‘Divisive’ Kentucky Lasix Rule Sparks Controversy Around 8-4 Commission Approval

by | 03.23.2015 | 5:47pm
Lasix (Furosemide, Salix)

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.

  • Trafficman813

    I am not an expert in horse racing or medications, however my line of work forces changes that some do not like at initial startup but usually are adapted and over time widely accepted.
    If a thoroughbred track can draw enough entrants and drug free horses to offer a race or two then the proof will be in the starting gate.
    From the article it looks and sounds like some members feel their power is being threatened and they do not like it.

    • Concerned Observer

      Change is always difficult and in a hidebound cronyism laced business like racing it is even more difficult. You are so right about change, Nascar teams fought the chase concept, now they love it, Basket ball fans hated the 3 point circle, now it is the highlight of the game. Horse race tracks thought simulcast was a passing fad, but it is now 50% of the sports handle.

      Racing secretary’s write convoluted race conditions everyday that are far more questionable than this. Sometimes even the trainers can not figure out the complexity of the condition. At least this is straight forward and easy to understand.
      Here everyone know the rules. A horse can race in Kentucky now without lasix. This just change just says that now that horse does not have to always race against 90% of the horses running on lasix (many of which have no real history of bleeding).

      • Peyton

        ‘So glad the members of the KHRC had the foresight and guts to make a significant long-view decision”. If you took from this article that KHRC made a significant, or meaningful decision on the Lasix issue I think you read a different article than I did. From what I read and understood, they did nothing. Except pass the buck.

        • Concerned Observer

          At least they passed the buck…..most bucks…. die in committee these days.

          • Peyton

            But when they passed the buck they made it seem like they were doing something significant. These commissions need to be cleaned out. There is a misunderstanding within them that their responsibility is to the track owners and horsemen groups. Their responsibility is to the residents of their states.

  • TRUTH

    This is a step in the right direction but the American Racing public should hold Kentucky responsible. do not become satisfied with a claiming race being ran lasix free. go for a group 1. that would sending a message.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      Agreed.

  • David

    I used to be vehemently anti-Lasix but have moderated a bit to where I think Lasix might need to be allowed (at the claiming and allowance levels) but absolutely with a weight disadvantage commensurate with the performance enhancement the horse gains from running on the drug. Racing will know we have the added weights correct when the percentage of horses going to the post with Lasix (and added weight) is roughly on par with the percentage of bleeders. As it stands now, you have to race your horse on Lasix to be competitive, but with weight added you could accomplish much of what both sides want to see on a relatively level playing field. That being said, the very top of the sport (graded stakes races) should be Lasix free to be on par internationally. So if your $10K claimer legitimately needs Lasix to run then I say ‘fine,’ but with added weight that is commensurate with the age of the horse at the given distance. This doesn’t seem super complicated; what am I missing?

    That said, the argument of demise by allowing some races to run Lasix-free shows just how totally irrational the pro group has become.

    • TRUTH

      That would solve lasix use at the racing level but what does it do long term for the American breed ? if you have horses who are in need of lasix reproducing that can’t benefit the American breed over the long term. I believe strongly that if a stallion makes every start of his career on lasix then a set number should be caped for the amount of mares he’s able to cover during his first year.

      • Gaye Goodwin

        They’ll figure that out in about 50 years, when everyone flocks to Japan to buy TBs.

      • David

        I think the outcome of this plan would be to help root out sires and dam lines that produce a disproportionately high percentage of bleeders. The problem now is that you can’t determine who is a bleeder because all the horses are on Lasix. It would only take one generation of foals for buyers to begin to steer clear of those sires due to the inability of those foals to race (on Lasix) at a stakes level.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation (after 15 years of the plan I asserted) was that Lasix was, by and large, completely out of racing. Seems to me this is a prudent political compromise.

        • Bill O’Gorman

          Why wait 15 years?

          • David

            Because I don’t see another way to get the sport to immediately make headway on this issue. This is a mid-term political compromise to achieve a long-term change of racing culture.

      • Ben van den Brink

        Just take over the German rules. They require a number from starts, A quality standard in the races. Training and racing without raceday medications, and a couple of other things. But that is for a stallion in public service. Do not know the requirements for standing a stallion for your own mares.

    • Ben van den Brink

      Iam an astute anti lasix, become that because of having had a bleeder myself.

      Just give the owner the legal right, to make the choice. If lasix freed races do not fill, no problem the owner and trainer decides. If lasix races are filling, go ahead with bigger numbers.

    • Bill O’Gorman

      Unfortunately that same argument can be applied to all raceday medication – if they ” need it to run ” then they shouldn’t be running I’m afraid.

