Lintner: Regardless of timing, Lasix ban a sensible step

April 18, 2019 09:51am

On April 10, the Advisory Group of the Association of Racing Commissioners International concluded that there is no scientific link between the above-average number of recent equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park and furosemide (Lasix) treatments.

While the industry largely isn't arguing otherwise — and the announcement came in response to The Stronach Group’s push to phase out the race day medication — further news Thursday that most every major U.S. track is following suit still represents a sensible step.

The “coalition” of tracks, as it was coined, includes Churchill Downs properties, the New York Racing Association, Keeneland, Del Mar and Oaklawn Park, among others. Starting next year, 2-year-olds at those tracks will run without Lasix. In 2021, all stakes runners will go without it, meaning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes fall under the new rules.

All of this, mind you, is pending regulatory approval in various jurisdictions. That’s the nature of horse racing and its fractured leadership.

Again, however, it’s a practical, reasonable and rational move. Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason nailed it when he said “this new program is an essential step as we look toward the long-term sustainability of U.S.-breds on the national and international stages.”

These new rules aren’t preventing a horse requiring Lasix from racing. It just means that horse cannot do so at the highest level or on the type of platform that could translate to serious value as a breeding prospect.

A number of smaller circuits — West Virginia’s Charles Town, Indiana Grand, Louisiana Downs and Sam Houston Race Park, to name a few — are not currently part of this coalition. Neither is Monmouth Park, whose track operator, Dennis Drazin, says "
the race-day use of furosemide is in the best interest and welfare of the horses and their riders."

In a few generations, we may witness the impact of Thursday’s news. Perhaps there will be fewer bleeders; more sound horses overall; and, as a possible byproduct, fewer breakdowns that will only resonate more in the public conscious.

That is, really, at the heart of how this conversation started. The Stronach Group couldn’t reasonably have faulted Lasix or whips for its spate of catastrophic breakdowns when faced with data about a rainy winter and its track surface designed for drought-like conditions.

But racing could also use some positive public relations. And the Triple Crown is its most valuable asset.

Non-racing media will soon parachute into Churchill Downs for Kentucky Derby week, working the barn areas and front offices, chronicling how what as happened on the West Coast affects the rest of the industry.

Now racing has an answer.

“This is a huge moment that signals a collective move to evolve this legacy sport,” Belinda Stronach said in Thursday’s announcement.

If there is one chief concern, there’s the comparison of America’s Lasix use to the international standard of going without it. The U.S. is also home to the highest level of dirt racing, and dirt, simply, is more taxing on a horse than turf or synthetic surfaces.

Already, the animal rights group PETA is pushing for another synthetic revolution. The drum beat won’t stop until they get what they want.

“While there is still more work to be done, these reforms are a good start,” Stronach said. “This industry coalition has taken an important step forward toward a uniform policy and we are committed to focusing our attention and resources on how to make further improvements that directly prioritize equine health and safety.

“We applaud our industry partners and we look forward to continued collaboration.”


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