At its March meeting on Monday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted to approve a controversial measure that would allow the state's racetracks to write Lasix-free races. The final vote was 8-4 in favor of the rule. Earlier in the day, the commission's rule committee voted 3-2 in favor of the proposal.
The proposed rule would allow tracks to write one or more races with conditions precluding entrants from having Lasix within 24 hours of the race, in contrast to the current statewide rule which allows administration at four hours in advance of race time. Lasix, or furosemide, is used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
Debates over the rule both in the rules committee's meeting and the commission meeting dredged up pro- and anti-Lasix arguments both old and new.
The proposed regulation was framed by rules committee member John Phillips as an “international medication protocol,” reflecting other countries' prohibition of race-day Lasix. One commissioner questioned whether echoing international flavor was worth the nullification of uniform medication policies, which have long remained elusive in the sport.
“This perturbs me quite a bit because unless I'm mistaken, this body approved the endorsement of RCI and the [RMTC uniform medication policies],” said commissioner Frank Jones, Jr. “We are part of that medical initiative, and this is not a part of what they're doing, I don't understand how we can have two masters.”
Rules committee member Tom Conway and others questioned the legality of the proposed regulation; under these rules, the tracks would determine for themselves whether to write any Lasix-free races, and if so, how many to card. Conway believed that allowing tracks and racing associations to make the determination of what medication rules apply to which races is slippery legal territory.
“We were appointed by the governor to regulate racing in Kentucky,” said Conway. “I don't recall anyone ever telling me that I could delegate that to a racing association … nowhere in the statutes does it say that is a delegable duty. It's against the state constitution, it's against the Kentucky revised statute, it's against the U.S. Constitution and it's a violation of the 14th amendment to strip a commission of this authority and give it to an individual enterprise like a racing association.
“I think if we go down this road, we're going to lose it. We're going to lose it in the legislature, we're going to lose it in the court; it's just divisive and I see no reason for it.”
The language could technically allow any track to write all of its races to the 24-hour Lasix rule, though KHRC chairman Robert Beck, Jr. doubts any track would do so. Keeneland is the only entity that has expressed interest in the idea of these restricted races, and in the main commission meeting, Keeneland Vice President of Racing Rogers Beasley said he envisions four to six Lasix-free races each year—two in the spring for 2-year-olds, and two to four in the fall. This, he said, would account for 2.5 percent of all Keeneland racing during the year.
Jones pointed out that race condition books are intended to allow for the development of horses over a meet; if Keeneland's handful of no-Lasix races are the only ones in the state, young horses making their first start under those circumstances would not have the same level playing field the rest of the year.
Commissioner Dr. Foster Northrop questioned whether “a certain large racetrack” could use the rule to write Lasix-only races as a means of diminishing its horse population and focusing on its gaming products. Beck dismissed this notion, since any official reduction in dates would have to be approved by the commission.
As noted by rules committee member Burr Travis, Jr., Churchill Downs officials were notably absent from the commission meeting.
Several officials, within and outside of the committee, brought forth objections to the idea of doing away with Lasix, even in this application of race-by-race conditions. The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association presented surveys and petitions from its members and from trainers out of state who planned to ship in to run. Most of them disagreed with the measure, leading NHBPA representatives to invoke the well worn-saying, ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'
The Kentucky Thoroughbred Association supported the proposed regulation, citing positive input from Pin Oak Stud, Claiborne Farm, Dixiana Farm, Juddmonte Farms, and Darley.
In the end, support for the rule outweighed those concerns.
“We're being bombarded daily by the general public and other racing jurisdictions, Europe for one, who want us to clean up our act,” said commissioner and rules committee member Neil Howard. “I think it's time we put horsemanship back into this business.”
From here, the proposed language goes to a legislative rules committee and will need to hold up through a public hearing before it may progress.
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