Deadlocked vote stalls Lasix phase-out in Kentucky
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission was deadlocked with a 7-to-7 vote on whether to adopt a proposed regulation phasing out the use of the anti-bleeder drug furosemide, better known by its former trade name Lasix, beginning with 2-year-olds of 2013 and banning the drug for all horses on race-day by 2015. With the 15th commission seat empty as a result of the hiring of former commissioner John Ward as executive director, a tie vote means defeat. It is a major setback for the national movement to ban raceday medications and align U.S. racing drug rules with the rest of the world.
Voting in favor of the phase-out were commission chairman Bob Beck, vice chairman Tracy Farmer, Edward Bonnie, Wade Houston, Elizabeth Lavin, Alan Leavitt, and Dr. Jerry Yon. Opposing it were Tom Conway, Frank Jones, Franklin Kling Jr., Tom Ludt, veterinarian Foster Northrop, Michael Pitino, and Burr Travis.
The issue may not be dead, however. Ludt, who also serves as chairman of the Breeders' Cup, an organization that adopted a no-raceday medication rule for its championships beginning with 2-year-olds of 2012 and all horses in 2013, proposed an amendment that will be brought up within 30 days. The amendment, which did not have the support of the commission before the vote on the overall proposal, calls for the phase-out to begin with 2-year-old stakes races run in Kentucky in 2013, not all 2-year-old races.
After the Lasix phase-out vote deadlocked at 7-7, chairman Beck suggested that Ludt re-submit his amendment. After it was seconded, commissioner Jones asked for the amendment to be tabled for 30 days. That request passed by an 8-6 vote.
The original proposal called for a 24-hour ban before races for 2-year-olds beginning in 2013, with races for 3-year-olds and 3 and up phased in the following year, along with all 2014 stakes races in Kentucky. By January 2015, all races in Kentucky would be run Lasix-free. The proposal gave the racing commission an escape clause, or parachute as commissioner Lavin called it, by having the Raceday Medication Committee monitor whether or not any other states adopted similar rules. If they hadn't by Sept. 1, 2013, the committee was to recommend whether or not to pull the plug on going forward with the eventual Lasix ban. (Full text of the proposal is at the end of this story.)
The discussion period on the proposal included comments from nearly every commissioner (Pitino opted to “pass” before his no vote), and Beck invited five organizations, along with two individuals to speak on the issue. Those commenting were Rick Hiles, on behalf of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which opposed the phase-out; David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, which took a neutral position because his organization had not had a chance to review the draft language; Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders' Cup, who said he was “personally amazed” at the industry's resistance to change on various issues; Matt Iuliani of The Jockey Club, which supports the proposal; and Dan Metzger of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Assoiation, which also supported the race-day ban and whose American Graded Stakes Committee had attempted and failed to prohibit Lasix in 2-year-old Graded stakes of 2012.
Also speaking were trainer/owner Dale Romans, who stridently opposed the ban, saying the racing industry is already in crisis because of a shortage of horses and that phasing out Lasix would only exacerbate the situation; and owner-breeder Bill Casner, who is now racing many of his horses without Lasix and said a phase-out would not mean the sky was falling.
Several commissioners disagreed with Casner's assessment, including Burr Travis, who said he would stop buying horses if Lasix is phased out, and Frank Jones, who predicted a 20-50% drop in Kentucky's horse population if the proposal was approved. Jones called the potential consequences “catastrophic.”
Commissioner Elizabeth Lavin moved that the commission approve the proposal, saying that she and her veterinarian husband, Gary Lavin, have changed their position from pro- to anti-Lasix in recent years. “We now live in a time where perception is reality and the perception is that racing in Kentucky is a sport based on chemical manipulation.” she said. “We've talked it to death and I am going to support the motion. If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Beck echoed Lavin's notion, saying the “public perception is we are a drug-infested sport. I don't believe that, but it's hard to change that perception.” Beck said a major part of the problem is that the U.S. is the only major racing country in the world that permits raceday medication. “Is it arrogant for us to believe we are the only ones who are correct?” he asked.
Ludt, who many expected to vote in favor of the proposal, ultimately voted against it, suggesting the phasing out of Lasix begin with 2-year-old stakes of 2013. That amendment may be addressed in the KHRC's next meeting.
Before the full commission met, its Raceday Medication Committee voted 4-1 to approve the proposal. The meeting, held at the U.S. Dressage Federation headquarters, attracted a standing room only crowd of some of the industry's most prominent owners, breeders, and trainers, and, at times, became highly charged.
A last-minute compromise appeared to sway some of the committee members to support the measure. That compromise provides for the Raceday Medication Committee to monitor whether other states follow suit and phase out Lasix on a similar timetable. The committee is to report back to the KHRC by Sept. 1, 2013, and indications from committee chairman Tracy Farmer were that if Kentucky was alone in passing this Lasix ban, it could reverse course.
Elizabeth Lavin, whose family operates Longfield Farm and whose husband, Dr. Gary Lavin, is a veterinarian and Jockey Club member, moved to pass the proposal, saying that she had previously supported the use of Lasix but has changed in recent times.
