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Monday, August 15, 2011

Cooler Heads Must Prevail in Battle Over Raceday Salix

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 15, 2011--The advance agenda indicated that issues other than Salix would be at the forefront of the annual Jockey Club Round Table conference here Sunday.

But Sasix and its ban from the Breeders’ Cup World Championships beginning with the two-year-olds of 2012 is all anyone in the industry is talking about, and battle lines are being joined on both sides.

It's an extremely complex issue, of course, and reasonable people are agreeing to disagree about the use of Salix as a raceday medication. Actually, that last observation is not completely true.

Factions on both sides, in public and in private, are disagreeing disagreeably. The pro-Lasix faction is using terms like going to the mattresses and Jihad over the raceday medication issue.

The Jockey Club is threatening to invoke Rule 19, the section in the rule pertaining to “substantive medication offenses,” and will deny those individuals privileges of The American Stud Book.

There is precedent of a sort, the Jockey Club already having invoked the rule when it was learned certain individuals had mistreated the animals in their care.

The Jockey Club is speaking to the reality of breed improvement and the perception that beneficial use of raceday Salix does not outweigh the need to race horses medication-free.

This drama will be played out before, during, and after the Salix ban is instituted beginning with next year’s juveniles. This difference in philosophy could bring an entire industry to its knees.

Clearly, something must be done beyond educating a largely disinterested audience that only sees what it sees; a capital L on an official track program. Unfortunately, the party that does care resides in the Halls of Congress.

What that means is racing must heal itself or the government will heal it for them. There’s no need for a boycott once you’ve effectively been put out of business. That’s the issue the pro-Salix people ought to consider.

At the recent annual confab, the Jockey Club restated its position on a phased-in ban of the anti-bleeding medication and made it understood that it wants “medication-free” horse racing.

The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee, concerned with how drugs are classified, what standards testing labs are using, and the creation and implementation of uniform penalties, want changes made sooner than later.

No one, on or off the record, is holding his breath, even if the most recent recommendations are following up on those that were discussed last year.

Jockey Club vice chairman Stuart Janney III, the Thoroughbred Safety Committee chairman, said that he respected the opinion of pro-Lasix horsemen but recommends taking “measured steps on the road to medication-free racing.”

According to a release, the Jockey Club acknowledges the Breeders’ Cup ban of Salix in its juvenile races and a similar action by the American Graded Stakes Committee in designated juvenile stakes throughout 2012.

Ultimately, the Jockey Club wants to see a crop-by-crop timetable for ridding the sport of raceday Salix, noting that it will be up to regulators in each jurisdiction to implement the ban. Isn't that what got the sport in trouble in the first place?

Ironically, New York was the last major jurisdiction to approve raceday Lasix but now its horsemen will be at the forefront in fighting the ban, sources say.

Horsemen are citing concerns for the welfare of the animal and field size, even if their positon on small fields is counterintuitive for their preference of finding the softest spot possible. And,, as it turns out, small fields are better for thewellbeing of the horse.

Horsemen are supporting a ban on adjunct bleeder medications being sought by the Racing Medication Testing Consortium, but not Salix.

Another recommendation they will support is the Jockey Club’s desire to have drugs classified as either controlled therapeutic medications or an illegal substance, penalties to be meted out accordingly.

The Jockey Club wants testing laboratories to be authorized by the RMTC, provisions made for comprehensive raceday security, greater cooperation among disparate jurisdictions and stricter penalties for repeat offenders. It's amazing that the sport has gone this far without those common sense solutions.

The final recommendations are to meant to insure that the models which haven’t worked in the past are revised or eliminated.

Rules governing the actions of Racing Commissioners International need revision and fee schedules for veterinarians that incentivize the dispensation of drugs over diagnostics and prophylactic remedies also needs an overhaul.

But at least there finally seems to be constructive remedies being discussed such as how vets make their money. Veterinarians are supposed to perform the work of doctors who detect problems then help horsemen deal with them.

At the core of the problem is doing the right thing by the future of the breed vs. the economic pragmatism of keeping horses running in the least expensive manner possible.

It’s easy to understand the strong emotions on each side. What’s not so easy is coming up with a solution that works. Janney spoke of “significant challenges.” Dinny Phipps talked about a “deep level of concern about the state of Thoroughbred racing.

“We no doubt are facing some of the most critical issues in our industry.”

Written by John Pricci

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