Taking My Money Elsewhere: California Gets It Wrong On Lasix

by | 08.26.2015 | 6:04pm

I'm not what anyone would refer to as a “major player” when it comes to betting on horses. I cut my teeth at the Chicago area tracks in the late 1970s, then spent eight years in Southern California while working as a handicapper and editor in the Los Angeles offices of Daily Racing Form. I bet, though never with both hands. Since moving to Kentucky in 1988, I'd have to call myself an occasional player who focuses mostly on stakes races, but I also enjoy betting every live race I can during the few weeks I spend in Del Mar, Calif., each summer.

One thing I've learned over the years about this game is you've got to take a stand. And that's what I'm doing today.

I'm sure my money won't be missed, but I can't in good conscience place any more bets on races in California – not after what happened at the California Horse Racing Board meeting last week.

The CHRB voted 5-2 against the recommendations of its own Medication Committee that a trainer's private veterinarian not be allowed to give race-day injections of furosemide, or Lasix, the diuretic used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

The recommendation that Lasix be administered by a third-party veterinarian (and not by a trainer's private vet) is one of the four key elements of the National Uniform Medication Program developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The program is endorsed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Third-party Lasix administration is being conducted in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Ontario, Canada, among other North American jurisdictions.

As California's equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, said to one of the CHRB members who voted “no” to third-party Lasix administration, “you've been hoodwinked” by protesting veterinarians and trainers with “smoke and mirrors.”

Arthur steered the third-party Lasix administration regulatory language through the Medication Committee, a long process that involved challenges from private veterinarians and the California Veterinary Medical Board. The CVMB eventually signed off on the language of the regulations. Thoroughbred Owners of California supported the regulations. The CHRB approved third-party Lasix administration earlier this year, subject to a 45-day comment period.

When that public comment period came to an end at last week's CHRB meeting, one of the primary protesters was Dr. Don Shields, a racetrack practitioner who wants the CHRB to follow the rule that the Indiana Horse Racing Commission adopted in 2006 –long before the National Uniform Medication Program was developed. The Indiana rules call for private veterinarians administering Lasix shots to be escorted by a security officer working for the racetrack. Minnesota has a similar program that was developed before the National Uniform Medication Rules were adopted.

The RMTC, though it prefers that third-party veterinarians administer Lasix shots, includes Indiana and Minnesota among the states meeting the spirit of the National Uniform Rules when it comes to Lasix.

Joe Gorajec, the executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, thinks the program his commission put in place in 2006 is superior because all private vets are accompanied by security personnel during the time Lasix is administered. Gorajec believes it's a deterrent to keep vets from giving other drugs on race day, though it hasn't been foolproof.

Gorajec also thinks the Indiana program “is probably unworkable” in California because of the size and scope of California racing.

“We only have three (or four at the most) that we have to account for,” Gorajec said of the private veterinarians being shadowed by security personnel on race days at Indiana Grand racetrack.

By comparison, as many as 10 to 15 vets may be giving Lasix shots during a typical day at a Southern California racetrack.

Why is it so important to keep a trainer's private veterinarian out of a horse's stall on race day?

During the often-heated debate last week, Arthur told the CHRB that “drugs other than Lasix are being used on race day. We know that.”

Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, confirmed as much in presentations she's made at industry conferences. Since third-party Lasix administration began in Kentucky, she said, “Post-race testing has shown a significant reduction in what (Dr. Rick Sams of Kentucky's official drug-testing lab, LGC) calls background noise on drug screens. There also has been a substantial drop in average concentration of Lasix in post-race samples.”

Earlier this year, four equine veterinarians pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Pennsylvania after being indicted by a federal grand jury for illegally administering drugs to horses on race-day.

Yet, the CHRB voted to kick the can down the road for another three months, or six months, or another year or two. Commission chairman Chuck Winner and vice chairman Rosenberg, along with commissioners Madeline Auerbach, Jesse Choper and George Krikorian were, as Arthur said, “hoodwinked,” voting to maintain a status quo that facilitates any temptation by veterinarians and trainers to cheat. Steve Beneto and Alex Solis voted to approve third-party Lasix administration.

I'll kick the can down the road, too, betting on races in states that have regulators who care more about the integrity of the game than they do about keeping a bunch of trainers and veterinarians happy.

As former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said in the movies: “I'll be back.”

Once the CHRB fixes its mistake.

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