Maryland Racing Commission approves Lasix ‘pilot program’ as part of agreement

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: July 17, 2020

The Maryland Racing Commission July 16 approved—subject to adoption of an emergency rule—an agreement between the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and The Stronach Group/Maryland Jockey Club for a Lasix-free pilot program through 2023 that will facilitate Lasix-free races for 2-year-olds, Lasix-free graded stakes, a minimum number of racing days per week during any MJC meet and a substantial increase in committed funding for the Beyond The Wire aftercare program.

The pilot program, which resulted from weeks of discussion, is subject to approval of emergency language that will be added to the existing Lasix regulation. The new language will state that no 2-year-old can be administered Lasix within 48 hours of race; the remainder of the current regulation will not be changed.

Races for 2-year-olds have not been run in Maryland so far this year. When the emergency regulation is approved by a state Legislative Review Committee, the MJC will begin scheduling races for 2-year-olds. From 2021 through 2023, 2-year-old races and graded stakes will be carded Lasix-free.

“I am proud of Maryland’s horsemen for their willingness to help the racing industry work toward a solution to one our most vexing issues,” MTHA President Tim Keefe said. “We continue to believe that the use of Lasix is in the best interests of the health, safety and welfare of our horses. This agreement allows us to learn more about the impact of withdrawing this medication on race day and hopefully will contribute to informed future policy and regulation. We can now move forward.”

The 2-year-old Lasix restriction is not progressive by age; for instance, when a horse turns 3 years of age, it will be permitted to run on Lasix in Maryland under current regulations, except in graded stakes, through 2023. Based on 2019 statistics, roughly 90% of total races in Maryland will continue to be run under the current regulation that permits use of race-day Lasix.

The agreement includes a key research component as part of the limited pilot program for evaluation of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in 2-year-olds.

“The parties agree to discuss in good faith, in consultation with the MRC, the development, implementation and funding of a study and related protocols for post-race scoping of horses to obtain relevant data,” the agreement states. “The protocols for such study shall include, but not be limited to, establishment of study research parameters and objectives; identification and selection of the horse population for the study; development of scoring, criteria and other scientific methods; selection of persons to conduct the study; and other matters relevant to the study.”

The MRC Safety and Welfare Committee has scheduled a meeting for July 23 to discuss the latest developments. As a result of COVID-19, live racing has been held only twice a week since Laurel Park reopened at the end of May.

The agreement provides for a minimum of three live racing days per week during all MJC meets at current purse levels beginning July 23. A revised calendar calls for racing four days a week in October and November.

Importantly, the joint agreement paves the way for an enhanced commitment to racehorse aftercare in Maryland through the Beyond The Wire program, which relies heavily on an $11 per-start contribution from owners. That revenue wasn’t generated when Laurel was shut down for two-and-a-half months because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Along with the customary funding sources for Beyond The Wire, TSG/MJC will contribute to the program $1 million—$250,000 each year from 2020 through 2023. Beginning in 2024, TSG/MJC has agreed to match, dollar for dollar, the owners’ per-start contribution, which in 2019 totaled more than $156,000.

(Laurel Park photo by Tom LaMarra)