Kentucky commissioners approve Lasix phase out plan

by | 06.13.2012 | 12:16pm

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.

  • JC

    I found this very informative, even though it’s brief. Thank you, Mr. Hancock.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    Was a very interesting video by Seth. I think if you also look at just the mindset of people today in the world of instant gratification, no one wants to run in a spot where they cannot win. The horses of yesteryear (which sadly is only probably 20 years ago now) danced every dance and the owners were not afraid of losing racing or using prep races as just that, preps for the big races. Nowadays all anyone focuses on is being able to win the race the horse enters and if that means running them 3 times a year, well…to keep that 100% average…so be it. Granted I’m only 34 years old, so I don’t know all the history back in the day, but I doubt there were a lot of trainers back then who boasted 30-40% win percentages consitently. I think part of that is bloodstock that they get to work with, but it is also the instant gratification thing. Win now or I’m out. To run without medication means risking actually losing a race or two…and I don’t think there are owners out there who want to step up and take that chance…hence the push for meds…

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    Of those voting for the proposal that are horse owners, I wonder how many of them would set the example by saying they would not run their horses on Lasix unless they were a confirmed serious bleeder. That is really what we need. Some high profile owners who said they will take the chance and run without drugs.

  • My Dog Ate My Homework

    So, Lasix will be phased out. Depo Medrol in an ankle is OK. Once again, can anyone disagree that we are led by the most moronic people in the world? We’d be better off being led by a bunch of billy goats.

  • tom bower

    “Voting in favor of the plan were: KHRC Chairman Robert Beck and commissioners Tracy Farmer, Ned Bonnie, Elizabeth Lavin, Alan Leavitt, Allan Houston and John Phillips. Add in John Ward’s name and you now have the people who will be held responsible for the downsizing of the the thoroughbred horse business in the state of Kentucky. Remember these people when Turfway closes, Churchill and Ellis cut their dates, farms go up for sale, stallions move to other states, Keeneland September returns to a one-week sale, thousands lose their jobs, etc. Write their names down.

  • Just Interested

    I must say the I agree with Tom Bower and My Dog Ate My Homework. It is like Christ said to the two guys crucified next to him – forgive them they know not what they do!!!

  • ASL

    Let’s hope that eventually all raceday medications are phased out.

  • RayPaulick

    Furosemide is the only race-day medication currently permitted (a few states still allow adjunct bleeder medication).

  • jorge

    Interesting that on the day of the biggest issue facing racing in Ky. Pitino, and Yon did not even show up. Great commissioners they are and Ludt straddled the fence to keep all his people happy

  • dave_parker

    I agree with you. Their reasoning for adopting the ban is so transparently false: because of a “McKinsey study” they commissioned. Well, if you asked a member of the public if they wanted horses to race with or without drugs, what do you think they would say? Moronic. Stallion fees have decreased drastically. They want their bloodstock fees up (and they don’t care who suffers), so they are willing to do anything to make it happen. Even put up a false website to attract the PETA types.

  • Lost In The Fog

    Those who believe the sky is falling and that Kentucky will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to other racing jurisdictions are missing the nuance of today’s actions. They voted for a ban limited to 2-year-old graded and listed stakes races (unrestricted stakes with purses of $75,000 or higher) that isn’t scheduled to take effect until 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.

    None of the above will ever take effect unless or until other major racing jurisdictions follow Kentucky’s lead and adopt similar rules themselves with a similar timeline, thereby creating a level playing field. Don’t be so naive, if New York, California, Florida, Illinois etc. fail to adopt similar rules then Kentucky has plenty of time to vote to rescind today’s ruling and they most certainly will. That’s how the game is played.

  • Ben K McFadden

    Limited race-day bute?

  • Benedict

    Are you sure you are not being sacrilegious, my son?

  • munda

    So long Kentucky racing……… where have all the hard boots gone

  • dave_parker

    Just curious though . . . don’t you think NBC, ESPN will pound this into the ground and the Jockey Club will create another “clean racing” site to push this thing endlessly and keep the pot stirred until other jurisdictions do pass it? I mean you have to admire their perseverence, they’ve been pushing this for a couple of years until they got want they wanted . . . and they are a relatively few number of people.

