Industry Reaction To Racetrack Coalition's Proposed Partial Phase-Out Of Lasix - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Industry Reaction To Racetrack Coalition’s Proposed Partial Phase-Out Of Lasix

Reaction was mixed to the announcement on Thursday by a coalition of U.S. racetracks to partially phase out race-day administration of the anti-bleeding diuretic furosemide (Lasix), beginning with 2-year-olds racing in 2020 and in stakes races beginning in 2021.

Those supporting the initiative include all tracks owned or operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI), the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and The Stronach Group as well as Del Mar, Keeneland, Lone Star Park and Remington Park, Los Alamitos Racecourse (Thoroughbreds), Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs. Breeders' Cup Limited, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association (TOBA) and its American Graded Stakes Committee and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association also signed on in support of the proposal.

Among the tracks not listed as supporters are Delaware Park in Delaware, Prairie Meadows in Iowa, Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Monmouth Park in New Jersey, Parx Racing and Penn National in Pennsylvania, Hawthorne in Illinois, and tracks in Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia, among others. Neither the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association nor the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association have spoken in support of the proposal.

The following statements were issued in the wake of the announcement from the coalition:

Joe Appelbaum, president, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association: Horse welfare is the paramount concern of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA). We work with these amazing creatures every day, we breed them and raise them, our hopes and dreams are wrapped up in their success.

The recent breakdown crisis at Santa Anita has rightly heightened attention to health and safety issues. In solely focusing on furosemide policy, the industry is missing an opportunity to enact comprehensive, far-reaching reforms that would directly benefit our horses by reducing the rate of equine fatalities.

Furosemide has been a hot-button topic within horse racing for well over a decade, yet no one credibly believes that its use has an effect on breakdowns. Our trainers widely believe that furosemide is an effective tool in combating Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH). While the outcome of this initiative won't be clear for many years, NYTHA represents the most talented horsemen in the world and we will work diligently to rise to the challenge of managing EIPH while maintaining the health and welfare of our horses.

The racetrack operators have stated that this is the first step in continuing cooperation on safety and welfare issues. We hope this is just the beginning of a collaborative conversation and challenge them to immediately adopt nationwide the recommendations contained in the 2012 New York Task Force Report on Race Horse Health and Safety and to provide funding and staff for an expedited implementation of the 2019 Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities.

Association of Racing Commissioners International: There are three organizations that set “international standards” concerning equine races:

  • the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI)
  • the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI)
  • the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA)

Recent press releases and political advocacy campaigns in the U.S. have made reference to the need to adopt “international standards”.   The implied standards referenced are those of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, embodied in 87 pages of an International Agreement.

No racing regulatory authority empowered to make or enforce rules anywhere in North America is allowed to vote on adoption of those standards, although individual members of the European Union may.

By contrast, the ARCI standards are the result of cooperative discussions between all aspects of the racing industry and are adopted upon the votes of the actual racing regulatory authorities who have been given the statutory ability to adopt and enforce such policies. The ARCI does not limit those regulatory authorities allowed to vote.

The standards of all three organizations are substantially similar, although the ARCI Model Rules are more exhaustive with regard to many matters.   One major difference deals with whether to permit the controlled and disclosed administration of furosemide on race day, an equine welfare program adopted decades ago designed to mitigate or prevent EIPH, exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

The ARCI has been setting international standards for 85 years.  Those standards are embodied in the ARCI Model Rules of Racing of which all but 53 of its 468 pages apply to equine races and associated wagering.

Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), co-sponsor of Horseracing Integrity Act, co-chairman Congressional Horse Caucus:  As co-chairman of the Congressional Horse Caucus and as a long-standing advocate for medication uniformity and integrity in horseracing, I applaud the coalition of Thoroughbred racing associations and organizations who today announced the phasing out of the use of Lasix within 24 hours of all stakes races.  This historic announcement aligns with legislation I introduced with my colleague, Paul Tonko (D-NY), which would establish a non-governmental anti-doping authority charged with the responsibility of implementing and enforcing a national uniform medication program with input from industry stakeholders.  The announcement also signals the industry's willingness to begin harmonizing its rules with international standards.  I look forward to working with this Coalition to continue our efforts to reinforce the public's confidence in the safety and integrity of the sport.”

Dr. Jeff Berk, president, American Association of Equine Practitioners: Horse racing in the U.S. faces significant challenges to its long-term health. The leadership of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) reviews with interest the announcement by a cohort of Thoroughbred racing organizations that they will ban the use of furosemide in 2-year-old racing in 2020 and graded stakes races in 2021.  The landscape is changing.

As Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, science and evidence-based discovery is our foundation, and as such, the AAEP's long-standing racehorse medication policy has supported the administration of furosemide on race day to mitigate the adverse effects of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH).

