MIAMI, June 18, 2014--Belmont Stakes Day was one of American racingâ€™s finest hours. It also was one of its most distressing in spite of memorable performances by Tonalist, Palace Malice, Close Hatches and Bayern, among others,
The card was hailed as the greatest assemblage of equine talent ever on a non-Breedersâ€™ Cup program. More than a hundred of Americaâ€™s most talented horses entered 10 stakes, six of them Grade 1. The bummer was every one of them raced on Lasix.
It almost defies the laws of probability that not one of the nominally best thoroughbreds in America went to the post without the controversial pharmaceutical. The same day, Ascot also conducted its biggest afternoon of racing. Not a single Euro raced with Lasix.
Why did every American thoroughbred race with Lasix while not a single Euro did? Because they could in the U.S. and couldn't in Europe.
The bloodlines of Europeâ€™s finest intersect repeatedly with those on our side of the Atlantic. Many of Europeâ€™s champions were bred on U.S. farms. So there is no plausible explanation for why all our championship caliber horsesâ€”just about all our horses, for that matter--are purportedly bleeders yet none of theirs are.
There are, of course, Euros who bleed. Some are treated the old fashioned way, with rest and TLC. The others wind up being shipped overseas to race in the drug permissive U.S.
Even though you would never know it from the Belmont Stakes card, or that at any other track in America, there are American horses who do not really require Lasix. If there arenâ€™t, we ought to shut the whole thing down. Unfortunately, the way things are now, weâ€™ll never know how many fall into this category.
There might be a way to start to find out. What the trans-Atlantic contrast underlines is that Lasix is being used in America for reasons beyond its stated purpose of controlling exercise-induced bleeding. I have been told by countless trainers that they uniformly administer Lasix out of fear that if they donâ€™t, their competition will have an edge. Some owners demand it for this reason.
The Breedersâ€™ Cup tried to introduce some sanity to the situation. It decreed that in 2012 Lasix would not be permitted in its juvenile stakes; the following year the ban would be extended to all the championship races. The hope was that thoroughbreds at the highest levels, the ones who wind up going to the breeding sheds, could be weaned off Lasix.
Attempting to go it alone was misguided. It made no sense to force horses, who run all their other races under one set of rules, to adapt to different conditions for one race a year. Also, the engine that drives racing is gambling. This introduced an element of uncertainty for bettors, which has a negative impact on wagering.
The experiment never was given a chance. Entries for the 2-year-old races the first year plunged, so much so that the Juvenile Sprint, a rich prize you would think would have attracted scores of candidates, was abandoned.
Facing the universal ban the following year, horsemen rebelled, some threatening to boycott the entry box. They also indicated that if the ban wasnâ€™t lifted for future renewals, they would withdraw their permission to simulcast. No simulcasting, no Breedersâ€™ Cup.
There might be another way. In place of the vinegar approach, how about trying some honey? Tracks should experiment with carding races open only to horses willing to run Lasix-free. This would liberate horsemen, who administer the drug solely out of fear that their competitors might have an advantage.
Lasix is not cheap. Trainers and owners struggling to make ends meet might welcome a way to reduce expenses.
A reason often offered for the short fields, which have become the bane of the sport, is the dehydrating effect of Lasix. Horses, who run on itâ€”essentially every horse--are said to be unable to come back as quickly. This, of course, is the opposite of what was claimed when Lasix legalization was being debated.
As few as one or two additional starts annually per horse could contribute to a stronger profits-and-loss scenario for a barn. Lower foal crops can be directly attributed to reduced demand as owners get out of the game because of its cost. Anything that mitigates this would be a step in the right direction.
Since there would be a limited number of Lasix-free races, at least at the start, horsemen who objected to money from the purse fund going into these restricted races would face the scorn of public opinion. Besides, the multitude of races would still be run under current race day medication rules. If it became initially difficult to fill such races, another way to achieve the desired end would be to enhance the purse for those running Lasix-free, in the same way state-bred horses are rewarded for running in open races.
If horsemen persisted in their objections, perhaps someone like the Jockey Club could find a way to finance the purse enhancements for Lasix-free entrants. Hay-oats-and-water proponents have spent a fortune in vain trying to change hearts and minds. A program such as this could produce tangible evidence that Lasix is not essential to competing successfully.
Itâ€™s worth a try, isnâ€™t it?