03/22/2013 2:22PM

Steven Crist: Five reasons why the effort to ban Lasix has stalled

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The movement to ban Lasix from American racing, which looked like an odds-on favorite only a year ago, seems to have pulled up at the top of the stretch with the announcement last week that the Breeders’ Cup has scrapped its plan to enforce a ban in this year’s races.

Lasix will again be banned in only the four juvenile races while the treatment will be permitted in the 10 others, and insiders expect even the juvenile ban to be gone in another year or two. So, if there are 30,000 races in North America in 2013, Lasix will be permitted in 29,996 of them and prohibited in just four.

Regardless of which side of the thorny and divisive debate you are on, this is a stunning reversal. A year ago, Kentucky regulators were on the verge of phasing out Lasix completely but now are likelier to phase in a retreat from those rules. Efforts to enact similar legislation stalled in New York and never got off the ground in California. Numerous industry organizations have retreated from strong anti-Lasix stances.

What happened? Zealots on each side of the issue will call it a triumph of good or evil by forces of enlightenment or darkness, but it may be more valuable to examine why a movement that seemed inevitable suddenly lost its momentum. There probably are dozens of other factors, but here are five that contributed to the sputter:

◗ The willful attempt to blur the clear lines between administering a legal and regulated medication and the nefarious use of illegal and dangerous drugs to fix the outcome of races was a tactical error that alienated potential supporters who have an open mind on the topic.

Proponents of a ban consistently overstated their case and lost hearts and minds by trying to make Lasix sound inherently dangerous and linking its usage – with little veterinary evidence or support – to a supposed decline in the health and durability of the breed.

◗ The claim by proponents of a ban that Lasix use was harming the sport’s popularity was unfounded and unconvincing. After more than two decades of widespread Lasix usage, a span in which the sport had periods of both growth and decline, the argument that it had suddenly begun alienating potential customers lacked credibility. This was borne out when in 2012, a year in which racing probably received an unprecedented amount of negative coverage for medication and animal-welfare issues, American betting handle actually increased for the first time in six years.

◗ The lack of support for a Lasix ban from virtually any successful trainer left the anti-Lasix proponents not only without an influential spokesman but also with the weak and nasty rebuttal that trainers are either incompetent or shady. Even trainers who ban proponents thought shared their views said they found Lasix a useful and humane treatment.

◗ While it may be intellectually defensible (through the “playing by the existing rules” and “level playing field” arguments) to rail against the use of Lasix while continuing to race one’s own horses on it, people both inside and outside the industry found this to be a mixed message at best. Telling people to do what you say, not what you do, never goes over well in general and took the wind from the sails of the position that Lasix was so detrimental to racing that it must be banned.

◗ The argument that the United States is out of step with the rest of the world by uniquely permitting Lasix is both true and sobering, but a lack of conformity is not in and of itself a reason to change. What was needed to make that a more compelling argument was some illustration of how the United States could implement foreign procedures to replace Lasix instead of an assumption that we must be wrong.

There also continues to be a lot of misinformation surrounding comparisons between American and, in particular, European racing. It has become gospel that horses in Europe make more starts per year than American runners, and that Lasix might be to blame, when, in fact, the statistics are almost identical.

Whatever the reasons, the impetus to change Lasix policy has evaporated, but that should not mean the topic is permanently closed. Even those who have come to accept and defend its use would be hard-pressed to argue that it is commendable that American racing has gone down a path where virtually every horse is treated with it. Perhaps the next time the issue rears its head – and it will – there can be a more constructive, civilized, and informed discussion.

[DRF WEEKEND: Waning support for Lasix ban forced Breeders' Cup's hand]

