The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted 7-5 Wednesday with one abstention to approve a plan that will phase out the use of the race-day medication furosemide – also known as Lasix or Salix.
Under the plan, the phase out will begin with 2-year-old graded and listed stakes races (unrestricted stakes with purses of $75,000 or higher) in 2014. Lasix would be banned from all graded/listed stakes that feature 3-year-olds beginning in 2015 and would be prohibited from all graded/listed stakes races by 2016. Click here to read the proposal.
Voting in favor of the plan were: KHRC chairman Robert Beck and vice chairman Tracy Farmer, commissioners Ned Bonnie, Elizabeth Lavin, Alan Leavitt, Allan Houston and newly appointed John Phillips. Voting against were Thomas Conway, Frank Jones Jr, Franklin Kling Jr., veterinarian Foster Northrop and Burr Travis Jr. Breeders' Cup chairman Tom Ludt abstained, saying he did not see the need for an up-or-down vote on the issue until there was some indication from other state regulatory agencies on whether or not they also would phase out the anti-bleeder medication.
Following the vote, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear issued the following statement: “Today's action by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is an important step in removing race day medication at Kentucky tracks, something the public has expressed a desire to see happen. We must instill a sense of confidence in the betting public's mind that horses running in graded and listed stakes on Kentucky tracks are doing so on their own abilities. I am hopeful that other racing jurisdictions across the country will follow suit.”
Chairman Beck said if the KHRC didn't take action on Lasix, Kentucky racing would be answering to the federal government. Beck cited the results of a 2011 Jockey Club-commissioned study by McKinsey & Co. consultants showing public perceptions about the use of medication are damaging the sport's reputation.
People who are voting against it are afraid of change, and change can be tough, said Beck. “But if you don't like the change,” the KHRC chairman said, “you're going to like the irrelevance even less.”
The process now moves to Frankfort, where the adopted regulations have to be approved by the state's Legislative Research Commission.
The call for a vote on the issue followed comments from most of the commissioners in attendance (Michael Pitino and Jerry Yon, M.D., were absent). Opponents of the phase-out proposal said passage would be damaging to the Kentucky racing industry, causing numerous stables to leave the state for jurisdictions where furosemide could be used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. “We are creating a competitive disadvantage for Kentucky,” said Thomas Conway. “Racehorses will be leaving (Kentucky) in droves.”
Others, like owner Frank Jones and Foster Northrop, cited the welfare of the horse in denying a medication that has proved to be efficacious in treating EIPH. “How does the racehorse benefit from removing race day Lasix?” asked Jones. Northrop said his decision to vote against the proposal was based on “putting the horse first” and had nothing to do with his own veterinary practice, which he said derives very little income from the administration of Lasix (he noted that he also voted to turn over that job to vets working for the state or racetracks).
Northrop and Burr Travis Jr. said any change needed to be done on a national basis. “We are already an island,” said Travis, referring to the absence of alternative gaming revenue that so many other racing states have.
One commissioner suggested the change and agenda was being driven by The Jockey Club. In fact, three of those who voted “yes” – Bonnie, Farmer, and Phillips – are Jockey Club members, and another, Lavin, is married to Jockey Club member, A. Gary Lavin, a prominent veterinarian.
Ludt serves as chairman of the Breeders' Cup board of directors that is phasing out Lasix in its championship races, beginning with 2-year-olds this year. But he said he was “conflicted” on the issue because his vote was based on doing what was right for Kentucky's racing industry. Ludt was disappointed there was no language in the proposal that would prevent Kentucky from being an island on the race-day medication issue.
Phillips, who was recently appointed to the commission to fill the spot vacated when trainer John Ward accepted a paid position as the KHRC's executive director, proved to be the swing vote. Phillips, an attorney who at one time represented the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said he previously supported the use of Lasix, thinking that the industry could shape the issue in the minds of the public. Phillips now said he was wrong in that belief, that the image of racing has suffered. He also said the fact that so few horses will be affected by the phase-out convinced him to support the proposal.
Bonnie, who has been a longtime proponent of hay, oats, and water, called Lasix a performance-enhancing drug, saying science had proven it to be so. “I am more interested in science than in people's opinions,” he said.
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