      • betterthannothing

        Sage reply as always, Bill O’Gorman. May I add that if “they need it to run” on race day AND if “they need” other race week(s) medications, they should not be running either.

      • David

        If tomorrow American racing banned Lasix and other race-day medications I would be thrilled. My point was more of a political one; how to compromise to get the critical mass of stake holders to move forward in unison.

        • Bill O’Gorman

          You can’t – because they are all only interested in their own stake holding!!

    • Guest

      Carrying weight has no bearing on race results unless the horse is carrying 13% or more of its mass body weight. So unless you want to see horses carrying 130+ pounds again….

      • David

        Guest, I do not think you are correct on this. Clearly carrying significant weight changes results and 129 lbs is not insignificant. We can debate where the weight adjustments should be, but your comment is a little silly.

      • Needles

        A math or physics major you are not…

        • Peyton

          Actually I am but there is a bit more to the equation than physics and math including kinesiology.

      • Ben van den Brink

        Any added pound in the jockeyweight is giving a half a lenght difference.

      • Peyton

        I agree with you.

      • Garrigan

        So, I guess that means the theory behind Salix use lowering the horse’s body weight in order to have that competitive edge, is nonsense?
        There must be more to Salix in terms of performance enhancement.

        • Peyton

          Both. But he is saying, that a lot more weight is lost than what some have suggested as making the playing field level.

    • Ben van den Brink

      David, if you car is having a flat tire, what you are gooiing to, if that happens several times on the same tire.

      • David

        Interesting that you ask, I literally had a my second time leaky tire yesterday and took my car to the tire store to have the tire fixed. Not sure what your point is.

        • Ben van den Brink

          There is no repair kit for lungs that leaks.

          Vet,s are trying to made believe there is, just taking the weight off, but that is no solution

          • David

            I agree.

  • TRUTH

    That would solve lasix use at the racing level but what does it do long term for the American breed ? if you have horses who are in need of lasix going out in reproducing that can’t benefit the American breed over the long term. I believe strongly that if a stallion makes every start of his career on lasix than a set number should be caped for the amount of mares he’s able to cover during the year.

  • Richard C

    Providing an option should be welcomed — it allows the stakeholders at each race track to hash things out.

  • jorge

    Indiana lost David Williams as their biggest asset only to be replaced by the KSRC. They must be LOL

  • Hamish

    The ole’ Kentucky guard, as ardent stewards of permissive drug use, helped get our sinking industry where it is today, so if they are now changing direction then this positioning should be both admired and readily accepted.

    • Bill O’Gorman

      The Old Guard everywhere gets too comfortable and soon becomes self serving and lazy. The new guard eventually run rings round them, by highlighting their archaic,”old pals act”, methods; it takes control on the precept of doing things in a modern and professional manner foe everyone’s benefit. It then takes the “look the other way” approach to new heights, just with a new set of insiders. This is the way of the world.

    • Peyton

      If you read the article, they aint changing nothing. They are deciding not to do anything and passing the ball off to the tracks and horsemen groups. They are continuing to ignore their responsibility to protect the public. Their non action is a perfect example of what’s wrong with racing. The state racing commissions have neglected their duty to protect the betting public. I am going to find out the names of all commissioners of every racing jurisdiction and list each ones involvement of horse ownership or other possible conflicts of interests which they may have. The answer to all of racings problems is upon the racing commissions. They must be turned upside down one at a time. This is where solutions to Lasix, illegal drug use, false workout times, employment of illegal aliens, short fields, buzzers, and all else in racing that is despicable to horses and humans lie.

      • Hamish

        State racing commissions, for the most part, will always consist of well regarded pawns and political hacks placed in service to carry the water for powerful horse empire stakeholders. Embracing the staus quo seems to be their job, being quite careful not to upset or offend the special interests that had to use a political marker or contribution in order to control the regulatory function within the state. This system is broken and needs replacing. Look outside the states current dysfunction and political maneuvers to something new and meaningful on a national scale.

  • Gaye Goodwin

    “… NHBPA representatives to invoke the well worn-saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’…”

    What planet do you live on? It IS broken, you dolt!

  • JN

    This action is a real step forward. I am an owner/trainer in California and this option as been considered here and I would love to see this become reality in California. Racing without Salix on an even playing field- Wow! I think you will find, over time, that two distinct types of trainers will be revealed- those who get performance from a horse through pharmaceuticals (and race pretty much only in Salix-permitted races (masking other drugs?)) and those who do so through real horsemanship. Remember when California began testing for TCO2 and certain trainers who got caught were forced to race under surveillance? Their win percentage dropped by double digits. Guess where their horses would run. And in Kentucky, will the betting public make a statement by betting more heavily on Salix-free races? That is the real question.

