05/09/2014 1:13PM

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


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!