opportunity to try to get an edge. They need to be changed if Thoroughbred racing is to achieve growth and public popularity.

We need to get going – time is running short!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
anyone with any sense should care about their wallet.
FromHorsesMouth More than 1 year ago
There is NO room for race day medications that help a horse compete! That is not fair to the healthy horses that do not need it. No professional sport allows this and neither should horse racing. MAKE HORSE RACING FAIR AND CLEAN!
Matt Zebriski More than 1 year ago
"Owners deserve what they get." What an idiotic comment. Owners are the ones that put capital into the game. If it weren't for owners, trainers would not exist. Unless I missed something, horses and the owners that supply them actually make trainers, not the other way around. Pletcher has more well pedigreed horses than anyone, and yet, he has as many Derby winners as Art Sherman and John Servis. I guess his enormous training capabilities weren't quite enough to get one of his 600 triple crown nominated horses to the finish line.
Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
It is clear that Matt Zeibriski is living in the same fantasy land as Cobra Farm. The "horses need weeks to recover" from a dose of Lasix is pure folly, and anyone that actually believes that should examine their vet bills to discover what is really wrong with their horse. I guarantee you the animal isn't suffering from dehydration. Zebriski claims that the "supertrainer" is the problem. I say, owners foolish enough to have their horses in a 200 horse stable trained at a far way location by an assistant just so they can say, my trainer is so an so" deserve what they get. As for Woody, please....that guy wrecked more well bred stock than todays supertrainer/butchers. These highbrow elitists that blame the use of therapeutic medication sing a different tune when something is wrong with one of their own horses and their indignations ring hollow and are simply the height of hypocrisy.
Matt Zebriski More than 1 year ago
Most trainers and vets only care about their wallets... There are no more Woody Stephens, and if I am wrong about this, I guarantee they have only a couple of horses. Supertrainer are a scourge on the sport...ask Pletcher to go down to 100 horses and test his response. Every problem in the sport - drugs, costs, small field sizes - stems from the rise of the supertrainer.
jttf More than 1 year ago
great to see common sense used by owners. keep lasix away from the youngsters and it will pay off at the ages of 4,5,6.. good luck