    • Bill O’Gorman

      I’m sure that your masking suggestion has some merit. Certainly taking Lasix never made me feel stronger or faster. And I find the illogicality of some folk advocating steroids to gain muscle mass as well as Lasix to remove weight odd.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      Absolutely! You are totally right. Two types of trainers are out there, and right now, the pharmaceutical trainer has an advantage. Write races for trainers who train healthy, drug-free horses!

  • Concerned Observer

    I don’t know where you got the 40% decline in owners in Europe…it may be correct.
    But I do know the facts for several surrounding states here in the mid-west, and owners
    licenses issued have declined by 20% to 35% in each of the 4 nearby states since 2005.
    Fact, not hearsay.

    “Drugs and thugs”….always high on the list of why did you get out of the sport?

  • Peyton

    This sounds like a political ploy to stave off real change. I doubt it will lead to any real changes. Just another stalling tactic. How will they determine if horses entered in Lasix free races are not in fact using Lasix. The old argument of ‘well there’s no vet record to support they got a shot on race day’ doesn’t hold water. Just like it doesn’t hold water for the illegal drugs which are used. Every horse entered in these races will need to be tested or else trainers will quickly realize this is the easiest cheat they can so.

  • c. biscuit

    “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.
    Really, the general public hates lasix? The general public doesn’t know the difference between Lasix and a Furlong.
    As for Europe, who cares?? US racing is not dependent on Europe support, just slots.

  • Gina Powell

    I support the change for 3 reasons: One, all scientific evidence proves that Lasix is a performance enhancing drug. Two, if a horse bleeds then it shouldn’t be racing. Three, the rogue element in racing gives cheaters a route – a direct route into the jugular vein – on race day. Four, it would eliminate the need for additional drug tests thereby providing a cost savings to the racetrack and/or racing commissions, as well as, Trainer/owners. Finally, I would like to take issue with the National HBPA who stated: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Guess what? Horse Racing is broken. How can you deny that? You are out of touch with reality like most HBPA’s on racetracks who take a % of purse money, and do very little in return for Owners/Trainers. Where they ever got the legal right to automatically take purse money from Owner/Trainers is beyond my comprehension, but should be challenged in court. If I was still Training I would be the first one to enter my horse in a Lasix-Free race. Why not give people the choice? What is so wrong with that?

    • longtimehorsewoman

      I think the HBPA is one of the reasons horse racing is declining. Times have changed and the HBPA needs to change or be gotten rid of.

      • Hamish

        That’s a reasonable suggestion.

      • betterthannothing

        HBPAs are toxic to horses, honest horsemen and the reputation of racing.

  • Needles

    I don’t understand why it’s “controversial”? If you have a horse who can run lasix free all this does is allow horseman to participate in these races. This type of thinking is what’s wrong with the sport.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      I agree. If people enter that’s good and shows SOME horsemen/women want to be clean. If people don’t enter, that’s that.

    • naprovniknaprovnik

      It just shows that the cheaters don’t want their medical crutches taken away.

  • Craig Bernick

    The best solution to this issue is to penalize horses that race on medication. 4 pounds for lasix, 3 pounds for bute. If my horse is running in a graded race, and doesn’t bleed, I’ll take the 7 pounds every time.

    • Needles

      Amen. Pretty simple right? Yet the industry has their head up their rear end (again). The NFL makes changes every year to make the sport progressive. Imagine that.

    • Peyton

      That’s not enough weight. A more realistic weight to level the playing field would be for Shaq to ride.

    • brodman

      I like your idea. Perhaps the added weight should be based upon veterinary evidence of how much additional weight loss is caused by Salix. If a typical horse without Salix urinates 2 pounds of fluid in the 4 hours before race time and a Salix-treated horse urinates 10 pounds of fluid in the 4 hours before race time, the Salix-treated horse should carry 8 additional pounds. This would neither penalize a bleeder that needed Salix nor reward a non-bleeder that didn’t need Salix. Trainers would need to declare re Salix at time of entry so the assigned weights don’t change close to post time.

      • Peyton

        Bill Casner has done studies on his horses and 8 or 10 pounds is not even close. Youtube Lasix Casner if you are interested.

        • Needles

          Weight isn’t everything. Lasix also saps the equine’s body of essential vitamins and minerals needed to compete at a high level. So, while the horse urinates a lot of lost weight, it also is urinated key minerals out that it needs. Stop looking at the lowest common denominator and start showing some intellgence.

