02/22/2013 5:07PM

Steven Crist: Lasix ban and Breeders' Cup cutback: Cause and effect?

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Tom Keyser
Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, won by Hightail (center), attracted just five starters.

When the Breeders’ Cup board of directors met Friday, its two most significant agenda items were whether to proceed with a planned ban on Lasix in all 15 of its races this year – and whether it would in fact present all 15 races this year. Were these separate or related issues?

The board discussed but took no official action on the Lasix plan or the proposed eliminations of the Juvenile Sprint and Dirt Mile. The question remains whether those two races have really proven to be failures that should not be part of future Cups, or if reducing the number of races is in part a cosmetic solution to a likely decline in Cup entries because of the Lasix ban.

Even those Cup board members who feel most strongly about banning Lasix from the event realize it is likely to reduce field size of the races. Last year, with a ban in only the five juvenile races, pre-entries were down sharply. In the three dirt events for 2-year-olds – the Juvenile Sprint, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies – there was a total of just 22 starters, down from 36 in those three races just a year earlier at Churchill Downs.

So it is understandable that there is serious concern that extending the Lasix ban to all Cup races this year will prompt further decline and defections, especially when extended to races for older horses who have spent their entire careers racing with Lasix. Eliminating one or more races would make those declines less apparent.

When they were introduced, both the Juvenile Sprint and Dirt Mile seemed like naturals with a high probability of success. The one thing American racing seemed to have was plenty of fast sprinting 2-year-olds – the question was always whether they were being asked to stretch out too far too soon. It also seemed to make sense to offer a dirt race for 3-year-olds and up that was longer than the six furlongs of the Sprint and shorter than the 10 furlongs of the Classic, given how much racing there is between those two distances and how prized brilliant milers are as breeding prospects.

It just hasn’t worked out that way. Of the six winners in the Dirt Mile’s brief history – Corinthian, Albertus Maximus, Furthest Land, Dakota Phone, Caleb’s Posse, and Tapizar – only Caleb’s Posse came close to winning an Eclipse Award. The Classic and Sprint continued to draw better fields, and the Mile became a kind of ’tweener poor relation. It didn’t help that the Breeders’ Cup treated the race that way, offering just a $1 million purse next to the $2 million for the Sprint and $5 million for the Classic. Also, the track configurations for four of those six runnings mandated that the race be run around two turns rather than one, making it more of a short route rather than the long sprint of a classic mile race such as the Metropolitan Mile.

The Juvenile Sprint began decently enough two years ago with a field of nine for its inaugural running at Churchill Downs, but was an embarrassment last year, attracting just five starters including a maiden and two fillies. With dozens of precocious and high-quality juvenile debut winners emerging from the summer and early fall race meets, it still seems incomprehensible that so few runners could be corralled.

Was it the idea of such a race that was the problem, or its execution amid other factors last year?

The Lasix ban kept some runners at home; the relatively low $500,000 purse (half that of the Delta Downs Jackpot a month later) was uninspiring; the small fields for the longer juvenile dirt races made some original Juvenile Sprint candidates move into the Juvenile or Juvenile Fillies, which offered purses of $1.8 million as opposed to $500,000; and the unnecessary addition of a turf sprint for juveniles and a sprint for juvenile fillies on the Saturday undercard (which drew a combined 15 starters who otherwise might have been considered for the Juvenile Sprint) did not help.

What is surprising in retrospect is that those two new races were officially labeled as “Breeders’ Cup Preview” in their titles as if they were candidates for elevation to full Breeders’Cup events this year. After one year of a Lasix ban, however, rather than expanding from five to seven juvenile races, the Cup is likelier to cut back from five to four. If extending the Lasix ban to older horses has the same effect, it’s likely that there will be even fewer than 14 or 15 Breeders’ Cup races in the years ahead.

ANDREW O More than 1 year ago
I am saddened to see the ban on Lasix lifted.I had hoped that the BC would be seen as a trend setter and not as as joke. There is no point in forbidding t.w.o's to run without lasix for one year's BC and then back to the barn for their medication as they get older.It places the US breeding industry in the second division world wide.Breeders will never know whether the sire was sound while racing and if not what flaws will be passed on.
BigBear More than 1 year ago
If the BC cuts back, its the beginning of the end. If Repole can follow through and run a card w/L in NY I feel sure our racing fans will support our card in NY and send the message that the West Coast BC will continue to lessen and the East Coast will not let them call the tune.
Chris Lake More than 1 year ago
Sad state of affairs. Gonna lose even more fans. The BC is tweaked enough!
John Pisiona More than 1 year ago
My Border Collie is on Lasix. She can do a quarter in 22 flat
Matt Harper More than 1 year ago
If they ban Lasix on all of the BC races I won't be betting the BC this year.
not impressed More than 1 year ago
I think it's funny. Our industry BEGS to have Lasix but yet the trainers will ship their horses to Dubai and Ascot where Lasix IS NOT allowed and they don't gripe at all. So if they have no problem running their horses there without it, what's the big deal racing without it permanently? The sooner Lasix goes away from the industry, the sooner our breed will start breeding better horses. Medications only weaken the breed, as is demonstrated year in and out since all this garbage was allowed to be used. Think how much better our industry would be if we followed the other countries' examples of not allowing ANY medication whatsoever. I predict no Triple Crown winner until runners get off medication.
fuggedabodit More than 1 year ago
Definitely with you on this one.....my feelings are that medications have practically destroyed the sport.
Jeanne More than 1 year ago
Dubai has 10 million reasons to run. The grass race on World Cup night is 5 million. Taking a shot for that much makes it worth it. It's not like the US is flooding the entry box over there either. Romans has his two, Animal Kingdom and Royal Delta are the other prominent runners. That's about it.
Ben van den Brink More than 1 year ago
Here is a list of pretenders,possiblies etc for the Dubai World cup, which will be run without lasix. Intersesting are the names from a few US trainers, which are favoring the use of lasix/ http://www.horseracingnation.com/race/2013_Dubai_World_Cup
Bob More than 1 year ago
Like my old friend Dean Reed used to say, "leave it to the Americans to take the fun out of everything..." and it looks like the BC overlords are working overtime to ruin a good thing! The Lasix ban, as well-intentioned as it may be, is simply unrealistic in a country where 99.99999% of all horses who race throughout the year, are racing on Lasix. As for eliminating races, why not make a rule that requires at least 8 starters in order for the race to go. If 8 horses don't go to the post, the race is scratched from the card. One of the main attractions of the entire BC program is the typically large fields of highly competitive horses, which leads to boxcar payoffs more often than not. Other than the 5 and 6 horses fields that have been typical of the Distaff and the 2 YO dirt races for years, the majority of BC races are among the best wagering opportunities in N. American racing!
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
How about banning Bute in 2yos races, to start with? If a 2yo is so arthritic they need Bute to race, they shouldn't be in a championship race, and if they hurt so much they need Bute to run at all, they shouldn't be racing.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
Do we want to ban Lasix or not? If we do, there is going to be a period of adjustment, when the determined lasix users won't want to race. Eventually, the lasix free horses will rise to the top and the races will start to fill again. I have another angle on this matter. On several occasions I have enjoyed Breeders Cup friday when it was a lesser event. Now they have added all these races and tried to trump up Friday to be the equal of Satrurday. Maybe I'm being selfish, but now Friday is a much tougher ticket and ESPN is again hogging the entire dining room. I say dial back Friday and load all the best races on to the Saturday card.