Feuds Horse Racing doesn’t need – Part I

by Art Parker

Perhaps the best crop of three year olds that I can remember came in 1987. Alysheba eventually won the top honors in a division that included Bet Twice, Java Gold, Cryptoclearance, Gulch, Gone West, Polish Navy, Capote, and a late bloomer named Lost Code. The argument over Lasix elevated in that year initially because Alysheba was known to be a “bleeder” and was forced to race without Lasix (also known as Furosemide) in New York; the only state that disallowed the use of the anti-bleeder medication. Alysheba won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and when his date with destiny arrived at Belmont in June for the Belmont Stakes the chatter was as much about Lasix as it was a possible Triple Crown winner. For those of you around on that unfortunate day you should easily recall Alysheba running a terrible race as his arch enemy, Bet Twice, crushed the field to win by double digits.

Lasix for horses

Lasix is given to both horses and humans

The argument continued until Saratoga held its biggest day. Missing from the truly magnificent Travers field at the Spa was the red hot Lost Code and as one news commentator explained, “Lost Code just can’t run without his Lasix.” The focus turned on Alysheba once again when he failed miserably as Java Gold captured the Travers Stakes. The reason most people wanted to use for his poor performance was that he couldn’t run without Lasix, even though the downpour from Heaven and the quagmire of mud of a race track were not to his liking. It wasn’t all that long afterwards that New York allowed Lasix.

Today the Lasix argument is back. A pair of influential thoroughbred organizations is in the center of the Lasix dispute: The Breeders’ Cup and the American Graded Stakes Committee. To say the 2011 Lasix issue is a mild disagreement would be untrue. The issue is heated and it will probably get much hotter.     

Let’s look at what all is going on. First, The Breeders’ Cup organization announced it is disallowing Lasix in 2012 for the Two Year Old Races on Breeders’ Cup Day, and, in 2013 it will disallow Lasix for all Breeders’ Cup races.  Then the Graded Stakes Committee announced it would ban Lasix for all two year races for all of 2012. Slightly less than 50 juvenile races have graded status. The committee said the new policy would be assessed at the end of 2012 and that a determination would be made to continue the policy or expand it.

Whenever I hear someone argue against using Lasix I usually hear that the diuretic can turn a horse into a super horse. I always like to argue that I take Lasix (I am a cardiac patient) and that it doesn’t turn me into a super horse or a super human for that matter. Almost all horses bleed some in the respiratory system when racing and using Lasix is a safety measure that helps the horse perform to its capability. That’s the argument you hear from those that are in favor of using Lasix. Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) is treated with Lasix because it allows the horse to breathe better while racing (some refer to EIPH as Equine Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage).

Why the revival of this argument? Thus far I cannot find a specific reason for the timing. I have to go beyond my role as a horseplayer and use my senses as a newspaper editor to formulate an answer, at least to satisfy my own wonderment. First I go back to a time many years after New York allowed Lasix, but just before the turn of the century. The Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase in Major League Baseball eventually led to a debate about performance enhancing drugs. A few years after that epic battle in baseball, Congress got involved and forced a bunch of sluggers to come to Washington and tell them about steroids, performance enhancing drugs, etc. For a couple of years the focus was on Barry Bonds and his quest to become baseball’s all time home run king. The Bonds home run quest fueled performance enhancing drug arguments. When Bonds was indicted for behavior related to the use of such drugs the issue grew even more.

To make things worse Roger Clemens put on a very poor performance in front of Congress. That’s when members of Congress started spewing suspicions about anyone or anything that took an aspirin. And that’s when the words horse racing started to surface, and unfortunately for our sport, its name started receiving frowns. Many people assumed that Lasix, or anything else a trainer may give his horse other than water, are bad, terrible, unlawful and performance enhancing.

So, for what it’s worth, it is the same old culprit that ruins things when it gets involved-politics. I may be wrong but I sense that the Breeders’ Cup and the Graded Stakes Committee want to make it look like they are policing the industry. I believe all they will do is invite more involvement by those who really don’t care about racing, but just want to find the way to get votes and money for their next election.              

What I do not understand is why they are banning Lasix for two year olds only in 2012. Why is the Breeders’ Cup disallowing Lasix use for juvenile races on the same day it will allow it for all others? That makes no sense at all. If the Breeders’ Cup is convinced that the use of Lasix must be terminated why not stop it for all races at the same time?

What is most interesting about these two groups “flexing” their muscles is the simple fact that they lack enforcement power. The Graded Stakes Committee has no enforcement power and the Breeders’ Cup can only enforce a ban that involves its name, its money, its trademark, etc.  I am really curious to know the reaction of the 99% or more of trainers and owners that race every day and never come close to participating in a graded stakes. The horses in their stables are certainly of cheaper stock, usually, than graded stakes competitors and probably need Lasix much more than do graded stakes horses.

If politics gets to the point where states disallow Lasix use there will be a great injustice done to the heart and soul of horse racing. Those that will truly suffer will be the everyday guy that just wants to win a decent purse so he can feed a barn of claimers and take a couple of bucks home. And, it may be detrimental to the huge number of horses that run at tracks everyday for non-stakes purses.

The feud doesn’t start and stop with Lasix…PART II coming this week.

— ART PARKER is the author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns” and a regular contributor to A Game of Skill.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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