“We now live in a time where perception is reality and the perception is that racing in Kentucky is a sport based on chemical manipulation” Lavin said. “We've talked it to death and I am going to support the motion.” Lavin said the “parachute clause” that allows Kentucky to reverse course if no other states follow suit convinced her the phase out is the proper step. “I recognize the fact that Kentucky can't act on its own.”
Veterinarian Foster Northrop was the only “no” vote on the committee, saying that he supports Kentucky racing and that the ban would hurt. If anything is done to tighten race-day medication, Northrop said, “it has to be on a national basis.” It casting his vote, Northrop said, “I oppose very strongly. This is going to destroy Kentucky racing.”
Trainer Dale Romans attempted to speak during the committee hearing but was told by Farmer that because there was a previous public hearing and a motion on the floor, it would not be permitted. Nevertheless, Romans persisted in getting out his point of view opposing the phase-out of Lasix, saying that Kentucky racing “was on a slippery slope.” After the measure passed, Romans called the vote “the final nail in the coffin” for Kentucky racing. Explaining his point after the meeting, Romans said previous changes in Kentucky regulations prohibiting raceday use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were designed to make Kentucky racing stronger but only hurt.
“They're not saying you can't give a horse Lasix, but that you can't give it to the horse when it needs it the most, on the day it races,” Romans said. “We have so many other more important issues to deal with: our share of advance-deposit wagering, off-track wagering.”
Here is the language of the prohibition of furosemide on race day passed by the Raceday Medication Committee and going before the full Kentucky Horse Racing Commission:
PUBLIC PROTECTION CABINET
KENTUCKY HORSE RACING COMMISSION
(New Administrative Regulation)
810 KAR 1.300. Prohibition of Furosemide on race day.
Necessity, function, and conformity: KRS 230.215 (2) authorizes the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to promulgate administrative regulations prescribing conditions under which all legitimate horse racing and wagering therein is conducted in Kentucky. KRS 230.240(2) requires the commission to promulgate administrative regulations restricting or prohibiting the administration of drugs or stimulants or other improper acts to horses prior to the horse participating in a race. This administrative regulation restricts the use of furosemide on race day and establishes a timeline whereby the administration of furosemide to a horse on race day will ultimately be prohibited.
Section 1. Furosemide use on Race Day. (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of 810 KAR 1:018 or 810 KAR 1:028 to the contrary, furosemide may be administered, in accordance with this section, to a horse eligible to receive furosemide that is entered to compete in a race at an association under the jurisdiction of the commission. To the extent of any conflict between a provision in this administrative regulation and a provision in any other administrative regulation contained in 810 KAR Chapter 1, the provision in this administrative regulation shall supersede.
(2)(a) Effective January 1, 2013, and therafter furosemide shall not be administered less than twenty-four hours prior to post time for the race in which the horse is entered to any horse designated as a 2-year-old;
(b) Effective January 1, s014, and thereafter;
1. Furosemide shall not be administered less than twenty-four hours prior to post time for the race in which the horse is entered to any horse designated as a 3-year-old;
2. Furosemide shall not be administered less than twenty-four hours prior to post time for the races in which the horse is entered to any horse designated as a 4-year-old or older entered to run in a race for 3-year-olds and older; and
3. Furosemide shall not be administered less than twenty-four hours prior to post time for the races in which the horse is entered to any horse of any age entered to run in a stakes race, whether graded or not.
(c) Effective January 1, 2015, and thereafter, furosemide shall not be administered less than twenty-four hours prior to post time for the race in which the horse is entered to any horse of any age entered to run in a race held at a racing association under the jurisdiction of the commission.
(3) Furosemide shall be administered to eligible horses as established in this administrative regulation in accordance with 810 KAR 1:018, Section 6 and Section 7.
Section 2. Penalties. (1) If the commission laboratory determines the presence of furosemide in the serum or plasma of a sample by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry in a horse that is not eligible to receive furosemide pursuant to this administrative regulation, it shall be prima facie evidence that furosemide was administered to the horse in violation of this administrative regulation.
Such horse shall be disqualified and listed as unplaced and all purse money shall be forfeited. In addition, a licensee who administers, or is a party to or responsible for administering furosemide to a horse that is not eligible to receive furosemide shall be subject to some or all of the following penalties as deemed appropriate by the commission in keeping with the seriousness of the violation and the facts of the case:
(a) For a first offense:
1. A suspension or revocation of licensing privileges from zero days to 10 days; and
2. Payment of a fine from $250 to $500.
(b) For a second offense within a 365-day period:
1. A suspension or revocation of licensing privileges from 10 days to 30 days; and
2. Payment of a fine of $500 to $1,000.
(c) For a third offense within a 365-day period:
1. A suspension or revocation of licensing privileges from 30 days to 60 days; and
2. Payment of a fine of $1,000 to $2,500.
Section 3. Withdrawal guidelines of twenty-four hours for a single intravenous administrative of furosemide is voluntary and advisory only.
Section 4. The race day medication committee of the commission shall monitor the treatment of race day medications in other racing jurisdictions and the affect of this administrative regulation on racing in Kentucky. The race day medication committee shall report its findings to the commission no later than September 1, 2013.
Section 5. Effective January 1, 2015, the following provisions shall be repealed in their entirety: 810 KAR 1:018, Section 3(2); 810 KAR 1:018, Section 6; 810 KAR 1:018, Section 7; and 810 KAR 1:028, Section 5(2).