          • Peyton

            Don’t be so touchy or I’ll reply in an equally rude fashion. I agree that Lasix depletes minerals and horses take a long time to recover, but my response was to brodman and I was pointing out to him his suggestion that 8 pounds was not adequate. If weight was the only issue and not just one, what do you think would be a fair handicap weight?

        • Ben van den Brink

          It is proven about 11 pds for non lasix treated against almost 30 pds for lasix treated horses

          • Peyton

            If I understand your subtraction, that’s a lot more than 8 or 10?

          • Ben van den Brink

            Quite a lot more.

  • Peyton

    I do not agree with indiscriminate use of Lasix as it exists today, but I think Tom Conway has a valid point about racing commissions delegating to the track operators and horsemen. The commission is essentially kicking the can down the road so that any responsibility of failure will be on someone besides the commission. Saying that Lasix is necessary for EIPH is not valid in the context of its current use. I recently counting 116 entries at GP of which 4 were racing without Lasix. 2 for Kairan M. 1 for owner JE Anthony and 1 for a trainer I was not familiar with. You can’t convince me the other 112 were bleeders. By the way what happened with GP statement that they would card Lasix free races?

    • Concerned Observer

      The KHRC has for decades delegated to racing secretaries the authority to write races with sometimes convoluted, subtlety phrased, crony designed conditions to please certain trainers or for specific horses. So why is a broad, straight forward condition such as “NO LASIX” so threatening, revolutionary, or even controversial?

      Tracks make decisions on shoes, gate fitness, race behavior, distance, track surface…all the time.

      Your statistics are correct. Lasix is no longer administered to medicate known bleeders, it is administered broadly and routinely by trainers in defense, to level the playing field.

      • Bill O’Gorman

        Or, as is often suggested, to as a landscaping exercise in order to remove the evidence of bumps on the playing field.

      • Peyton

        I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for secs to write races and I’m not saying its a threatening, revolutionary or controversial situation. You missed my point. My point is KHRC has passed the buck to track operators choosing to do it or not and this takes the pressure off the commission to do anything meaningful. They will throw hands in the air and blame the track operators if the experiment fails and likely since they have made this big PR announcement will try to claim credit for any success which might ensue. I take from the article KHRC said basically ‘we are not going to do anything, but if tracks and horsemen want to try having Lasix free races, we will let them.’

  • Needles

    Get your head out of the sand. The public doesn’t want raceday meds.

  • Fred A. Pope

    A young bull and an old bull are looking at all the state considering a ban on race day meds.

    The young bull says, “Why don’t we run down to Frankfort and nail one of those states”?

    The old bull says, “Why don’t we walk over to Washington and nail them all”?

    • Bill O’Gorman

      Fred, you know that after a few fields the old bull looked round and there was no one behind him – and certainly not the young bull who preferred frolicking and blaring to long hot marches.

  • WelbourneStud

    It never ceases to amaze me why so many owners kow-tow to the trainers and their organizations. For goodness sakes, act like the person paying the bills and demand that your trainers stop using Lasix. It’s not that hard. And, if your racing operation cannot afford to race without Lasix, perhaps you shouldn’t be owning or training horses at all. There is no Constitutional right to run with drugs.

    • WelbourneStud

      And to add onto my comments: the KRC already permits racetracks to establish race conditions. A “no-drugs” race condition is no different than a “non-winners of 2” or “fillies and mares only” condition. In this situation, and likely out of an abundance of caution, the tracks let the KRC go through its regulatory/administrative process and vote on whether to allow racetracks to card “no-Lasix” races. However, I think those racetracks already had the authority to calendar such races.

    • Bill O’Gorman

      I think that you need to accept that owners as a whole are strangers to the moral high ground. As a group they are committed to stealing an edge – no matter if they excuse that by the “everyone else is at it” line.

  • Clara Fenger, DVM, PhD, DACVI

    My comments at the meeting are notably omitted: this rule carries with it a 200pg/ml serum level as the t
    24 hour threshold. John Phillips said in the rules committee meeting that this was “well established. ” In fact, there is no such thing. In the International Jurisdictions where 24 hour Lasix is permissible, the threshold is 50 ng/ml in URINE. My comments in the meeting fell on at least 8 sets of deaf ears. For a bunch of lawyers, one would think they would understand the legal ramifications of having an unsupported threshold. ….oh wait, these are the same guys that approved the RMTC thresholds fraught with similar pulled-from-thin-air thresholds.

    • Lady, there is a message somewhere in there for you.

    • Peyton

      I would suggest that they ignored you because the information you presented was not relevant to the conclusion they were going to make. They had decided that they would do nothing. Which is what they did. Nothing except put the onus on track operators and horsemen to try something if they wanted to. And they did nothing in such a politically astute way that if someone challenges their decision to “do nothing” then they will have an excuse to fall back on when their ‘doing nothing’ ends up doing nothing.

