Anne M. Eberhardt

Groups Draw Line in the Sand on Salix Ban

The push to ban race-day anti-bleeder medication figures to create major conflict.

Horsemen’s groups largely support proposed changes in race-day medication rules but are drawing a line in the sand when it comes to the anti-bleeding drug Salix.

In the past few months two organizations have taken the first steps toward a race-day ban on Salix. Breeders’ Cup won’t allow use of the drug in 2-year-olds during the 2012 World Championships, and the American Graded Stakes Committee, which falls under the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, voted to pull graded status for 2-year-old events next year if Salix, formerly known as Lasix, is used.

And on Aug. 14 The Jockey Club, during its Round Table Conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., called for taking “measured steps on the road to medication-free racing.”

Industry officials acknowledge next year could be messy. The rhetoric war is under way, though it’s hard to gauge the level of support of the anti-Salix and pro-Salix camps.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind,” said Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which has affiliates in five racing states. “But I’ve been to a lot of racetracks and have talked to horse owners, trainers across the spectrum, veterinarians, and regulators. I have detected absolutely no support for a Lasix ban.”

Foreman noted the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a group of 25 diverse industry stakeholders, voted not to change race-day Salix regulations “until the science says otherwise.” The RMTC did, however, endorse discontinuing use of adjunct bleeder medications on race day and having only regulatory vets administer Salix on race day.

“What’s disappointing is having (the RMTC) in place to deal with the situation and then having Breeders’ Cup and TOBA ignore it,” Foreman said. “Our position has been disparaged from day one. We try being transparent but it gets used against us.”

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which has 30 affiliates in North America, supports various measures but not the proposed ban on Salix.

TOBA president Dan Metzger said there is widespread support on his organization’s board of directors to move forward with a Salix phase-out. But he said it comes down to regulatory action.

“I’m not one for making hard-line predictions, but if there is a chance (to ban Salix), now is the opportunity,” Metzger said. “There is some momentum with regulators, and it’s the regulators who make the rules for the sport.

“In conversations we’ve had with regulators, the reception (to action taken by the AGSC) was favorable. From a wholesale standpoint, for as many people that have been passionate in opposing it there is a silent majority in favor of it.”

Metzger said a race-day Salix ban is “attainable but difficult.”

The possibility of losing graded status for stakes played a role in passage of other medication- and safety-related measures in racing jurisdictions. Given the tight time frame—not one regulatory authority has moved to ban Salix—the AGSC will proceed cautiously next year, Metzger said.

“I would say the committee will be as open and flexible as possible without undermining the credibility and integrity of the program,” Metzger said. “We’re being very diligent about communicating with racing commissions.”

The majority of graded stakes each year are raced in California, Florida, Kentucky, and New York. Kentucky has begun a review of its race-day medication policies but has signaled no immediate action on Salix.

Making changes can be complicated in many jurisdictions because regulations must receive legislative approval. For instance, in West Virginia, which this year adopted an overhaul of its rules of racing, the deadline to submit proposed changes for the 2012 legislative session already has passed, said Kelli Talbott, a deputy attorney general for the West Virginia Racing Commission.

(West Virginia currently has two graded stakes. The state's rules of racing contain a provision that allows stewards to order that certain AGSC protocol be followed if its not specifically cited in the rules.)

During the Round Table Stuart Janney III, vice chairman of The Jockey Club and chairman of its Thoroughbred Safety Committee, outlined further recommendations regarding drug classifications, regulatory drug-testing limits for therapeutic drugs, laboratory standards, and tougher penalties for offenders. There appears to be widespread support, including from horsemen, for the changes.

“We’re working a new paradigm,” Foreman said. “It’s time to separate the real drug violations from therapeutic (testing) overages. We’re doing a lot of positive stuff, and the horsemen agree with all aspects except Salix.

“The Salix ban is a red herring.”

Others disagree. Janney during the Round Table said an end to using medication on race day “cannot come soon enough.”