The AAEP also is committed to funding research into alternative EIPH management strategies which would eliminate the need to administer furosemide on race day. The proposed phase-out of the medication's use beginning at many Thoroughbred racetracks in 2020 emphasizes the urgent need for continued research into new methods for mitigating EIPH.

Regarding the daily care of horses adversely affected by EIPH, the AAEP urges a strong partnership between owners, trainers and veterinarians in order to optimally manage the syndrome and make decisions in the best interest of the health and welfare of the horse.

Jim Gagliano, president and chief operating officer, The Jockey Club: The Jockey Club has long held that horses should race only when they are free from the effects of medication.

This ban will ultimately affect only about 13% of races in the United States, but it is a good first step, and we applaud the intent of the coalition members.

But, unfortunately, this is still a piecemeal approach that will require concurrence of about 10 distinct racing commissions, with different rule adoption methods and constituencies. That is exactly why we continue to support the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would establish one unified system of medication regulation for the United States.

Eric Hamelback, chief executive officer, National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (with divisions in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma, among other states): As CEO of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (National HBPA) I — along with all HBPA members — am as concerned as any about the recent events in our industry. I firmly believe in having the highest standards of horsemanship. The HBPA is continuously working with industry stakeholders to improve the care, health and safety of our industry's equine and human athletes.

I have no doubt that everyone in horse racing has a shared goal of keeping our human and equine performers safe and healthy. However, I am disturbed and mystified by the announced initiative by the coalition of racetracks to phase out the use of the anti-bleeder medication furosemide in all 2-year-olds racing at their tracks in 2020 and all stakes races in 2021. Many of us in the industry strongly believe that it is reckless to unilaterally suggest a policy change that directly impacts horses' welfare without first consulting veterinary leadership or the horsemen's representatives.

I would hope the industry stakeholders understand the ban on the use of furosemide (commonly known as Lasix) will not prevent horses from suffering catastrophic injuries, and in fact, could cause further harm and should not be seen as a safety reform.

Many of the states affected by this possible ban on Lasix must consider the constitutional implications that will arise. As we find in Kentucky, this edict flies in the face of Attorney General Opinion (OAG 15-017) issued in late 2015 that held a regulation permitting private race tracks to determine whether to hold furosemide-free racing was unconstitutional delegation of the Horse Racing Commission's authority.

Each catastrophic injury faced at the racetrack is devastating to each and every one of us in the industry. But we also know there are many varied and nuanced conditions and circumstances which cause these tragedies. But the research is clear: Lasix is not a factor. Horses will continue to have injuries without race-day administration of Lasix. However, what also will happen is more horses will experience exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging (EIPH), which is systemic not only in thoroughbreds but equines in general. Lasix has been proven to be effective and preventing or reducing the severity of EIPH for well over 30 years.

In all racing jurisdictions, pain-killers, stimulants and performance-enhancing medications and drugs are prohibited for racing and therapeutic anti-bleeder medication is the only treatment that can be given to a horse on race day. Horse racing has one of the most stringent post-race drug-testing programs among any profession. Lasix programs are highly effective, highly regulated and transparent. It also should be pointed out that running a horse on Lasix is and always has been voluntary; nothing is forcing an owner or trainer to run their horses on the medication.

Lasix is the only scientifically proven and approved treatment for a horse with EIPH, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) as well as the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians (NAARV). Current industry policy endorses the use of this medication on race day because it is in the best interests of the health and welfare of the horse.

The National HBPA, which represents about 30,000 owners and trainers, is and remains committed to being part of the solution. We are committed to reforms emphasizing transparency that will help address misunderstanding and lack of trust by some of the non-racing public. We are prepared to make some concessions in areas in which we disagree. But our first order of business is to make sure the horses themselves are treated with the highest degree of care.

Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP): KEEP shares the concerns of everyone in the Thoroughbred industry over the recent unprecedented loss of horses in our sport. KEEP is committed to supporting initiatives to strengthen and improve the positive health and welfare of the Thoroughbred athlete as well as Jockeys. KEEP strongly supports the coalition of racetracks banning the use of Lasix in two year old races beginning in 2020 and all stakes races beginning in 2021. KEEP encourages all industry stakeholders: trainers, veterinarians, owners, and other racetracks, as well as all industry participants, to support this national compact. KEEP also calls on the industry to enact national guidelines for medication testing and laboratory standards, to perform extensive and strict pre-race evaluations of all participants to ensure their wellbeing, to require mandatory reporting of breakdowns and injuries and to apply all technology and proven materials to provide the safest facilities and racing surfaces available in the world today. These policy changes, combined with increased accountability, transparency and collaboration across the industry, will ensure a safer, trusted and more successful sport.