    • Tinky

      On condition of anonymity, a source close to the committee told me that they were so dazzled by the letters after your name, they completely forgot to include your comments!

      A formal apology should be forthcoming.

  • There is no place in sport for drugs…period. And just because there are more claiming races and claiming horses than higher class animals does not mean that claiming horses should define the game. Racing does not exist to provide jobs for people. Racing is not about political patronage. Racing is a sport and conducted for entertainment through contests designed to better the breed.

    • Fred A. Pope

      Kentucky is not about all horses, though we love them all.

      Kentucky is about Thoroughbreds, that’s our brand. That’s the brand that drives international racing. That’s the brand with farms that need to produce $100,000 yearlings instead of being replaced by other breeds that produce $5,000 yearlings. That’s not elitism, that’s economic truth in Central Kentucky.

      The Central Kentucky farms that are most stable and employ more people are now owned by international sportsmen, who want international rules in racing. That should be easy for elected officials to understand.

      At some point, the Governor of Kentucky must look at Thoroughbreds like he looks at Bourbon, our brand of beverage. Bourbon fought its way back to public favor by not allowing quality to slip. That was tough when sales were going to cheap clear beverages. Quality sells, if it has integrity.

      Maybe that is what has happened now, the Governor has told Bob Beck it is time for our brand of horses to fight their way back and not allow quality to slip any further.

      The people of Kentucky elected him, not the people he appointed to the racing commission, to make decisions for them.

      • Bill O’Gorman

        Fred, I think you may need to revisit the international sportsman section of your philosophy. “No man is an island”: neither is any one horse sport.

        • Fred A. Pope

          A brand is an island in a sea of mediocrity. Man, beast, or beverage.

          • Bill O’Gorman

            That doesn’t address my point, anyone following horse sports internationally can no longer swallow the point you made regarding Central Kentucky.

          • Fred A. Pope

            My post was supporting Barry Irwin’s comment about claiming races dominating the sport in volume and rules. Neither of us think that is healthy.

            Thoroughbred racing is homogenous mess. There is no brand for the public to embrace because claiming races are mixed in and cloud the image. Claiming races are not going away, we just need to package them on separate days.

            My advertising agency opened the Kentucky Horse Park with the 1978 World 3-Day Championships and over the years represented various breed associations and disciplines. I am very aware of what each contributes.

            In my opinion, Thoroughbreds drive the bus economically around the world and Kentucky should do a better job of protecting the sport and those drawn here to invest in the industry.

            Hopefully a brand of quality racing will be established soon.

            If I’m missing the point, sorry.

          • Bill O’Gorman

            Hard to stomach “international sportsmen who want international rules” just at the moment. Don’t worry, I’ll get over it, after all today’s endurance racing news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping.

    • Needles

      This is an elitist, yet very unrealistic, view. The handle on these claiming races is what allows your horses to run for $300k pots. Most tracks lose money on handle when they offer these purses, triple crown races excluded. While I’m sure many agree with your view in theory, it’s a flawed business plan.

      • Hamish

        There is no “business” plan in horse racing that is viable other than drugging up a claiming horse running for a purse far greater than the horses’s real economic value, winning the pot and hoping somebody else takes the horse off your hands, then on to the next. Sort of like a game of “hot potato,” with the poor hose getting the short end of the stick. Even though this type scenario is commonplace, it is the one most frequently mentioned for driving people away from the sport, running from “drugs and thugs.” Irwin’s opinion elitist, perhaps, but I’d rather see the sport built around his definition of the sport.

        • Needles

          Another guy with all the answers but no substance or alternative stated. Let’s just breed 1,000 horses a year and put the best 20 in the starting gate on May 2? The other 980 horses will run in 200k stakes races at different distances. Then we just have a small sport with big purses that everyone is happy about. SMH

          • WelbourneStud

            I am a small breeder and owner. Notwithstanding the odds stacked against me, if my horses cannot race without medication they will not race. My trainer(s) are so instructed. I don’t care at what price point a person plays the ponies, having horses race on drugs is not the answer. It is bad stewardship and a bad business model. When people put the welfare of their pocket books above the welfare of the animals, they’ve lost what it means to be a horseman.

        • Needles

          And you are obviously not a boots-on-the-ground participant in racing obviously. There are way more trainers who treat their claiming horse like a stake horse than the opposite. Yes, there are some bad apples in the sport and the drugs are too rampant, but to suggest that 100% of the claiming game is about running crippled horses then you must associate yourself with some real bad people.

