The American Graded Stakes Committee says it is not abandoning its commitment to pushing the elimination of race-day Salix use in juvenile graded stakes, but it has adopted a more realistic attitude toward getting it done.
"As a committee, I think we have taken a reasoned position that we cannot move forward this year," said Dr. J. David Richardson, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association committee that manages the graded stakes program in the United States. "We decided not to put a time line on it because we will have to reassess every year. We are not going to be foolish and have a scorched-earth policy and downgrade all the juvenile graded stakes. That is not in the best interest of racing or the committee."
The committee had announced in August a pilot program that tied the status of juvenile graded stakes to a ban on all race-day medication, primarily the anti-bleeder medication Salix (also known as Lasix). In 2011 there were 49 2-year-old stakes races assigned graded status. The AGSC in the past has tied adoption of various policies to retaining grades for stakes.
The goal of the ban that had been announced in August followed a decision by the Breeders’ Cup to eliminate race-day medication for all 2-year-old races during the 2012 World Championships at Santa Anita Park.
Then on Feb. 24, the AGSC issued a statement that it would not implement a ban on race-day medication in graded stakes races for 2-year-olds in 2012.
Dan Metzger, TOBA president, said the whole issue since August has been frustrating for committee members who were looking for a starting point to address the issue of using race-day medication.
"Whether someone is trying to get things done in Frankfort, Ky., or Washington D.C., it just takes time," Metzger said. "We probably put a target on our back by saying 2012, but the recent decision has not changed our interest or our energy on this issue."
Richardson said the most frustrating aspect of the proposed ban since its inception in August has been keeping debate on the issue focused only on the graded stakes for 2-year-olds.
"Because it never got away from the broader issue, Kentucky didn’t move and New York didn’t move," he said. The vast majority of juvenile graded stakes are run in Kentucky, New York and California.
"Now we have purse irregularities (between states) and now people don’t want to create another irregularity with medication. It is not going to motivate those jurisdictions that view themselves as have-nots."
Other issues Richardson heard about included concerns that American racing was establishing two classes of care of racehorses—one for stakes horses and one for claimers. At least one outspoken trainer told Richardson that preventing claiming horses from running on Salix was animal cruelty.
"It is an interesting philosophical point, but (these groups of horses) are different," Richardson said. "You are not likely to breed a $5,000 claimer, but you are more likely to breed the graded stakes winner. I would also argue that not every horse runs on Lasix now even though it is allowed by the rules of racing. If someone chooses not to, is that animal cruelty? I don’t think so."
Richardson added that he has been contacted by several trainers who believe the incidents of bleeding have been greatly exaggerated, but they don’t speak up because "they get shouted down."
From here, committee members will work to educate commissioners about the importance of implementing some kind of pilot program that has real life impact.
"Look, the committee is still committed to the process, but even some of the stronger supporters of the ban agree if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work," Richardson said. "To not even take this baby step because of the threats and accusations is sad, quite frankly."
Watching what will happen during the Breeders’ Cup later this year may embolden some commissions.
"From a regulatory standpoint, it might give some comfort that the world won’t come to end," Richardson said. "There is still sentiment that this is a good thing. The strategy of ultimately doing something that will be good for racing is still valid, for graded stakes."