Kentucky Horsemen’s Group Sues Churchill, Keeneland, Commission Over Lasix House Rules

by | 05.21.2020 | 12:10pm

This week would begin the first 2-year-old races of 2020 in Kentucky, and is meant to mark the start of a partial phaseout of furosemide on race day.

The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is hoping to put a stop to that phaseout.

The horsemen's group filed a civil suit in Franklin County Circuit Court May 15 seeking to remove racetracks' legal ability to card Lasix-free races, as well as requests for an emergency and a permanent restraining order and a temporary injunction to stop Churchill Downs and Keeneland from running 2-year-old races without Lasix under house rules. The suit names the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Keeneland Association, and Churchill Downs Inc. as respondents.

Judge Thomas Wingate will hear the KHBPA's motion for temporary injunction on May 27 via teleconference. In the meantime, races will proceed as the condition book outlines.

Spokespeople for Churchill Downs and Keeneland declined to comment, citing track policy against speaking about ongoing litigation.

“There is no higher priority for the Racing Commission than preserving and improving racing integrity,” read a short statement from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “The Racing Commission utilizes all available data to design regulations to further these purposes. Accordingly, the Racing Commission will defend its regulation in this litigation.”

The Churchill Downs condition book outlines 2-year-old races on its third and fourth days of racing (May 21 and 22), with one 2-year-old race on each card. Both race conditions state participants will run under international medication protocol, and will not be eligible to get furosemide less than 24 hours prior to post time.

Thursday's 2-year-old race drew 12 entries and one also-eligible, but had four horses scratched as of late morning, per Equibase. Friday's 2-year-old race also had 12 entries and one also-eligible as of Thursday morning. The track's first two race dates, held last week, did not include any 2-year-old races.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) approved a partial furosemide phaseout plan in late 2019, but the approved rule has not completed the process to become part of Kentucky's state code. Instead, the rules for this week's races requiring no furosemide for 24 hours ahead of post time are a condition of the race set by Churchill.

In 2015, racetracks in Kentucky were granted the ability to card no-furosemide races via house rule. But the KHBPA points out that in late 2015, then-Attorney General Jack Conway wrote an opinion stating that the KHRC was not permitted to delegate the authority to hold furosemide-free races to private tracks. Conway's father, Tom Conway, is a member of the Kentucky HBPA board and a former member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Since then, the KHBPA's complaint states, tracks have not tried carding furosemide-free races. The group states it “will suffer irreparable injury if the private ban goes into effect” since Kentucky's race schedule is structured so that only one track runs at a time and trainers have no other in-state alternative to run their 2-year-olds with furosemide.

The language approved by the KHRC late last year would push furosemide administration back to 24 hours pre-race for 2-year-olds beginning in 2020, and for runners in all stakes races in 2021. Churchill Downs director of racing Mike Ziegler originally requested the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, a committee of the KHRC, to craft the language for the phaseout. Initially, the EDRC members voted against the measure, but later approved it, sending it on to the KHRC for approval.

The KHRC accepted public comment on the rule through April 30, and is required to forward those comments along with the approved language to Kentucky's Legislative Research Commission. If the Legislative Research Commission signs off on the language, it must be voted on by the state legislature and signed by the governor before it becomes part of the state's racing regulations.

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