          • Hamish

            I said “commonplace,” not 100% of the people mistreat claiming level horses. And yes, I have been on the ground, seen both good folks and bad. I described a scenario that happens way too often, as you know, so take it for what its worth.

          • bonniemcdo

            I agree. People who cannot afford high price horses can still get a horse for a lower price. Often people go in partnerships with friends and buy a horse they go and visit every weekend. CLaiming horses are treated well by their trainers and loved by owners. BUT-a few trainers make the sport look bad and nothing is done about them. Everyone knows who they are, everyone knows why the 5K claimer they got goes on to win stakes races but there is a big silence on the part of racing. And I do not see any change in that soon.

    • Jack Frazier

      Mr. Irwin, you have been in the business a long time but it seems you have omitted the obvious here. Claiming horses are the backbone of horse racing. Percentage wise, fewer than 1% of Thoroughbreds are Grade I horses. A few years ago, when there were about 35,000 being bred, fewer than 3,500 were stakes and allowance horses in a given year. In California the numbers have shrunk from about 3,500 per year to less than 1,800. Of those that reach racing age, how many will even be race or will be legitimate stake horses? Not many. My guess is that about 10% will be stake or allowance horses, if that, and maybe 1% of them stake horses and I think that is being generous. The attrition rate from two to three year-olds is very high. You know that. Racing can only exist if the numbers are there and those numbers come from the claiming ranks.. I don’t like drugs either because I believe, although I cannot prove it, that certain trainers and vets are in collusion, using drugs that are not on the market because they have not been approved by the FDA and since they have the same effect as the ones being tested and there is not a test for them, they fly under the radar until they can be tested for. They have a five year window, as you know. Lasix does mask other drugs, which is a good reason to restrict its use but even so these folks will find a way. Racing does provide jobs for many and the reciprocal industries associated with racing also benefit: stallion farms, lay up facilities, hay, grain, vitamins, farriers, vanning companies, restaurants, and other businesses. Without racing how many of these will go out of business? The sad reality is that with the vast amounts of money in racing people will cheat or take unfair advantage just as they do in banking, the stock market and other interests. Draconian measures will be needed but no one is willing to take them. The result is that many owners and trainers are quitting. Soon you will see races carded with maybe ten or twelve trainers who control the majority of horses because the reality is that the small time folks who are the ones filling races for the big boys will stop because they cannot or will not continue to go into a race in which the best they can hope for is a fourth or fifth. Racing is entertainment but really, it is also a business. Can’t pay the bills on that kind of money. You are right, but it is like Don Quixote jousting at windmills trying to change the ingrained drug culture of racing.

      • Peyton

        What draconian measures would work if people were willing to take them?

        • Jack Frazier

          For starters, vets should identify every drug in their possession every day and should have to report every drug used on every horse in their care. I know that, technically they do this on the sheets they turn in but in my opinion, many are not reporting all the drugs they are giving. Also, if a trainer has a horse that tests positive for any banned substance or overage, the veterinarian should also be called on the carpet. To think that these drugs magically get into a horse’s system is Pollyanna thinking. Those that aid and abet should also be penalized. Let me say upfront that there are many very honest and ethical vets on the track but there are a few that skirt the letter of the law.

          • Peyton

            Good starters. How will these measures be enforced against the unethical trainers and vets. Who’s job is it to enforce? Thanks for your reply and I think those are good things which should be implemented to help get the sport back on the right foot.

          • Jack Frazier

            There has to be real desire to fix what is broken and I don’t think some in racing want to since they are gaming the system.

          • Peyton

            My opinion is that it has to be fixed by rooting out those you mention that are not wanting to change because they are gaming the system. Rules and enforcement are the duty and responsibility of the racing commissions. They will have to be fixed first, with or without the support of the other two entities (track owners and horsemen’s groups). Once the commissions are fixed, then they can start to do their job of enforcing and penalizing. The desire for fix is very real on the grass roots level, but the topside is keeping things as they are.

          • Ben van den Brink

            Some of the topside, are not willing to co operate,but I do think that most are willing to co operate, but racing commissions will argue that the costs are more , that can be bared.

            And yes vet,s should be hold responsible as well.

          • Jack Frazier

            We are in agreement.

          • Jack Frazier

            I also believe that horses trained at farms or other facilities not policed by the stewards should be on the grounds 72 hours before a race, and every horse entered in a race should be pre-race tested by drawing blood or collecting urine and saliva. Tracks should have video cameras in EVERY barn with a link to a central office to monitor 24/7 who is in every trainers barn and who has contact with the animals. Stake horses should be moved to a “stake horse barn with a security guard on duty to monitor who and what medications are given. On race day, if lasix is administered, that should be the only visit by a vet and he or she should work not for the trainer but for the track as they do in Hong Kong.