  • Lost In The Fog

    I’m totally in favor of a Lasix ban and hope that other jurisdictions follow their lead. In the short run I think Kentucky racing’s image will get a big boost from this decision and be portrayed in a favorable light by the general media as the jurisdiction that had the courage to do the right thing. I honestly believe this is the beginning of real change and will create significant pressure on the other jurisdictions to step up to the plate. My earlier point was mainly that if other jurisdictions fail to do that Kentucky has plenty of time to back away from the decision to avoid losing trainers and horses to other venues.

  • Equine Avenger

    Horse racing flourished in Kentucky before lasix, it can survive without it once again, as can the whole industry.

  • Rachel

    Ah, Conquistador C winning the Met Mile and Belmont in one week…what a horse, what a memory.

  • tom bower

    “Voting in favor of the plan were: KHRC Chairman Robert Beck and commissioners Tracy Farmer, Ned Bonnie, Elizabeth Lavin, Alan Leavitt, Allan Houston and John Phillips.
    Add in John Ward’s name and you now have the people who will be held responsible for the downsizing of the the thoroughbred horse business in the state of Kentucky.
    Remember these people when Turfway closes, Churchill and Ellis cut their dates, farms go up for sale, stallions move to other states, Keeneland September returns to a one-week sale, thousands lose their jobs, etc. Write their names down. We need to call them out when it happens.
    Put Beshear’s name at the top of the list also. He is driving this as he wants to be part of the Jockey Club one day. He waited until after reelection because he knew he would lose the horse voters. Beck is his former law partner and is now his lap dog. Yon would have voted for it also but he did not have time to show up.

  • tom bower

    This is the face of the movement to bring down KY horse racing.

  • stanley inman

    Horseracing will always be viewed the “rawest” kind of capitalism (by some)
    Taking drugs oout of that equation
    Benefits the sport.
    We obviously arnt finished with our work.
    It’s a major first step in
    Reinventing the spport’s administration( more on that later)
    (DOIN something ourselves instead of waiting for a gift.)
    Illustrates we can regulate ourselves; highlights the players;

    The sport is in entirely new place now because of the role
    Played by RCI.
    Bbravo to Ed Martin

  • thomasmc

    Again the horses lose.

  • John Greathouse

    try to know what you are talking about..Ray is correct Lasix is the ONLY race day med allowed
    get your facts right

  • Butchcassidy

    Hey Bonnie, Science has also proved it to be beneficial in preventing horses from choking on their own blood as they cross the finish line, so they’re not falling over dead in front of the racing public who doesn’t even know what lasix is. There’s your science, but if you like Animal Abuse and Horse Slaughter better then just ban lasix all together.

  • RayPaulick

    Actually, I have since learned there are more medications permitted on race-day. This was provided to me by TOBA.

    California: allows conjugated estrogensFlorida: prednisolone is allowed on race day and other corticosteroids are allowed up to 24 hours before post timeMaryland: allows aminocaproic acid, tranexamic acid and carbazachromeWest Virginia: allows aminocaproic acid, tranexamic acid and carbazachromeDelaware: allows aminocaproic acidIndiana: allows vitamin B1 and calciumLouisiana: the rules state, “any drug or medication which is recognized by the veterinary profession for the treatment of EIPH” is allowed. What that means in practice, I do not know.Ohio: allows aminocaproic acidArizona: allows conjugated estrogensMassachusetts: allows bute, but not for 2yoIdaho: allows conjugated estrogensVirginia: allows conjugated estrogens, aminocaproic acid, tranexamic acid and carbazachrome

  • Lex

    I think this hurts KY right where they want to live. The AGSC was very clear on this when they came with their statement. Stake horses are mobile…nobody’s gonna run a stake horse with a future in KY & then be restricted as to when/where they can run after that. Until other states “follow suit” the stake programs in KY will be sub-par events featuring local talent only.

  • Larry Ensor

    You left out New Mexico I think that allow just about anything.

  • Larry Ensor

    Correct me if I am wrong but most racing jurisdictions allow bute. Up to 5 micrograms per milliliter of plasma was pretty much the standard in most. I believe most have dropped it to around 2, 2.5 but as of July of 2011 in Virginia it was/is still 5.

