Horsemen's Groups Circle Wagons on Lasix

Horsemen's Groups Circle Wagons on Lasix
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

While some prominent trainers called for phasing out use of race-day furosemide in a press release Aug. 1, top horsemen's groups throughout the country said this week they have not changed their stance in supporting use of the diuretic.

The Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association Aug. 6 issued an open letter declaring its continued support for race-day furosemide (Salix, also commonly called Lasix) to prevent or reduce the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. The opinion in the letter, which was signed by the THA's six state association presidents, is matched by other prominent horsemen's groups throughout the country.

On Friday, 25 prominent trainers, including multiple Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher and seven members of the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame, signed a letter proposing race-day Lasix be prohibited in 2-year-old races in 2015 and in all races in 2016. Because trainers have been the industry's biggest supporters of race-day Lasix, the letter, signed by four of the current top 10 trainers by earnings in North America, offered a rare public display of division on the issue among trainers.

Despite that division, prominent horsemen's groups said they have no plans to change their current support of race-day Lasix. In the THA letter, organization chairman Alan Foreman suggests the trainers' press release calling for the end of race-day Lasix was orchestrated to create momentum on the issue going into the Aug. 10 "Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing" in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

"It is quite obvious that the proposal and its timing are part of a thinly disguised and carefully orchestrated effort that is now playing out and will continue to do so over the next week by the opponents of the permitted use of Lasix," the letter said. "The industry can expect to be lectured once again by the opponents of Lasix, who apparently will pursue federal intervention in our sport if we do not acquiesce to their view."

While the trainers who signed the letter opposing race-day Lasix are members of THA or Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association organizations, representatives of the national HBPA, Kentucky HBPA, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California said their organizations have no plans to change their support of race-day Salix.

Kentucky HBPA president and national HBPA board member Rick Hiles said the opposition to race-day Salix surprised him.

"I was a little disheartened, especially by three or four of them who had previously expressed their support for Lasix," Hiles said. "Until I talk to them personally, I don't understand where they're coming from."

Hiles said the majority of trainers still support race-day Salix and the HBPA will continue to back them.

"We represent the majority of the horsemen at the HBPA," Hiles said. "We work for the benefit of everybody and all the horses. It's a small fraction when you take 25 guys from a list of thousands of trainers in the U.S. I don't see that going anywhere."

In the letter calling for the end of race-day Salix, Racing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who also can shape regulation as a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission member, said change is needed to restore confidence in American racing. Most prominent racing jurisdictions throughout the world prohibit medication to be administered on race day. In the U.S., Lasix is the only medication permitted to be administered on race day.

Download the THA Open Letter Regarding Lasix here.

"We believe it's time to take a proactive position regarding the administration of race-day medication. American racing has always been a global leader, and it's time to restore confidence in our game and in our international standing," Lukas said in the release.

The horsemen's groups noted that the U.S. has moved toward uniform medication rules with most of the top racing states adopting a policy that allows the use of 26 controlled therapeutic medications. That list includes Lasix as the only permissible race-day medication. The horsemen's groups said by re-engaging the debate, that progress could become unhinged.

"We're a big supporter of the Uniform Medication Reform guidelines. We've backed that for a year-and-a-half and are helping move it through the California Horse Racing Board for approval," said TOC President Joe Morris. "There's been a lot of effort put into this uniform medication process with the (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) and all of the groups involved. I don't understand how we just get off that track. It's a little insulting to the process and the amount of work that's gone into this whole effort."

Morris noted that many of the people who support ending the race-day use of Lasix believe it could be accomplished through federal oversight of the industry, rather than the current state regulation model. Morris opposes that change as well.

"Can you imagine calling the federal government into anything right now?" Morris said. "They can't run themselves right now, much less racing."

Uniform medication has been supported by the RMTC, which includes representation from throughout the industry. After a presentation on uniform medication at the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association members meeting Wednesday in Saratoga, RMTC executive director Dionne Benson said there is no current science to support a Lasix policy change.

"At this point, based on the research that is out there, the Lasix ban is an ethics and a policy decision, not a science-driven decision," Benson said, adding that there are some current studies on the diuretic that could provide clarity, one way or another, on its use.

The letter from the 25 trainers calling for ending race-day Lasix administration was sent out by Pletcher's public relations person. In talking with Blood-Horse editorial director and editor-in-chief Eric Mitchell, Pletcher said the industry needed a change.

"We've been in a negative cycle for a while with a lot of the major indicators being down," said Pletcher, who previously had supported race-day Lasix and said he started to come around to his new point of view during this year's Triple Crown season. "We need something to change it up and this is one way I think may make a difference. The rest of the world has been managing without it."

Despite Friday's letter displaying a differing view, the horsemen's groups maintain that the vast majority of their members support race-day Lasix. Morris said the issue has not caused any division in the TOC and Hiles said he does not see any new horsemen's group emerging that would be based around support of ending race-day medication.

"While we respect that there are, have been, and will always be differing opinions on the use of medication in racing, in particular Lasix, our memberships overwhelmingly support the current system," said the THA letter.

Eric Mitchell contributed to this story.

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