Anne M. Eberhardt

New York Legislation Calls for Salix Ban

Sen. Thomas Duane said he is targeting use of performance-enhancing drugs.

A New York lawmaker said he will introduce legislation banning use of “performance-enhancing drugs” such as the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, or Salix.

The bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Thomas Duane outlines penalties, including a permanent ban from racing after three violations. Duane said it is modeled after federal legislation, which to date hasn’t progressed in Congress.

The bill would “prohibit all performance-enhancing drugs, except those to treat infection, on any horse which enters a race in the State of New York,” Duane said. Like the federal bill, it makes no differentiation between performance-enhancing and therapeutic medications.

New York in 1995 was the last state to ban Salix, which then was called Lasix. The therapeutic medication is now used by roughly 95% of Thoroughbreds that race.

“We ban all other athletes in every other sport from taking performance-enhancing drugs both for their safety and to maintain the integrity of their sports,” Duane said in a statement. “Yet we embrace the idea of dispensing Lasix to horses so they won’t have a nosebleed or develop blood in their lungs during a big race. This is unacceptable.”

Groups in the United States are pushing for a phase-out of Salix over time, but there is no industry consensus. Horsemen generally oppose the plan, and no state lawmaker until now has proposed a ban.

The federal bill under which Duane’s measure was modeled has been panned by the racing industry for being too broad, not specific, and having the potential to open a Pandora’s Box.

Duane’s legislation would charge the New York State Office of Gaming, Racing, and Wagering—believed to be the New York State Racing and Wagering Board—to establish regulations and enforce them. An independent, accredited third-party laboratory would test biological samples.

The winner of each race and randomly selected horses would be tested.

Under the bill’s penalty schedule, a first violation would bring a fine of at least $5,000 and suspension for at least 180 days; a second offense would bring a fine of at least $20,000 and at least a one-year suspension; and third and subsequent violations would bring a fine of at least $50,000 and a permanent ban from New York racing.

Horses that test positive also would be penalized: first violation, at least a 180-day suspension; second offense, at least one year; and third violation, at least two years.

The Duane idea was quickly knocked down by the chairman of the Assembly’s racing and wagering committee.

“I think it’s a non-starter,’’ Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat, said of the legislation by his fellow Democrat.

“I understand there's a move afoot to have absolutely no drugs at all being used, but my understanding of Lasix is that it’s not a performance enhancing drug,’’ Pretlow said.

“I don’t know of anyone who’s going to introduce that bill in the Assembly and I don’t know if it would pass through my committee,’’ Pretlow said, adding that he had not yet seen the Duane bill. “Things of that nature have been mentioned before and have gone nowhere.’’

Senator John Bonacic, a Republican who chairs the Senate racing committee, said he had not yet seen Duane's bill. But he said concerns were raised by Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga and Vernon Downs harness tracks, about drug issues during a round of hearings Bonacic held last week.

"As a result of Mr. Gural's testimony, we are looking at increasing criminal penalties in relation to doping and making it easier to permanently ban those involved in the drug trade from the sport of racing,'' the senator said. While he did did not specifically address the Salix ban proposal by Duane, Bonacic said he welcomes the interest in the issue by the Manhattan lawmaker.

“While the interstate horse racing compact has some negatives associated with it, one positive would be better regulation of illegal doping for horses," Bonacic said. "Just as the NBA or NFL or MLB has nationwide consequences for an action that takes place in a specific state, so should racing. We hope the Assembly will join us in investigating whether more reforms in both the harness and Thoroughbred industry are warranted."