Handicapping Insights


NOVEMBER 16, 2012

by Dick Powell

The issue of the therapeutic medication, Lasix, was a hot topic at this year's Breeders' Cup when, for the first time, all five juvenile races were run without it. Three horses bled, one very seriously, out of the 50 that raced. We'll never know how it affected some horses that ran inexplicably poorly, as there is no way to isolate a single cause. We do know that the field sizes were on the light side and there were two owners that did not send logical contenders to this year's Breeders' Cup in protest of the policy.

The affect on wagering cannot be determined since betting was down for this year's Cup because of Hurricane Sandy slamming the East Coast and causing widespread damage and power outages in one of horse racing's premier betting markets.

Unfortunately, when Mark Casse's Spring in the Air bled in the Juvenile Fillies race, he never brought it to the media's attention, so the general public was not able to see visible evidence of what it looks like when a horse bleeds. Spring in the Air's owner, John Oxley, said that he would never again run a juvenile in the Breeders' Cup without Lasix.

While all this was going on, a few other incidents happened that undermined the drive to ban Lasix completely. The first was the sale of 2009 Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird to Japanese interests.

What does this have to do with Lasix? It's further proof that the real reason the American Thoroughbred ain't what he used to be is the relative unpopularity of stallions that excelled at longer distances. Summer Bird won the Belmont, the Grade 1 Travers and the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and is the son of a Belmont winner himself. Can't have that. He stood for $15,000 live foal and his first two crops had full books.

Unfortunately for our breeding industry, horses that are sired by the likes of Summer Bird are not highly sought after in the auction ring. The Japanese, unlike the Americans, value stamina in horses' pedigrees and were able to purchase him. Ironically, he will be at the same stallion station as Empire Maker, who is another Belmont Stakes winner that was not embraced as well as he should have been by the American breeding industry.

So we have further proof that stallions that excel at longer distance are not embraced by the same industry that laments the lack of stamina and soundness in the American Thoroughbred and tries to blame it on the presence of Lasix.

Meanwhile, down in Australia, all heck was breaking loose, and the curtain of how other countries do not allow raceday medications was being pulled back. A couple of trainers were given 12-month suspensions for possessing stomach tubes on the day that their horses raced. The Age newspaper in Melbourne had two stories in it on November 10, which explained in detail what "milkshaking" is and why it is banned.

Reading the stories, I came away with the strong impression that their fight against milkshaking has more to do with the possession of the tools needed to do it than testing for elevated levels of TCO2, a sure sign that a horse has been milkshaked. Blood being drawn two hours before a race can be circumvented by milkshaking right before the test and there was no evidence of using the "black box" which we use over here.

It was shocking, if you are naive enough to believe that the rest of the world races "clean," to hear the Australian racing industry bans milkshaking but doesn't really do much to stop it. If you're dumb enough to get caught with the tools to administer a milkshake, you are in a lot of trouble. But if you don't get caught with the equipment, you have a pretty good chance to get away with milkshaking your horse.

It is not quite the world that the Lasix opponents have presented in arguing how we are out of touch with the rest of the world. In this case, a major racing jurisdiction has to catch up to the American protocols in combating milkshaking.

No sooner than the milkshake controversy presented itself in Australia, it was quickly followed by a focus on erythropoietin (EPO). If that sounds familiar, it's what Lance Armstrong was accused of using when he won his seven Tour de France bike races.

A group of Australian trainers and veterinarians have come out and said that milkshaking and EPO are being combined to gain an illegal advantage and that it is not only rampant but undetectable. Racing officials quickly denied that the reports of rampant use were accurate and lauded their own testing procedures.

The Breeders' Cup said that we have to ban Lasix in order to keep up with the rest of the world that does not permit raceday medication. We've been told over and over that our racing is corrupt because of rampant drug use. The ban on Lasix for the juvenile races will be expanded next year to all the races and eventually the graded status for stakes races will only be made available for those races that are run without Lasix.

We are doing this because we have to get in step with the rest of the world but the fact is, if you look at the stories from down under, they need to get in step with us.