07/18/2011 3:27PM

Stronach asks for help from regulators to phase out raceday medication

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Gulfstream Park owner Frank Stronach has asked Florida regulators to help him implement a program that would phase out all raceday medication, including Lasix, for 3-year-olds at the track, beginning with the 2011-12 meeting.

Stronach, chairman of Stronach Entertainment Corp., sent a letter last week outlining his plan and asking for assistance to Milton Champion, director of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, a part of the Flordia Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Stronach said he has sent similar correspondences to the racing commissions in other jurisdictions in which he owns racetracks. Stronach said he hopes to implement his plan at all his tracks: Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in California; Pimlico and Laurel in Maryland; and Portland Meadows in Oregon.

Stronach’s request comes on the heels of last week’s announcement by the Breeders’ Cup that it will ban the use of Lasix in all 2-year-old races in its season-ending championships beginning in 2012.

Horsemen use Lasix – or the diuretic furosemide – to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding in the lungs. A number of studies have cited the drug’s ability to reduce bleeding, but other studies have demonstrated that horses treated with the drug run faster than horses that are untreated.

In his letter to Champion, Stronach said “there are great concerns between the horse racing community and the public with regard to medication for race horses, especially on race day. Therefore I respectfully request this commission to help me implement a program that will phase out all raceday medications, including Lasix. We feel very strongly that these measures will be in the best interest of the horse and the horse racing industry.”

Beth Frady, deputy communications director for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said “the division is in receipt of the letter and is currently reviewing the request.”

“I really believe it is not necessary to have raceday medications,” Stronach said in a phone interview. “In most parts of the world, they do not allow it. And we have already seen the Breeders’ Cup just come out in support of this same measure. We all know when horses race, they should race sound and not on medications which mask things. Everybody knows that’s the right thing to do, but up to this point nothing has been done about it.”

Stronach said his recent acquisition of all the tracks formerly held by the publicly owned MI Delopments allows him the flexibility to make such a seemingly radical request. The plan could ultimately have a profound effect on the quantity and quality of the fields at the tracks in question, notably next winter’s major 3-year-old races at his flagship facilities at Gulfstream and Santa Anita.

“If this were still a publicly owned company, I couldn’t do this,” Stronach said. “But that’s the business I want to be in. I want to see it run a certain way, and since it’s my money I make that decision. And hopefully most owners and trainers will agree with that decision. I’m committed to this decision.”

The 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, spent this past winter along with the majority of trainer Graham Motion’s stable at the Palm Meadows training center and opened his 3-year-old campaign at Gulfstream. Motion said implementing a program banning raceday medications in general and Lasix in particular would almost certainly impact 3-year-old racing during the 2012 Gulfstream meet.

“I just worry about having a knee-jerk reaction over the Lasix issue somewhat like what happened with the synthetic tracks in California,” Motion said. “Look where that ended up. I worry that if we do away with Lasix, everybody is going to start using other things under the table – just like what happened in New York before Lasix was legalized. Everyone needs to be a little more open minded. I couldn’t care less about other medications, but Lasix is something that can be controlled by the state. What people might administer their horses if they cannot use Lasix cannot be controlled.”

Motion said by and large he was fine racing without Lasix, but there are some horses who need the drug to race.

“The bottom line if that if Lasix is taken away, there are going to be certain horses you will not be able to run at Gulfstream,” Motion said. “I get horses sent to me from outside this country specifically to run on Lasix. It’s just cut and dry – that’s all. Am I going to stay away from Gulfstream if they institute this policy? No. But it will certainly restrict the number of horses I run there, more than likely some of the better ones in my barn.”

Phil Combest, president of the Florida Division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said his organization is opposed to Stronach’s plan.

“I think cutting out raceday Lasix would dramatically effect racing down here in a negative way because of the humid climate, and we are absolutely against Mr. Stronach’s proposal,” Combest said. “A South African study supports the fact that Lasix reduces exercise-induced pulmonary hemmoraging in general, and we believe because of the nature of our climate in south Florida we will have many more bleeders than the rest of the country without the use of Lasix.”