Gulfstream Park, which plans to become the racetrack prototype for integrity in the sport, is to to offer furosemide-free races for 2-year-olds in 2015 and eventually operate an on-track pharmacy to ensure tight regulation of medication.
Frank Stronach, owner of The Stronach Group, said horse racing must implement reforms to instill confidence in the public and stakeholders such as owners, breeders, and racetracks. He outlined his plan Aug. 13 at the Saratoga Institute on Racing & Gaming Law in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"If we work together we can put on a great show and convince the public (racetracks) are a great place to go," Stronach said. "We have to ask ourselves why we as an industry have gone backward."
Stronach supports medication-free racing on race day. He said in the Gulfstream Park condition book next year, "most of the races will be Lasix-free. I think we can learn and demonstrate that Lasix isn't needed. Race-day medication should not be used."
Alon Ossip, chief executive officer of The Stronach Group, later clarified that the plan for 2015 is to offer some Lasix-free races for 2-year-olds only. The details will be handled by Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo.
"We will try that, assuming the industry doesn't come together and ban Lasix for 2-year-olds next year," Ossip said. "We feel strongly we have to educate people about this, but it isn't easy."
A group of 25 Thoroughbred trainers has called for Lasix-free 2-year-old racing for all races in 2015.
As previously reported, the Gulfstream plan also includes a track-owned dispensary for drugs needed to treat horses. Stronach said medications would be trademarked for tracking purposes, private veterinarians would have to submit weekly reports, and an effort would be made to keep prices down for owners.
"The more drugs (vets) give, the more money they make," Stronach said. "We need to change. If we don't come up with a different model, the industry will not survive."
Security is a component of the plan. Stronach said violators of the medication procedures would first receive a strong warning and then be ruled off for a second offense, depending on assessments by what he called a fairness panel.
"We will take this seriously," he said. "We'll talk to people and let them know that anybody can be searched. I could be searched. We owe it to the public. (Suspected individuals) will be taken to a nice room and be strip searched, if that's what we have to do, in a dignified way."
Dr. Robert O'Neill, who is heading up the pharmacy project for Stronach, said it can be done legally but acknowledged it's a "massive undertaking." He did note private vets would write prescriptions, so if mistakes are made the racetrack wouldn't be held liable. Another option would be for Gulfstream to hire its own vets to administer medication.
Stronach, when asked if he would pursue the New York Racing Association franchise should it be put up for bid next year, didn't answer other than to say states shouldn't operate racetracks. He did, however, offer advice to the current NYRA management and board of directors.
"If I can give some small advice, lower the purses a bit and make great facilities," Stronach said. "You need purses, but we know it's not a God-given right that everyone owns a racehorse. It's a privilege."
Stronach later said he intends to discuss the Gulfstream plan with the industry at large. He said racetracks are the key to bringing about changes but also claimed his racetrack return on investment is less than 1%.
"We have to lead," Stronach said. "I'm optimistic there can be a reasonable return for horse owners and racetrack owners."