James Mindel More than 1 year ago
To me, the issue is the indiscriminate use of a drug that may or may not be useful or needed for a particular horse, and which may contribute to the long term weakening of thoroughbreds by interfering with natural selection that would otherwise limit the value and breeding potential of horses with bleeding tendencies. I would favor a system that would require an independent assessment by qualified veterenarians that lasix is medically indicated for a specific horse. There should be at least some evidence of actual bleeding issues, and the ongoing usage of lasix would be reviewed to determine if there is a long-term need for the medication. The fact that 99% of American thoroughbreds are on lasix is in itself a telling statistic of the one- size- fits- all mentality prevailing in the racing community. Lasix has a legitmate place in the veterinarian's medicine chest, but not to the uncalled for levels currently in practice.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Try out some voluntary lasix-free races in low profile environments first. To start with the Superbowl, if we can dub the BC like that, is absurd. The problem is that the people in the anti-lasix camp often barely even know what they're talking about that. They're just 'against all drugs', and that makes them right. On the flip side of the coin, you have owners and trainers who could risk the health of their horses by racing without lasix. They're the ones who would pay for the experiment. As with most things, a solution starts with education. One thing I would like to see at DRF is an indepth article, in the context of lasix, that looks at the bloodlines of the American thoroughbred going back to the 1960's. There is KY Derby winner there, who won that race on lasix, unbeknownst to the public. This Derby winner became a leading sire. Tell the story, DRF.
Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
There isn't a single one of those hypocritical hay oats and water clowns that would willingly retire one of their horses just because it bleeds.
long_shot_alert More than 1 year ago
For those who want to understand the two sides of this debate read avlamal's post a couple down. He pretty much nails the pro-lasix perspective - "Horse as dead fish" - we'll call it. It is a chemical based, flat and materialistic perspective. Most trainers and vets share this view. This camp recognizes no resonance nor memory nor subtle biological mechanisms. All they see, all they acknowledge is the initial, chemical reaction that does inhibit EIPH.
Julio Gonzalez More than 1 year ago
In my opinion the only thing lasix does is feed the pockets of the track Veterinarians and help fill cards of the American racing programs with lots of unfit horses that are also ran, but do not show signs of bleeding. If we did not allow race day lasix trainers would have to learn how to get a horses fit naturally and without drugs. The thoroughbred race track barns resemble more a pharmacy than a race track. And if you doubt this, just ask any owner what he pays for the drugs.
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Every drug has side effects to the detriment of its recipient. We got along without it for a century,let's go back to the days of racing's greatness.
avlamal More than 1 year ago
I don't think u anti Lasix people really know what Lasix Does and what it is u ever salt a fish-thATS LASIX IT DRYS IT IOUT AS SALT SOAKS UP WATER THATS WHAT LASIX DOES IT DRIES UP FLUID IN THE LUNGS BY ACTIVATING AN ANTI SALT ABSORBING AGENT IN THE BLOOD IN OTHER WORDS IT ALLOWS SALTS TO BE PRESENT TO DO ITS JOB-THATS ALL ITS NOT REALLY A DRUG AT ALL LASIX IS A VERY COMMON THERAPY FOR HUMANS WITH CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE AND HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE ITS NOT A STIMULANT NOR PAIN KILLER GET IN FORMED AND BE SMART BEFORE CONDEMNING
Rick Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Kinda violent proponent,aren't you?
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
Great comment,avlamal. As a former owner, we had no problem with Lasix. Our horses were healthy, and never had any side effects. It does, exactly what you so eloquently mentioned. Hell, my wife was prescribed Lasix, and she is still here. The real issue is the illegal drugs that the unscrupulous use, and I saw plenty of that.
chembites More than 1 year ago
Yes, it's the best non-stimulant, non analgesic, diuretic performance enhancer in racing.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
LMFAO! except the human does not have to perform or run as hard as he/she can....also the human has a choice to take the lasix or not.... here's a clue....you are giving a drug for a horse to perform something it does NATURALLY and that is run....get it?
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
That is why this industry cannot get new fans and bettors.....the only reason it is still in life support is the casino money....
Ron Crookham More than 1 year ago
Great article Mr Crist :)
Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
You only need one reason, and it is absolutely the right one, that this idiotic quest to ban Lasix was stopped. That's because the Hypocritical imbeciles pushing for it didn't have a leg to stand on. It was nothing more than a misguided witch hunt. I hope they feel as stupid as they have been made to look.
chembites More than 1 year ago
Join me at the latest racing and breeding bleeders anonymous meeting, will you? It's at the corner of Denial and Obtuse.
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
Why is this article pulled of the main page?????
DRFInsidePost More than 1 year ago
To make room for newer articles. This is how a news website works.
Julio Gonzalez More than 1 year ago
Mr. DRF, This is the only article that matters to the masses, because the thoroughbred racing and breeding could be effected dramatically. Soon the Thoroughbred powers will all be attending that meeting for racing and breeding bleeders anonymous, located at the corner of Denial and Obtuse as Chembites suggested. Wouldn't you love to see horses running free of drugs and showing us who they really are. Or do you not think horses have personalities? "No. It will numb my wits" Says Mr. Ed .