Are California Horsemen Obsessed With Lasix?

by | 05.23.2013 | 12:23pm

How important is Lasix to Thoroughbred owners and trainers in California?

Important enough for the board of directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California to say “no thanks” to a 2014 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park unless the drug (also known as Salix or by its generic name furosemide) given to horses on race-day is allowed for all Breeders' Cup races.

At the 2012 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, five 2-year-old races were run without Lasix. In 2013, the Breeders' Cup was to extend the Lasix ban to all of its championship races, but the Breeders' Cup board opted to continue the 2-year-old ban for another year and permit the administration of the drug for all other races. This year's event will be held at Santa Anita Park, on Nov. 1-2. The TOC previously approved a simulcast agreement for 2013 under the no Lasix rules.

At the March meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California board of directors, chairman Mike Pegram said he received a call from a Breeders' Cup official asking TOC to take a vote on whether or not to support a 2014 Breeders' Cup in California. A motion was made to inform the Breeders' Cup that “California is not interested in hosting the 2014 Breeders' Cup if Lasix is not allowed for all races.” The motion passed unanimously.

In holding a hard line on Lasix and saying “no” to the Breeders' Cup for 2014 – even if it's the continuation of a race-day ban for 2-year-olds – the TOC is effectively saying no to local businesses who benefit from the $60 million or more in economic activity to the Southern California region. That's how important Lasix is to them.

If the Breeders' Cup maintains its current medication policy, the TOC board vote means Thoroughbred owners and trainers will have to ship east to compete rather than lead their horses out of their home barns and onto the track at Santa Anita Park or Del Mar, which is joining Santa Anita in making a bid to host a Breeders' Cup.

That is cutting off their nose to spite their face.

There seems to be almost an obsession by the TOC on the issue of Lasix, a drug that a new study suggests enhances performance unrelated to the incidence of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in horses.

In January, former TOC executive director Louis Raffetto asked the board to renew its annual $24,000 in funding to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Raffetto said pro-Lasix veterinarian Don Shields, who represents TOC at RMTC meetings, said it was important for the owners' group to stay involved with the RMTC.

Instead of renewing the commitment, a motion was made for TOC to discontinue financial support of RMTC. The motion was approved unanimously. Apparently, the sentiment of the TOC board was that RMTC was pushing for the elimination of Lasix.

Here is the RMTC's mission: “Striving to develop and promote uniform rules, policies and testing standards at the national level; coordinate research and educational programs that seek to ensure the integrity of racing and the health and welfare of racehorses and participants; and protect the interests of the racing public.”

RMTC has not taken a position to eliminate Lasix and in fact supports a policy of third-party administration of the drug. So the TOC's vote seemed to suggest it did not want to support an organization whose goal was to ensure the integrity of racing.

One month later, the TOC said “never mind.”

The almost comical minutes of the February board meeting state: “Mr. Pegram explained that, although the board voted at its last meeting not to fund the RMTC, since that time information has come to light regarding the fact that RMTC is pro-Lasix. Based on the fact that board members have come to him saying they did not realize RMTC is pro-Lasix, a re-vote is be (sic) called for.” The January vote was a case of “shoot first, ask questions later.” The new motion to reestablish funding was made, and the vote carried with trainers John Sadler and Mike Harrington the only two no votes.

Sadly, there is more.

Legislation that could come up for a vote this week in the California Assembly's appropriations committee would put a four-year limit on any individual serving as Equine Medical Director for the California Horse Racing Board.

Let's call it the Get Rid of Rick Arthur bill.

The current TOC leadership does not like the CHRB's Equine Medical Director Arthur for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his belief that racing would be better off without race-day administration of Lasix. The Get Rid of Rick Arthur bill is sponsored by freshman Assemblyman Adam Gray, who previously worked as an aide to former U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, when Cardoza was a member of the California Assembly.

Cardoza is a member of the TOC board and head of the TOC's legislative committee. It's not too difficult to connect the dots.

With as much as there is going wrong in California racing, doesn't the TOC have more important things to worry about?

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