Saying they support efforts to limit race-day medications, two prominent Thoroughbred trainers said they hope the initiatives do not go so far as to ban use of the anti-bleeder drug known as Salix.
During an April 12 panel discussion as part of the monthly meeting of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club, trainers Tom Amoss and Bob Hess Jr. agreed that some drugs, such as phenylbutazone (Bute) and cortisone, should not be allowed on race day.
“Knowing that horses bleed when they run, why put a horse through that?” Amoss, a leading conditioner in the Midwest, asked of the proposal to ban Salix, which was previously marketed under the trade name Lasix.
Amoss pointed out that some statistics show as many as 90% of horses are bleeders. He said when he was working in New York in the 1980s, Lasix was not permitted, and trainers went to great lengths to simulate the beneficial effect of the anti-bleeder medication.
“It had everybody up there looking for the Holy Grail,” Amoss said. “In an effort to simulate what Lasix does, they were spending $200 where it would cost $15 for a shot of Lasix. If we got to where there was no race-day Lasix, the only ones who benefit are the vets.”
“We could get away with not having Lasix, but it’s much better with it,” said Hess, whose stable is based in Southern California.
Hess said he believes it would be a better benefit to the industry and to horses to prohibit anti-inflammatory injections. “Anti-inflammatory injections are more important than Lasix or Bute,” Hess said.
“I’m all for less medication as long as it is for everyone,” Amoss said. “Whatever is best for the horse.”
While previous efforts to ban race-day medications have never materialized, Amoss said he believes the current initiative will come to fruition, especially considering the number of organizations that are lining up behind the movement. He noted that a significant development occurred earlier in the day April 11 when the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association announced support for the ban.
In addition to their views on race-day medications, Amoss and Hess found themselves in agreement on most other topics being addressed by the industry, including the need to attract more fans and to enhance the experience of bettors.
“I am very concerned about the industry,” Amoss said. “There has to be a catalyst to get more people to bet.”
Amoss said he would like to see more U.S. racing jurisdictions adopt policies that permit exchange wagering that is so popular in Europe. He cited the growth of Betfair and its progressive wagering systems as an example of an approach the industry could take to be more attractive to bettors.
(Amoss said his role as an analyst on the TVG racing network, which is owned by Betfair, is not a factor in his enthusiasm for the wagering company’s format.)
“The gambler is most important,” Hess said. “The owners and trainers come second.”
Both trainers said they like recent initiatives in which tracks have been able to attract younger patrons, but they agreed the efforts must also include educating newcomers on ways in which to convert them to bettors.
On the subject of track surfaces and the installation of synthetic surfaces, Amoss said he believed the industry was too quick to embrace the concept.
“I think the industry is very quick to jump on bandwagons like synthetic tracks,” Amoss said.
“There’s no perfect track out there,” Hess said. “Injuries are going to happen.”
He cited the recent transitions in California of tracks being mandated to install synthetic surfaces only to be reverting back to dirt. He said the best combination would be having access to a synthetic track for training and a conventional dirt surface for racing.
“The two best dirt tracks are Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park,” He said.
Amoss also had Fair Grounds, where he has been leading trainer eight times, on his list of preferred track surfaces, as was Churchill Downs.
Both trainers said they are concerned about the future of horse racing and both agreed that a commissioner concept to govern the industry would be welcome.
“I think that (establishment of a commissioner’s office) will happen. We to put our faith in racing in somebody we trust.”
“There is too much fighting; no one works together,” Hess said.
In an ideal scenario, Hess said he would like to uniformity over all North American racing. “One license, one medication policy, one czar,” he said.