Florida Salix Plan Called 'Terrible Mistake'

Gulfstream Park has not set a timetable for possible future contact with Florida racing regulators on chairman Frank Stronach’s goal of phasing out use of legal race-day medications such as the anti-bleeding drug Salix.

In a July 13 letter to Milton Champion, director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Stronach asked if that state agency would “help me implement a program that will phase out all race-day medication, including (Salix).” One horsemen's representative called the proposal a "terrible mistake."

The Florida DPMW is reviewing the letter, Beth Frady, an agency spokeswoman, said July 20.

“We are waiting for a response from the state,” Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream’s vice president for racing, said July 20 when asked if the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track planned to send the Florida DPMW a more detailed request for changes in state medication rules.

According to the Florida DPMW, it is possible to change state rules for Thoroughbred tracks through a regulatory process. Or, Gulfstream or another track could set medication rules that would apply only to that track.

Any state rule changes would require a process of at least several months. That basically rules out the possibility of any changes for Gulfstream’s next meet, from Dec. 3, 2011, to April 8, 2012.

In the state process, the DPMW from its own findings or recommendations from others would need to determine if there are reasons to consider any rules changes. It would then schedule one or more public workshops, and use any testimony in a process for preparing proposed rules.

In his July 13 letter to Champion, Stronach wrote: “There are great concerns between the horse racing community and the public with regard to medication for racehorses, especially on race day. Therefore I respectfully request this commission to help me implement a program that will phase out all race-day medications, including (Salix).

“We feel very strongly that these measures will be in the best interest of the horse and the horse racing industry. We would like to start with 2-year-olds this year. I hope your commission helps me create an overall program that promotes horse safety and improves the public perception of our sport by eliminating all race-day medications.”

Stronach is chairman of The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream, Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields, Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park, and Portland Meadows.

Prior to his recent request in Florida, Stronach told several regulatory and industry groups he would like to see an industry-wide reduction in uses of medication. The Association of Racing Commissioners International is scheduled to hold a meeting on medication issues July 26 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association opposes Stronach’s proposal to phase out race-day use of Salix, said Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling said.

“I think it would be a terrible mistake,” Stirling said. “It would eliminate one medical practice that has proven to be efficacious.”

He pointed to results of a study that several veterinarians did on racehorses in South Africa in 2007.

Florida HBPA member trainers race regularly at Gulfstream and at Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens, Fla.

When asked about Stronach’s letter to the Florida DPMW, a Calder official said: “At this time, CDI has not made any specific proposals to racing regulators in the states where it operates, including Florida. The company continues to participate in important discussions with horsemen and other key stakeholders (on medication issues).

“Members of (the CDI) management team have been participating in the industry-wide discussions of this issue with the goal of improving the well-being and longevity of racehorses, and we look forward to being part of the ultimate solution.”

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