Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Friday, August 01, 2014

Horsemen Support, er, Don’t Support, Lasix Ban--What’s Happening Here?

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 1, 2014—And I thought the big news this weekend was going to be the Grade 1 Whitney, with the Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Test Stakes in support. And what a great card it will be for fans and bettors alike tomorrow at the Spa.

Instead, it was announced in a statement received by Daily Racing Form that, with the support of trainers Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, Christophe Clement, Graham Motion, Richard Mandella, Kiaran McLaughlin, Neil Drysdale and 16 others, horsemen would support the gradual phase-out of Lasix use on raceday.

The statement indicated that many of the game’s most influential horsemen, who manage the careers of horses belonging to many of the sport’s most prominent owners, would support the gradual phase out of the diuretic starting with next year’s juveniles, with a complete ban by 2016.

However, at the same time Daily Racing Form was carrying this version of the story, it was reported in the Daily News that Pletcher is, in his own words, “pro Lasix,” and that “nothing has changed for me,” he told Jerry Bossert. Mott was also quoted by the News to say “they are taking something away that is available to horses and horsemen for their benefit.”

What’s going on here? The DRF indicates one thing; the Daily News the other. Where is this statement? It wasn’t in my inbox. And was it really necessary for this story to break like bad political news does, late on a Friday afternoon?

The banning of Lasix for juveniles started with the 2012 Breeders’ Cup and lasted for two years, with a complete ban scheduled for the year after that.

But when horsemen balked, most prominently Gary West who threatened to sue Breeders’ Cup if they went through with a total ban, the Breeders’ Cup caved in to the pressure. Now it appears to be the American Graded Stakes Committee that's taking up the gauntlet.

This time, if the DRF is accurate, might be different. August is when the Jockey Club convenes its annual meeting on “matters pertaining to racing” and Chairman Ogden Mills Phipps has been vocal about his organization’s support of the ban, even while his horses continue to race on the diuretic.

But there has been other pressure applied recently that might have had a greater impact, a consortium of the most influential and prominent breeders and owners who have formed an organization known as WHOA, the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance.

On Monday, August 11 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, WHOA will host a “Conversation with Travis Tygart,” the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which was instrumental in exposing cyclist Lance Armstrong’s use of banned substances.

Up for discussion a week from Monday will be the creation of national uniform rules to protect the integrity of competition via an independent anti-doping program.

Make no mistake. WHOA members live in the real world, too, and are duly and rightfully concerned about the effects that two decades of legal raceday medication has had on the gene pool, and the public perception that Thoroughbred racing is a drug-riddled sport. In the world of gambling, perception is reality.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Thoroughbreds are more fragile than they used to be. What is known is that today’s Thoroughbreds race far less often. Raceday Lasix was not permitted in the 1970s, a decade when three Thoroughbreds withstood the rigors of the Triple Crown and a typical racing career averaged 34 starts. Today that number is less than 13.

“We believe it’s time to take a proactive position regarding the administration of race-day medication,” Lukas told Daily Racing Form. “American racing has always been a global leader and it’s time to restore confidence in our game and in our international standing.”

In addition to the business considerations above and the depressed sales prices of the American bloodstock market, there is the risk that raceday medication unnecessarily makes a dangerous game a serious threat to the health and well-being of both the human and equine athletes.

There will be pushback, of course. Apparently it already has started. Either way, this won’t be a done deal anytime soon. Let the debating begin anew; the more vigorous, the better.

In any event, the momentum may have shifted over to the side of the game’s movers and shakers who appear ready to start repairing the sport’s tattered image and perhaps even save it from itself. Much harm has been done by the inertia but nothing is irreparable.

The executive staff of HorseRaceInsider has tried to reconcile the sport’s differences and sometimes its positions have been misinterpreted. This website’s constituents are horseplayers and fans, many of whom are truly concerned with the long term health of the animals, the athletes, and the game.

Today’s action by the horsemen was on one hand a big win for racing and a needed step in the right direction. Actually, we are taking a moderating position that a complete ban by 2016 should not be a deal breaker. Start with the 2015 two year olds, as advertised.

But three year olds and older in 2015 that have been racing regularly on the medication should continue to be allowed to do so in the interests of the betting public; medication withdrawal uncertainty could have a negative impact on wagering.

That’s a real world issue that must be considered. If bettors lose confidence that current form would not/can not be be maintained by a mandate requiring that older Lasix users go cold turkey, after all this time racing could be undone by too much of a good thing.

But that’s if any of these conflicting accounts represent the truth, which probably lays somewhere in the middle. So, who said what to whom, and when did they say it? Are we dealing with misinformation or disinformation? Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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