Decision day for Kentucky on race-day medication

by | 04.16.2012 | 8:57am

This afternoon, the Raceday Medication Committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is expected to vote on a proposal to phase out the race-day administration of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, better known as its former trade name Lasix.  The full commission will also take up the issue.

Ray Paulick is attending the meetings and will provide live updates via Twitter.  Click here to follow Ray and keep up with today's developments in Kentucky.

While the language of the proposed regulation has not been floated publicly, it is widely expected to start by eliminating the raceday administration of the diuretic in 2-year-olds, beginning next year.

The phase-out could eliminate race-day furosemide in all horses racing in Kentucky by 2015. Sources have also said the language of the proposal might have an escape clause – reinstatement of furosemide use if other racing states do not follow suit and Kentucky is left alone as a drug-free island.

The makeup of the Raceday Medication Committee has changed since former Kentucky commissioner John Ward, a Thoroughbred trainer, was named executive director of the KHRC. Today will be his first day on the job. So much for a quiet start.

While Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has not named a replacement for Ward on the commission, chairman Robert Beck has selected businessman Wade Houston, a onetime basketball standout as a player and coach, to fill the seat formerly held by Ward on the Raceday Medication Committee.

Commissioner Houston joins a committee comprised of KHRC vice chairman Tracy Farmer, who chairs the Raceday Medication Committee; Elizabeth Lavin; Alan Leavitt; veterinarian Foster Northrop; and Dr. Jerry Yon, a physician.

I would anticipate Farmer, a prominent owner-breeder and member of The Jockey Club, supporting the ban, along with Alan Leavitt, a standardbred owner and breeder who has spoken out about the need to eliminate drugs from racing. Lavin is a horsewoman whose family runs Longfield Farm and whose veterinarian husband, Gary Lavin, served for 16 years on the inspection team for the auction division of Keeneland and is also a member of The Jockey Club. My inclination is to say she will be a “yes” vote on the ban.

Dr. Northrop will almost certainly vote against the ban, as will, Dr. Yon, based on comments he made during an informational hearing held on the subject of furosemide at the state capitol in November.

That leaves new committee member Houston as a wild card. He replaces Ward, who was expected to vote against the race-day furosemide ban. A “yes” vote by Houston (if my previous assumptions are correct) would pass the measure 4-2, and a “no” vote would bring KHRC chairman Beck in to break a 3-3 tie.

Under the latter circumstance, Beck would almost certainly vote “yes,” bringing the issue to the full commission, which begins its meeting when the Raceday Medication Committee adjourns.

Are there enough votes on the 15-member commission to pass a race-day medication ban? I count six solid “yes” votes and four who are a definite “no.”  The matter will come down to commissioners like Tom Conway, Franklin Kling Jr., Michael Pitino, and Burr Travis, who, to my knowledge, have not spoken out on the subject.

If Kentucky's racing commissioners vote for this proposal, what next? Will a raceday ban of the drug – which is not permitted for use on raceday in Europe, Asia, or Australia – leave Kentucky's horse racing industry a “bloody corpse” as Courier-Journal turf writer Jennie Rees predicts? Or will it begin the orderly move of American racing toward the same rules employed in the rest of the world?

No other state racing commissions seem eager to bring up the issue, though a pair of federal legislators, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, have filed a bill in Congress to eliminate drugs in horseracing. Some feel that legislation is nothing more than an empty threat, since it's always easier to kill a bill than to pass one, and there are enough friends of racing in Congress to go to in the event it gains momentum.

More likely a state like New York, whose racing industry is under scrutiny by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and staff, would be the next to move toward a ban on furosemide. New York, it is remembered, was the last major racing state to approve the use of the diuretic in 1995.

If Kentucky's racing commissioners vote to ban raceday use of the drug in 2-year-olds and later all horses, we can expect a hue and cry from veterinarians and trainers, who are convinced furosemide is the best way to treat EIPH. Somehow, however, the rest of the world gets by without. It will be interesting to see if Kentucky can do the same.

  • Enio

    We need uniform national rules and there would be no worries about states losing horses to other states. Lasix should be banned in all stakes races, from which we get our breeding stock. Begin phasing out Lasix in 2 yo’s and stakes races while still allowing the 6 yo claimer to be treated. Horses born after 2010 should not race if they can’t do so without meds.

  • Bill

    Like all drugs; Lasix was designed for a specific use, but it’s unintended effects on improving race performance made it ripe for abuse. I would love to use it as it’s intended for the small percentage that bleed at a Grade 3-4 level, but the lengths gained through 30lbs of fluid loss 4 hours prior to post make that impossible to achieve – it was initially tried in that manner, remember?

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