      • Concerned Observer

        Well said Jack. The business runs on claiming races. Few people realize that the handle from lowly claiming races keeps the tracks and the purse accounts solvent. Stakes races get all the publicity, but claiming races pay the bills.

        For example this years Donn HCp Gr1 GP. Purse $500,000, total takeout $400,000. Takeout did not even pay the purse. Claimers subsidized it.The bettors pay the bills and they would rather bet on full fields of consistent veteran claimers than short field graded stakes races with a heavy favorite.

        That is why the lasix ban needs to be just as aggressive in the claiming ranks as in the Grade 1 races. Claiming races pay for the sport, and without them the grade 1’s will be someday be held in a vacant field for ribbons and trophies.

        Check the charts for yourself….it is easy to calculate…and verify.

        The little guy with a $5000 claimer that he loves and dotes on, is just as fed up with the druggist culture as the grade 1 biggies. and he can not afford the fancy drugs. So….Clean it up, and the little guys will once again have a fair chance. And the sport can begin to grow again.

        • Jack Frazier

          You are right. On Sunday a stake race at Santa Anita had four entries and a pretty hefty purse. The other races on the card had from six to 10. Average of probably 7.2. The claimers had the most entries, 9 or 10. Golden Gate averaged 6 horses per race on the same day, most claiming races. Reality will strike one of these days when the diminishing number of horses will impact racing even more than it does now.

      • Fred A. Pope

        Although your numbers of stakes horses in a given foal crop are probably close, the number of stakes horses (won or placed in stake race) is probably closer to 6,000 individuals annually. They make money so they are kept in training and add to the new crop coming in each year.

        Regarding claiming races (70% of total races) paying for the sport, that is not quite right. Today, half our purse money is coming from alternate gambling and when you mix in off-track wagering revenue, the actual source of purse money is very cloudy. It has no relationship to the money wagered on the host track’s race, claiming or stake.

        The racing secretary at the host track decides what to do with the racehorse owners’ purse account funds. Of course he does that with consideration of the racehorse horse owners’s trainers. They come up with the mix of races based upon the inventory at the track and relationships.

        Since the host track receives very little of the off-track wagering revenue on its races, it doesn’t really matter what kind races they produce. That’s a big problem in any business.

        While the host track gets half of wagering revenue, they get ALL of the revenue from attendance, concessions and parking. So, having big races is a good way for the host track to increase their revenue.

        A solid business model would see the host track get maximum revenue from ALL wagers on its product. Then it would matter what kind of races they package and present.

        • Jack Frazier

          I it would be good to know the actual number of stake horse. Where did you come up with 6,000? I would like to see the stats.

          • Fred A. Pope

            Those stats just one of many things lost when the Thor. Times stopped publishing.

          • Jack Frazier

            Maybe. But if you count the number Grade I, II and III horses, both male and female, I don’t think they add up to 6000. We do know the number of foals, two year-olds, three year-olds and older horses racing. I think the Jockey Club will have the stats. Many of the stakes races have the same horses over and over so statistics can be read to give whatever outcome one wants. Looking at the top three year-olds heading into the Kentucky Derby, there are probably less that 500 nominated. Looking at some of the stake races this weekend, many are horses are just fillers just looking for a piece of the pie and are not legitimate Grade I horses. How many tracks are there in the US? How many of those offer Grade I races and how many horses run in those races? With the diminishing numbers of Thoroughbreds, I cannot fathom 6,000 stake horses. I may be off a bit but maybe not. Just looking at the Breeders Cup in which most of the Grade I horses show up, there are only enough to fill two days of racing, maybe 200, and many of those races are not full fields. Just saying.

    • c. biscuit

      “Racing is a sport” —“Racing does not exist to provide jobs”
      Try telling that to the local horsemen fighting for every single slot dollar they can get just to keep your “sport” alive.
      Some posts are simply amazing.

      • Bill O’Gorman

        Barry is right. The betting tail should never have been allowed to wag the dog. Without that ill advised direction of travel there would be far less racing, but it might have stayed closer to its origins. [ Barry’s remark also applies to the English National Health Service – Americans may do well to oppose the concept in that area!]

        • Concerned Observer

          But Bill, The “racing for the joy of the sport” elitist at the top, insist on the riff raff at the bottom subsidizing the sport by way of purses and facilities (race tracks). Were it not for the 90% of the sport conducted at the lower levels , the top tier would be competing in private fields for ribbons and trophies.

          The top tier must have the bottom tier to support their graded races, blood stock prices and stud fees. But they do not want to be forced to acknowledge that fact.

          If betting does not “wag the dog”…..start looking for fields to race in.