Note: While these views reflect the consensus of KEEP, they do not necessarily represent the specific views of individual KEEP members.

Monmouth Park, Oceanport, N.J.: In the wake of today's announcement by a new racing group committed to phasing out the use of Lasix, Monmouth Park will continue to adhere to the position of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) regarding the administration of race day furosemide (Lasix) as the most effective treatment and preventative approach to controlling exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in racehorses.

Until further scientific evidence proves otherwise, we believe the policy set forth by the AAEP regarding the race-day use of furosemide is in the best interest and welfare of the horses and their riders,” said Dennis Drazin, Chairman and CEO of Darby Development, LLC, operators of the racetrack. “We will continue to support that policy beginning with our opening day of racing for the season on May 4.”

AAEP was founded in 1954 to “improve the health and welfare of the horse” and has taken a stance that “supports the use of furosemide as a day-of-the-race medication to control exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH),” according to the organization's policy on the issue.

The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California; Gulfstream Park in Florida; Pimlico and Laurel Park in Maryland: The Stronach Group applauds our national industry partners on their new commitment to phase out the use of the medication Furosemide (Lasix) beginning in 2020 and eliminate its use in stakes races held at their racetracks beginning in 2021.

Last month, The Stronach Group, together with our industry partners in California, took the bold and necessary steps to begin to modernize and reform our sport for the betterment of horse and rider welfare. This industry-led initiative, successfully gained approval on groundbreaking Lasix reforms from California's regulatory body for horse racing, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). At the April 18 CHRB meeting, the medication reforms were approved state-wide at all California racetracks.

While steeped in both history and tradition, the sport needs to be modernized in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of horses and athletes first and foremost. This watershed step demonstrates a national alignment and action to elevate the standards within horse racing in the United States.

“This work has not been easy, as we have learned firsthand in California, but it is impactful and imperative to crystallize the future of this sport in this country. At Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, we are on track to be aligned with medication standards consistent with, or more restrictive than, those of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, which are the world's benchmark for horse safety and welfare. While we have paved the way in working with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the CHRB to make changes here in the state, national collaboration is necessary in order to truly evolve the sport,” said Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group. “The desire to achieve uniform policies is the beginning of a movement that will redefine the expectations and views on safety within our sport. I applaud all our partners and look forward to continued swift and strong collaboration.”

The Stronach Group—owners of both Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields—is forging ahead with industry partners in California with previously announced progressive reforms ranging from medication overhaul to training protocols. The horses that race at these two racetracks now do so under the strongest medication regulations in the United States. The Stronach Group will also commit, in collaboration with industry partners, to have medication-free stakes races in 2021 at the company's other tracks Gulfstream Park in Florida, Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park in Maryland and would include the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series and the Preakness Stakes.

While there is still much work to be done, this is a historic moment for the Thoroughbred racing industry. The Stronach Group will continue to lead by example by partnering with critical stakeholders for the ongoing modernization of the sport.

Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (with divisions representing horsemen in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania):

Since 2011, following the International Summit on Race Day Medication at Belmont Park, it has been the Mid-Atlantic region's collective position, including ours, that in the absence of a more effective treatment for EIPH, the current strictly regulated system for the administration of furosemide on race day should be maintained, because it is in the best interests of the health and welfare of the horse- our number one priority in racing. Nothing has changed scientifically since that time, except that the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine has strongly recommended that EIPH be considered a disease in horses. Both the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association support the use of furosemide as a race day medication to control EIPH, in the absence of a more effective alternative.

At its recent annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic regulators, horsemen's organizations, breeders' organizations, racetrack operators, veterinarians and other stakeholder organizations held at Delaware Park on March 21, 2019, the Mid-Atlantic discussed the pending proposals for a total or limited ban on the use of the furosemide (Lasix) on race day. The Mid-Atlantic determined to reaffirm its policy, and further determined that any change in the policy should be a regional decision and not a state vs. state, track vs. track policy.

Together with our colleagues in the Mid Atlantic, we have taken the lead in the racing industry on health, safety and welfare reforms, including the recent adoption of the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities. We have been leaders in medication reform. We are committed to doing what is best to protect the health, safety and welfare of the horse, the integrity of our sport, the fairness of competition, and the best interest of the bettors and the fans. We will continue to work collectively to enact impactful reforms. We believe that the industry's total focus and priority right now should be determining the causes of racehorse breakdowns and fatalities, and implementing protocols to reduce or eliminate them. Banning furosemide will have no effect on the breakdown rate. We are certainly open, as we have always been, to having frank discussions with those organizations who are recommending a change to our industry's medication policies. Any position that we subsequently take will depend on what we believe to be in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of the horse.


Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Become An Insider

Support our journalism and access bonus content on our Patreon stream

Learn More