The crisis at Santa Anita has provided an opening for major tracks--NYRA's, Churchill Downs and Keeneland--to work toward the ban on race-day Lasix they have been yearning for. But there are significant problems with their proposal. Just as at Santa Anita, only 2-year-old races would be effected in 2020 and then stakes in 2021. So the vast majority of races would be business as usual until three years from now. This throws the sincerity of the ruling bodies' intentions into doubt.


If racing is looking for a czar, it might check out Rahm Emanuel, who fortuitously is recently out of work. The former mayor of Chicago is famous for the phrase, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

This is exactly the strategy being employed by some major racing circuits in the aftermath of the deaths of 23 horses at Santa Anita. Not even anti-racing crusaders have attempted to link the deaths directly to Lasix. Nevertheless, NYRA, Churchill Downs and Keeneland are leading the way in using the crisis to achieve a long held goal, the elimination of race day medications, primarily Lasix. They were joined Thursday by a coalition of tracks representing 86% of North America.

The proposal includes a ban on Lasix in 2-year-old races in 2020 followed by the same conditions for stakes races the following year. This is in the wake of The Stronach Group promising to enforce such a rule on 2-year-olds at its California tracks next year. TSG on Thursday expanded this to all its tracks, which include Laurel/Pimlico and Gulfstream.

Ridding racing of Lasix would be great if they can make it happen. However, there are holes in this game plan.

In the proposal's original form, the 2021 stakes would have included the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes but not the Preakness. When TSG announced it would enforce the new rules company wide this potential issue became moot.

Logic dictated TSG would fall in line with the Preakness but logic also would seem to dictate that when Belinda Stronach announced an immediate ban on Lasix (later pushed back at least a year), she also would have put the same policies into effect in Maryland and at Gulfstream. It shouldn't have taken this long.

The expansion was crucial. How can racing ever hope to have uniform rules on anything when TSG doesn’t have uniform rules at its own tracks?

Also, why just 2-year-old and stakes races? Given how many feel about Lasix, there is a subtle message that cheating will be tolerated in everyday races but not in major events.

The counter is it is stakes that service the breeding farms and the goal is to discontinue breeding bleeders or horses with other infirmities, which render them unable to compete without pharmaceutical assistance.

On the other hand, stakes horses come from the MSW, allowance and even claiming races, in which Lasix will be allowed.

Fans, who already have more than enough considerations in handicapping, will be challenged to determine the impact of horses running hot and cold on Lasix. When they go into a stakes, they can’t use it. If they drop back to mundane races, they can.

Then there’s the elephant that’s been stomping around racing’s room for more than 40 years. The Interstate Wire Act gives horsemen’s groups the right to bar simulcasting into or out of a track. The Form reports the militant Kentucky branch of the HBPA is already threatening to go to court if tracks attempt to implement these rules.

No matter what happens in the legal system, the Kentucky HBPA has the authority to inform Churchill Downs that it will not allow the Kentucky Derby to be simulcast.

Forget everything else. This is the deal killer.

California matters

Bob Baffert has a way of putting things into perspective. After Santa Anita-based Omaha Beach held off Baffert’s Improbable in the Arkansas Derby, Baffert, referring to those two and his Game Winner and Roadster, said, “Here’s what I’m proud about. At Santa Anita, we’ve gotten all this bad publicity and these horses have been training on this surface and look at them. They’re going into the Derby as the top four favorites. So I don’t want to hear any more about how bad it is in California.“

He was only slightly over-stating the situation. Omaha Beach and Roadster will be the top two betting choices and Game Winner could be the third choice. It will be either him or Tacitus. Improbable will almost surely be among the top half-dozen on the board.

For all its race track problems, isolated location and off-the-wall ruling authorities, California could produce its fifth Derby winner in six years, following Justify (2018), Nyquist (2016), American Pharoah (2015) and California Chrome (2014). It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a third Triple Crown winner in five years could come out of the Golden West.

The best thing that could happen to Santa Anita would be if NYRA, Churchill Downs and Keeneland could find a way to make the new rules they are discussing stick. Otherwise, it will become difficult for the Great Race Place to attract the young horses, who grow up into Derby contenders, next year. However misguided they might be, owners would be reluctant to bring highly regarded young horses to a circuit on which they can’t run on Lasix.

As long as the prevailing attitude is that Lasix is essential, it might be difficult to attract and hold thoroughbreds of any age. The prospect of three-day race weeks becoming the norm are another incentive for California horsemen to relocate.

A larger than usual contingent of SoCal horses shipped to Keeneland this spring and some trainers are saying with all the chaos out west, they might just make Kentucky their racing home. It would be unfortunate, but not out of character, if other tracks turn aggressive in attempting to attract owners and trainers at the expense of California racing, which is already teetering on the brink.

Racing needs SoCal in the same way the NFL needs Green Bay and baseball needs Yankee Stadium. The sport just would not be the same without them.