    The Virginia Racing Commission’s rule. Their rule states the following:

    e. For levels of phenylbutazone quantified above 5.0 micrograms per milliliter of plasma, first offense within a 365-day period in any jurisdiction: $1,500 fine, disqualification, and loss of purse:

    f. Any subsequent offense for levels of phenylbutazone quantified above 5.0 micrograms per milliliter of plasma within a 365-day period in any jurisdiction: $2,500 fine, disqualification and loss of purse, and 15-day suspension.

    3. The stewards, in their discretion, may impose other more stringent disciplinary actions against trainers or other permit holders who violate the provisions under which phenylbutazone or flunixin is permitted by the commission.

  • voiceofreason

    This is terrible. The horses incapable of running without Lasix will now have to race elsewhere. Worse, it actually hurts to run the horses incapable of running without Lasix. We need fill race cards full of horses that can only run on Lasix for the sport to be viable. If we remove Lasix, there will be no horses capable of competing in Kentucky. Heaven forbid a ban of Lasix spread… because all the horses incapable of running on Lasix in other countries stupid enough to ban Lasix – won’t have anyplace to send their Lasix dependent racing stock. Horses can not go around the track safely without Lasix.

    And it’s not our fault! And even if it were our fault, it’s too late to change now. We should require MORE Lasix, write Lasix only stakes. Support and require horses that run without Lasix be sent overseas for them to deal with. We don’t need that type of runner ruining our breeding stock.

  • BenKMcFadden


    Try not to be such a jerk.  Just say I am wrong, I have been before  It was a question; note the question mark.

    Actual answer for bute is 24 hours before post. Which I am sure you know, but you would rather remain in character than provide information.

    Giles is right. 

  • BenKMcFadden

     Thank you Ray.  We are here to discuss and  to learn, rather than be talked down to.

    Ask John for me if he ever heard of a horse named “Disposable Pleasure”.  Kinda pops in my head when I hear his name.

  • BenKMcFadden

     With risk of being nailed by JG, it is my impression that jurisdictions that allow bute allow certain amounts to be in a horse’s system.  I have only checked a few jurisdictions and some old vet bills and it looks like 24 hours before post is the cutoff for administering is the norm (John, please note I did not say every state, and I could be wrong.)  I think some states require longer period; New York was supposed to go from 24 to 48 hours, but I am not sure they put it in force.  I rely on the trainer to know the rules.

    It looks like NM does have rules similar to many states, but compliance is another story.  Looks like a case for somebody, hopefully not Homeland Security, to impose uniformity.

  • BenKMcFadden

     Ray: We have raced in CA and other places and give our mares Regumate.  I never asked, but assumed we gave it everyday since it prevents mares from going into heat while in training and racing (a real distraction).  I know it is a form of estrogen, do you know if that would be “conjugated estrogens”?

  • BenKMcFadden

     From your mouth to God’s ear.

  • voiceofreason

    HOW DARE THEY TAKE AWAY THE ONE CRUTCH OUR HORSES ARE DEPENDENT ON! Let’s speak in truths. Horses simply cannot make it around the racetrack without it anymore. Fools. There will be no horses capable of racing without Lasix.

  • Big Red

    The new rules are only “window dressing”  to satisfy the suits.
    Since stakes only make up appx. 2% of all races run, this rule will have minimal impact on the every day game.
    In all reality, owners / trainers of 2 y/o’s in MSW races will go lasix free for a start or two until they realize that their horse is not going to be superstar. Same goes for maiden claimers, why not just go ahead and use lasix, you’re not going to the Breeders Cup with one of them.
    Eventually, the stakes horses will start to decline in numbers and quality and lasix will once again be permitted.

  • voiceofreason


  • Carrie

    this entire exchange has proved to me again and again that we need the same rules in all racing jurisdictions.  Here are several powerful people in the racing industry and they do not even (nor did I) the different rules on race day medication.  We need to change our attiutudes and change our sport.  Look at what is happening to Cycling and Lance Armstrong.  Fans(customers) do not want to see drugs in their athletes, especially without the consent of those athletes.  The world will not end if we stop drugging our horses.  I think that the opposite will happen and people/fans may realize that for once we will put the horse first.

  • BuckyinKentucky

    Good to see the KHRC is listening to the good citizens of Kentucky!

    Ludt??? No vote? Just a couple of weeks ago you were against this and now??

    Good grief. Same old few controlling the future of the masses.

    JC Ivory Tower crowd pulling the NYT strings and controlling the KHRC too.

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