Wednesday, April 10, 2013
In the Great Lasix Debate, the HBPA Proves Too Big To Fail
April 9, 2013, South Ozone Park--When it comes to the policy reversal governing the conduct of its 2013 event with respect to the use of raceday Lasix, one can hardly blame the Breeders’ Cup for being pragmatic and reversing field.
After all, hasn’t everyone?
First, the Association of Racing Commissioners cut bait a few years ago on the raceday ban although, to its credit, it did ramp up efforts to establish a uniform set of rules—so long as raceday prohibition of Lasix was not part of the mission.
About the same time, the Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders of America was on board with the view that graded status would be removed from juvenile stakes not run medication free.
It sounded like a good idea at the time but later was jettisoned.
Of course, the GSC determines which races are the country’s most important, giving those events Grade 1 status. Win those races and your stud horse or broodmare is a lot more valuable, virtually overnight.
Last year the Committee was prepared to deny graded standing to any stakes in which raceday Lasix was permitted. A few months later it contracted a case of the never-minds.
The Jockey Club, the organization that verifies all the sport’s equine athletes to be Thoroughbreds, also capitulated, a reversal that was a decisive blow to raceday Lasix abolitionists.
The Jockey Club’s new guidelines define how and when legal therapeutics can be administered; a key element in the uniformity process. The tradeoff was taking the raceday Lasix ban off the current table. The organization remains on record as still supporting the raceday Lasix embargo, but their actions spoke at a much higher volume.
While in no way is any of this comparable, but doesn’t it seem analogous to Congress saying that it recognizes the will of the people [read bettors] but ultimately would filibuster the issue rather than vote a sensible measure into law.
At a Breeders’ Cup board meeting this winter at Gulfstream Park, the raceday Lasix ban began to unravel. The first news to emerge from that summit was that there was no news, until finally it was decided only the juvenile ban would stand and that the Juvenile Sprint was history.
Given the abdication of previously stated goals of the ARCI, TOBA’s Graded Stakes Committee and the Jockey Club, coupled with a threat to boycott the Lasix-free entry box, the Breeders’ Cup cave-in was inevitable.
And if any of the above wasn’t enough, prominent owners threatened to file suit challenging Breeders’ Cup’s authority to change California’s medication policies, while a few high profile trainers lobbied for raceday Lasix with friendly media willing to provide an unchallenged setting.
At that point, the pressure on Breeders’ Cup had reached a boiling point.
The predictable pushback from horsemen and unsuccessful abolitionist lobbying were not the only reasons Breeders’ Cup wilted under the burden of all this weight.
Ultimately, It came down to what it always comes down to in this or any industry; Benjamins. There’s just no time, money or willingness to take the long view of what’s best for the sport, not when the game’s 2% wield all the power and influence.
And it’s a difficult sell given the reality that field size would shrink and handle suffer.
Last year field size and handle for five juvenile races was down by over 20%. Breeders’ Cup economists projected that a total Lasix would cost the company a minimum of $5 million.
That kind of loss for a company whose nominations’ revenue was down significantly, coupled with falling handle, would not be sustainable.
Maybe the Lasix issue is one reason why there’s been a delay in recent years to name future sites in advance. What if Lasix exploded in the same manner anabolic steroids did in the wake of Big Brown’s Belmont?
Resultantly, would states enact their own Lasix bans because of negative publicity and public relations?
Kentucky tried to make progress in this area but was undercut by the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn. From that point forward, dominoes began to fall.
There has been pressure from outliers as well. Great Britain is getting into fall action more meaningfully with a new meet in October. Will that siphon runners away from Breeders’ Cup?
And what will prove to be the significance of the strategic partnership between China and Dubai? Recall that Darley representative Oliver Tait resigned from the Breeders’ Cup board due to the Lasix policy change.
Of course, Darley is the nursery of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum who recently lauded the new agreement saying that China will be a great addition to the international racing scene and a major player.
That was around the same time he stated that the UAE conducts the world’s best racing.
Provincial pride notwithstanding, international racing seems to be trending away from America and its “world championships,” mostly because it believes that world class international sport and raceday Lasix are mutually exclusive.