06/05/2012 2:44PM

Opponents of Lasix phaseout dominate town hall meeting

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FRANKFORT, Ky. – Opponents of a proposal to phase out the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide outnumbered supporters by a count of 17-1 during a town-hall style meeting held Tuesday by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

During the 90-minute meeting, owners, trainers, veterinarians, and officials of horsemen’s organizations urged the commission to reject the proposal. The opponents were countered only by William Koester, the former chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, despite the presence at the meeting of several officials who are known to support the rule, including representatives of the Jockey Club, Breeders’ Cup, and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

The opponents reiterated arguments that have accompanied debates over the raceday use of furosemide, commonly known as Lasix, over the past year, calling a ban, no matter how limited, inhumane because of the medication’s proven efficacy in reducing the severity and frequency of bleeding episodes. Supporters of a new rule have said that the use of raceday furosemide has isolated the United States from most other major racing jurisdictions and led to public perception problems for the sport, and that limitations on its use would wipe away those concerns.

At the close of the hearing, John Ward, the racing commission chairman and a former trainer, announced that the commission had received 776 e-mails about the proposed regulation, with 643 of those e-mails in support of the limited ban and 133 in opposition, a statistic that flipped the ratio of opponents and supporters at the hearing on its head. In an interview afterward, Ward said that the “vast majority” of the e-mails on both sides had come from Internet campaigns being run by opponents and supporters.

A month ago, the Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association launched a website, cleanhorseracing.com, that has been e-mailing form letters and inviting people to sign online petitions in support of the new rule. The Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association launched a similar online effort a week ago.

Marty Maline, the executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protectve Association, vociferously objected to Ward announcing the number of e-mails at the close of the meeting, when audience members were no longer able to comment

“You should let us answer that comment,” Maline shouted.

“I’m just stating the facts, Marty,” Ward answered.

“Where are those people now?” shouted Barry King, an owner and handicapper who earlier testified in opposition to the proposal.

Matt Iuliano, the executive director of the Jockey Club, sat in the audience during the meeting taking notes. Asked why the Jockey Club did not make any public statement, Iuliano said that the organization had already submitted testimony to the Kentucky Racing Commission on its position.

“All our testimony is on the record,” Iuliano said. “There’s nothing else to add to it. We’ve always supported a very deliberate, methodical phaseout of furosemide.”

The proposal under consideration would ban raceday furosemide before stakes races beginning with 2-year-old stakes in 2013. The ban would be expanded to any race in which 3-year-olds are eligible in 2014, and then to all stakes races in 2015.

The racing had earlier this year proposed that the phaseout be applied to all races starting in 2013, but that proposal was narrowly defeated when the commission tied 7-7. One of the commissioners who voted against the proposal, Breeders’ Cup chairman Tom Ludt, was the commissioner who proposed the more limited stakes-race phaseout.

Since that meeting, Gov. Steve Beshear has also appointed a 15th commissioner, John Phillips, who is a member of the Jockey Club and a former board member of Breeders’ Cup. The silence of supporters during the town-hall meeting, and the announcement of the number of e-mails that have been received, could point to the fact that supporters of the rule have already determined they have enough votes for the proposal to pass.

Asked if the Jockey Club had done a vote count, Iuliano shook his head. “No,” he said.

The racing commission may take up the rule at its June 13 meeting, Ward said.