New York-based rainers support eliminating race-day Lasix
By Karen M. Johnson for NYRA Press — The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) will prohibit the use of Furosemide (Lasix) within 48 hours of racing for all 2-year-olds with the start of juvenile racing in April at Aqueduct Racetrack, ushering in a new era in medication reform.
Last April, NYRA joined a coalition of leading racing organizations committed to phasing out the use of Lasix. The initiative will begin this year, with NYRA prohibiting Lasix in all 2-year-old races at all three NYRA tracks across Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. Beginning in 2021, the same prohibition will extend to all horses participating in stakes races at NYRA tracks.
Coalition racetracks that have signed on to this initiative include all tracks owned or operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated and The Stronach Group as well as Del Mar, Keeneland, Lone Star Park and Remington Park, Los Alamitos Racecourse (Thoroughbred), Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs. The coalition tracks represent 86% of the stakes races assigned graded or listed status in the United States in 2018.
Following the launch of this program in 2-year-old maiden special weight races in April at Aqueduct, the first juvenile stakes race contested under these new conditions are slated to come at Belmont with the $150,000 Astoria for filly sprinters on June 4 on Opening Day of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. The first juvenile stakes event at Saratoga will be the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for filly sprinters on Opening Day, July 16.
The New York State Gaming Commission’s current rule that prohibits the use of Lasix, which is used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in racehorses, 48 hours before the scheduled post time of the race in which the horse is to compete – unless a waiver is obtained for the horse to race with the medication – will remain in effect. No waivers will be granted for 2-year-olds this year and, starting in 2021, will also apply to all horses entered in stakes.
NYRA-based trainer Christophe Clement, who for a second consecutive year is among the nominees to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, said he embraces the prohibition of Lasix in 2-year-old racing, as well as its expansion in 2021 to include all stakes races.
Clement, who said he does not usually administer Lasix to his 2-year-olds, started his training career in New York in 1991, four years before Lasix became a permissible race-day medication in the Empire State.
On the NYRA circuit in 2019, Clement won 13 races with 2-year-olds, and all but one of those winners raced without Lasix. Those 12 wins without Lasix included stakes victories with Speaktomeofsummer (Chelsey Flower) and City Man (Funny Cide). Previous to the Clement-trained Decorated Invader winning the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine without Lasix, the 2-year-old colt posted a maiden-special-weight victory at Saratoga Race Course without the medication.
“I think this is the right thing to do in 2-year-old races and next year in black-type races,” Clement said. “My percentage of winners with 2-year-olds has been as good as ever. I think you have an edge of running without Lasix because I think the horses will take their races better, especially when you’re running short [distances] and early in the year, because they will lose less weight and it’s easier on them, physically and mentally.
“Instead of losing 20 to 25 to 30 pounds with a race while using Lasix, the horses will lose five to 10 pounds without Lasix,” he added. “I am convinced that horses will bounce out of their races in a much faster and quicker way without Lasix. This is something I know because I do weigh my horses the day before their races and the day after their races.”
Clement, who is closing in on 2,000 career wins and has conditioned 18 graded winners who have become millionaires during their racing careers, is equally pleased that stakes races will be run Lasix-free beginning next year. He said the new practice will result in positive ramifications for both the level of competition in stakes and the breed as a whole.
“People are using black-type races in order to improve the breed and to make important long-term decisions, and I think it makes plenty of sense to be like the rest of the world without Lasix in black-type races,” Clement said. “When you open a [sales] catalogue, no one knows if that horse has raced on Lasix or not, if it’s not printed there. I think it’s good to join the rest of the world in knowing the black-type races are medication-free. The black-type will be back to its full meaning, about the best horses competing with no medication.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher, a winner of more than 30 individual meet titles on the NYRA circuit and a seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner, generally races his 2-year-olds on Lasix, and uses it as needed when he breezes horses. He said the gradual phasing-out of Lasix in 2-year-olds is a constructive and practical way to achieve what he said would be the end of race-day medication in the United States.
“I do believe that we’ve seen horses of all ages bleed, so it’s not an age issue, it’s an industry-wide issue,” Pletcher said. “But at the same time, there is movement towards [doing away] with race-day medication and this is the first step towards what I think we will eventually see as no race-day medication of any kind, anywhere.
“You can draw some positives that this is easing its way into what is going to be in the future, as opposed to going cold turkey,” he added. “It’s going to give people some time to sort through it. We will just take it on a horse-by-horse basis and deal with it accordingly.”
Pletcher noted that he routinely scopes his horses to detect bleeding after both workouts and races. “It’s not [uncommon] for some horses to have some blood in their trachea when you scope them and [yet] they had performed very well.”
Trainer Graham Motion is a major player in NYRA stakes races, registering wins in prestigious races such as the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan and Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. He said the removal of race day Lasix is an important initiative for multiple reasons, not the least of which is public perception.
“I’ve had a few clients over the last few years that have asked me not to run the 2-year-olds on Lasix, and I do think that’s a good thing,” Motion said. “I think if our 2-year-olds need to run on Lasix at that stage of [their careers], I don’t think you should be running them, quite frankly. I am not anti-Lasix, per se, but I do think this is a good place to start. Any continuity and any policy towards having less medication in our sport is a positive thing.
“It’s something we tried before in 2-year-old races [at the Breeders’ Cup in 2012-13] and now we’re revisiting it again,” he added. “When they tried this at the Breeders’ Cup, everybody complained, and we stopped. I think at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we stick with it because there is a public perception with horse racing that if we’re running on medication it’s not a good thing. It’s hard to justify that [perception] is not right. It’s hard to stand up for our sport if we’re running on medication.”
Longtime New York horseman David Donk, who assisted the legendary Hall of Famer Woody Stephens for several years before launching his own stable at NYRA, is familiar with not using Lasix for racing, because it wasn’t allowed when he began training.
“You didn’t have it, so you didn’t use it. It didn’t mean you didn’t still breeze a horse on Lasix, but you didn’t race on Lasix,” Donk said. “Obviously, we need to make some changes in our industry for public perception as well as for the health and welfare of the horses. It’s not going to be that difficult not to race with Lasix.”
Accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, NYRA is a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, a group of the nation’s leading racing organizations working collaboratively to advance safety reforms across the sport.