          • Bill O’Gorman

            But we had great racing before we had any contribution from betting, other than what the on track bookmakers paid for their pitches. Prize money was better in real terms – and much better if taken just in the context of training expenses – and it was funded by gate money and entry fees from owners. AND when you went to the provincial tracks you saw proper competition between peers – not the saturation attack of so-called, self-styled, elite trainers trying to justify their existence by winning at venues where they should be ashamed to enter. Prostitution always ends in tears.

          • Concerned Observer

            Interesting…but could it be reestablished? I doubt it. Also doubt that many $1,000,000 races would be sustainable under that scenerio in the USA. BUT, we may get a chance to test the theory, if current trends in handle and attendance continue.

          • Bill O’Gorman

            Obviously it can’t be re-established – I just make the point tha the birthright was sold for a mess of pottage.

    • David

      Barry, in an ideal world I totally agree with you and your statement is well articulated. But as you know, we live in a complicated and politically difficult world where getting clear cut decisions that move the ball way down the field in one big swoop is difficult. Do you see any merit in some sort of near-term compromise that leads to eventually eliminating Lasix? Or, do you think that is counterproductive? (BTW, this isn’t rhetorical, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this; I have in mind my ‘added weight for using Lasix idea further down the strand.’)

  • betterthannothing

    “We’re being bombarded daily by the general public and other racing jurisdictions, Europe…”

    Oh! Poor babies! If only these commissioners could feel as sorry for horses that are being bombarded by performance enabling and enhancing substances and treatments than they feel sorry for themselves.

  • Noelle

    Wouldn’t this – you can compete in Lasix free races IF you want to – create a kind of apartheid system? One set of horses running Lasix free and all the others still on Lasix. I don’t see where this leads to the end of raceday Lasix and drug free racing, which is what I’d like to see. I don’t see where it has the potential for any widespread impact.

    More likely, there wouldn’t even be an apartheid system – the occasional Lasix free race will be a novelty. Some right-minded owners/trainers will send horses to the Lasix free races, but they’ll probably send those same horses – after they’ve proven not to need the drug – to a Lasix race and dose the horse with Lasix if it will further the horse’s career.

    It’s also hard to imagine any racetrack standing like David against Goliath, running entirely drug free while so-called “horsemen” take their horses elsewhere.

    • Ben van den Brink

      54% from all the racehorses do not need the stuff at all, because they are simple non bleeders.

      Whenever you get knocked down by a horse that got the stuff ( a typical race enhacer)
      you are using it the next time. Do what the others are dooiing

  • Bill O’Gorman

    If they stopped the Lasix then perhaps the public might be surprised to recognise the amount of things that “they do care about” that are in circulation?

  • Tradesignal

    I’d like to know how Oaklawn Park did with their 10% Bonus for horses not running on lasik?
    Probably didn’t have to pay out any bonus?
    This is Just The right to write the races, if they don’t get enough horses to fill the races it won’t go!
    But if there is enough purse money, build it and they will come!

    • Peyton

      They paid to Kelly Von Hemel horse and Pangburn at least but they did not card any races exclusively for non Lasix users. Have you heard anything on the Gulfstream proposal to card Lasix free races?

  • Craig Brogden

    Based on the current division on the issue between the two groups I have also advocated for and agree with the weight penalty for those who feel that their horse needs medication to run. It will be very interesting to see how important Lasix is to the pro-Lasix crowd when given the option of not running on Lasix or an 8-10 pound penalty to medicate their horse.

  • youcantmakeitup

    There was a time when racing in this country was Lasix free. And you had to be a true horseman. True horsemen are getting to be the exception and not the rule.Today you have racing secretaries telling some trainers the races their horses are eligible for.Or the trainer enters the horse in the wrong conditions. Maybe this country should stop running 45.000 races a year to begin with. And look at other countries that have successful horse racing ( Honk Kong) and see what makes their industry flourish as ours goes down the toilet. One only has to look at handle decline, foal crop decline, fan decline, field size decline etc. Without the slot money, this industry would be history by now and the subsidies will decline in the future. It used to be ” give the horse some time off” Now its ” give the horse some drugs”

    • Bill O’Gorman

      What makes HK racing flourish: the facts that ownership is still a matter of social standing and that there is a very small programme . You cannot just decide to have a horse, you have to jump through HKJC hoops first, and if you don’t, by and large, behave yourself once you are selected then you will get deselected. That is not to say that there won’t be various minor deviations overlooked among those with friends in high places, but overall the word of the Racing Club is Law on training and riding matters, including on which horses may be imported. It’s hard to see how that autocratic state of affairs could be reintroduced in the “free world”.

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