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 HorseRaceInsider.com.
 

Monday, August 04, 2014


If Adopted, Lasix Phase-Out MUST Be Gradual


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 4, 2014--The excuse most often given for having virtually every American racehorse compete on raceday-Lasix is maintaining a level playing field.

If the competition somehow is taking an edge, the reasoning goes: “I’d be a fool not to. I owe it to my owner--giving his horse its best chance to win. Besides, it’s legal.”

I have supported the idea of running medication free on raceday for several years and I live in the real world, too, and I recognize a good argument when I hear or read one.

The problem is there are good arguments and well intentioned people on both sides of the issue. All who are tethered to the thoroughbred understand their responsibility to do the right thing by the animal.

Just how to go about it is one of the most polarizing issues the industry has. With last week’s announcement, the tide seems to be shifting in favor of a gradual phase out of raceday Lasix.

At this point, everyone knows what the agenda is on all sides.

But the key word in the release sent out late Friday afternoon is “gradual.” Horseplayers’ wagering concerns must be part of this equation.

If the interests of horseplayers are not addressed, this operation could be a success but the patient--the industry--will die.

HRI totally supports phasing out raceday Lasix beginning with the 2015 two-year-olds. But the provision that there would be a ban for all ages the following year is ill advised and will bring the industry to its knees.

A ban for juvenile racing to start this process makes sense. There is nothing more exasperating than seeing an entire field of two-year-olds debuting on raceday medication.

And without listing the reasons ad nauseum, perception in a gambling game, especially one where the welfare of animals is involved, matter, particularly in the modern climate of correctness.

Besides, how humane can it be to yank horses off raceday Lasix when they have been running on it their entire careers? It would be akin to reading a set of past performances upside down.

We’ve all witnessed the example of handle decline in the years Lasix was banned for two-year-olds at the Breeders’ Cup.

Horseplayers are not risk-averse, but many stayed on the sidelines at Santa Anita. To think that most horseplayers would bet their money at their usual level of play is insane.

A ban that starts with two-year-olds and extends to the following year’s three-year-olds, and again to four-year-olds in the year after is an orderly transition that provides continuity and context.

It’s not just horsemen who will be required to deal with a new normal.

Trainers who grew up in this business who include raceday Lasix as a part of their programs will need to re-learn their trade.

Even veteran horsemen who remember what the pre-Lasix era was like to race without the diuretic might have to re-tool their ways when it comes to training and racing today’s thoroughbred. It’s no longer the 70s.

A total ban in 2016 will cause legions of horseplayers, already a shrinking population and one that is betting less year over year, are being replaced at a glacial pace if they are replaced at all.

It’s not a question of if or when the industry will lose more horseplayers, especially whales, should the entire racing population be mandated to go cold turkey. It’s a question of how many and how soon. Generating handle thrives only when form is demonstrable.

Horseplayers, united as never before, will react swiftly and the dollars that are needed to fuel purses will be taken out of circulation, forcing many smaller tracks out of business, especially non-racinos.

Another consideration vis a vis the thinking man’s betting dollar is what happens if the state of New Jersey beats the feds in court on the sports gambling issue? There’s no casino crossover but many horseplayers bet on sports.

Without an alternative that makes sense, gamblers will choose one and abandon the other, giving new meaning to the old Bud Abbott line: “They’re Off, You Lose.”

I’ve been defending the sport’s image in many different ways since I first became a turf writer/public handicapper for a major newspaper in 1977.

At the time, I never even considered the possibility that the horse racing and newspaper business could ever vanish from the face of the earth, but just look around. Both industries are in serious decline.

If enacted, a phase out of raceday Lasix should be gradual while horsemen and horseplayers alike learn to deal. The learning curve, while demanding, is do-able when one considers the unthinkable alternative.

The horse industry can’t do anything about the loss of mainstream racing coverage, but it can take gradual, positive steps to clean up its badly soiled image.

And if the game should lose many of its VIPs--serious horseplayers and dedicated low-to-medium rollers--the American horse industry will be, as Trotsky said, “where [it] belongs, in the dustbin of history.”

Written by John Pricci

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