Posted: April 28, 2021
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission April 27 approved an administrative policy that will eliminate the use of race-day Lasix in 2-year-old races and graded stakes effective June 1 of this year.
The policy, which was published earlier in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and pertains only to Thoroughbred racing, was on the agenda for the commission’s March meeting but was tabled to the April session, during which representatives from horsemen’s groups and racetracks were given the opportunity to comment. Horsemen’s groups, including those on the Standardbred side, do not support the policy change and suggested the matter be deferred.
The PHRC, however, voted 5-0 with one abstention to approve the policy. Two commissioners who represent the Standardbred industry did not vote under commission practices.
Tom Chuckas, PHRC Thoroughbred Bureau Director, said the banning of the anti-bleeding medication on race day has become a “national movement.” The major racing states of California, Kentucky, Maryland and New York do not permit administration of Lasix, a therapeutic medication, within 24 or 48 hours of a race for 2-year-olds and graded stakes, and in some cases all stakes. Chuckas also noted that the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races are Lasix-free.
Jorge Augusto, PHRC counsel, said the state Racing Act allows the commission to adopt national standards by publishing them in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, an official publication of rules and regulations in the state.
Todd Mostoller, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the only national standard that speaks to Lasix is the federal Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act, which passed Congress late last year as part of a voluminous spending bill. However, HISA doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2022, and Mostoller noted there are two lawsuits challenging the law’s constitutionality.
“Without HISA there is no national standard,” Mostoller said. “What happens if HISA is found to be unconstitutional? There is no national standard beyond that.”
Mike Ballezzi, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the organization supports continued use of race-day Lasix for the health and welfare of the racehorse. He advocated for a delay in adoption of the policy.
“There is no need to rush to get this done,” Ballezzi said. “Let’s see what happens a year from now (with HISA).”
PHRC member Russell Jones, who voted to adopt the administrative policy on Lasix, disagreed. “The comments today regarding HISA are to be decided by the courts,” he said. “I’m voting to approve it because this is the way the major (racing) states in the country are moving.”
Russell Williams, United States Trotting Association President and Chief Executive Officer of Hanover Shoe Farms, spoke on behalf of the Pennsylvania Standardbred Breeders Association. He updated the PHRC on the latest lawsuit filed to challenge HISA—the Oklahoma Racing Commission and West Virginia Racing Commission are among the plaintiffs—and said he had heard from reliable sources that the Federal Trade Commission, the umbrella agency for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, “has put the pencils down on writing regulations for HISA because of the litigation.”
“A fair amount is up in the air for a while as these cases progress,” Williams said.
Parx Racing, which has the most graded stakes of the state’s three Thoroughbred tracks, put together its stakes schedule after the PHRC had published the no-Lasix policy with an intent to adopt. Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson said the graded stakes are already listed as being Lasix-free.
“If we want to keep our grades, we need horses to enter and run in the races,” Wilson said. “We’re really left without a choice in that.” PHRC member Sal DeBunda, President of the Parx-based PTHA, said he abstained from the vote on the Lasix administrative policy because he would have preferred to have dealt with 2-year-olds and graded stakes separately.