Racetrack coalition announces plan to phase out race-day Lasix

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: April 18, 2019

A coalition of Thoroughbred racing associations and organizations April 18 released information on an initiative to phase out use of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix beginning with 2-year-olds in 2020 and all black-type races in 2021.

The release said the coalition of tracks—led by Churchill Downs Inc., the New York Racing Association and The Stronach Group—said it will “work diligently with their respective horsemen’s associations and racing commissions toward implementing this effort.” Most horsemen’s groups and racing commissions were not consulted on the plan.

THA statement on proposal to ban race-day Lasix

Coalition tracks are Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course (NYRA); Arlington Park, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds Race Course and Presque Isle Downs & Casino (CDI); Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West, Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita Park (TSG); and Del Mar, Keeneland, Lone Star Park, Los Alamitos Race Course, Oaklawn Park, Remington Park and Tampa Bay Downs.

According to the coalition, beginning Jan. 1, 2020, 2-year-olds would not be allowed to be treated with furosemide, commonly called Lasix, within 24 hours of a race. Beginning in 2021, the same prohibition would extend to all horses participating in any stakes at coalition tracks. In 2021 the Triple Crown events would all be run under the new rules regarding race-day medication.

Breeders’ Cup, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and its American Graded Stakes Committee, and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association have also joined the coalition.

The release contained the following comments from coalition tracks:

“This is a progressive and unified approach to the subject of race-day medication, achieving consistency with international standards for young horses and those that form the foundations of our breeding stock,” said David O’Rourke, President and Chief Executive Officer of NYRA.

“This is a huge moment that signals a collective move to evolve this legacy sport,” said Belinda Stronach, Chairman and President of The Stronach Group. “While there is still more work to be done, these reforms are a good start. This industry coalition has taken an important step forward toward a uniform policy and we are committed to focusing our attention and resources on how to make further improvements that directly prioritize equine health and safety.”

“Over the past several years, we have met with numerous stakeholders to drive action on many of our sport’s central issues,” CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen said. “This is a significant and meaningful step to further harmonize American racing with international standards. We will continue to work with other stakeholders, including our horsemen and regulatory agencies, to fully implement this and other important reforms.”

“This new program is an essential step as we look toward the long-term sustainability of U.S.-breds on the national and international stages,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “Protecting the integrity of our sport is core to our mission and is our collective responsibility to the industry.”

Lasix has been widely recognized as an effective treatment for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and, though other countries ban its use on race-day, they permit horses to train on it as is the case in the United States.

The Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the two of the three major horsemen’s groups in North America, have repeatedly cited science that supports use of Lasix for the health and welfare of the racehorse. The American Association of Racing Commissioners International, an umbrella organization for racing regulatory agencies, has the same policy as do major veterinary associations in the U.S. including the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

In the wake of the announcement by the racetrack coalition, Monmouth Park, which is leased and operated by the New Jersey THA, issued the following statement from Chief Executive Officer Dennis Drazin:

“Monmouth Park will continue to adhere to the position of the American Association of Equine Practitioners 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.

“We will continue to support that policy beginning with our opening day of racing for the season on May 4.”

AAEP President Dr. Jeff Berk responded in the wake of the coalition’s announcement.

“Horse racing in the U.S. faces significant challenges to its long-term health'” Berk said. “The leadership of the American Association of Equine Practitioners 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.

“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.”

The process for altering regulations regarding Lasix varies from state to state and may require not only racing commission action but statutory changes via legislation.

During an April 16 presentation at the Racing Officials Accreditation Program annual conference in Delaware, ARCI President Ed Martin tipped attendees that a Lasix phase-out was being discussed. He didn’t discuss it in detail but claimed it would contradict years of progress in the area of equine health and welfare as well as medication reform.

“The National Uniform Medication Program is no longer the issue now,” Martin said. “Other groups will be breaking from NUMP. The people who have been crying for uniformity are now adopting policies to make racing less uniform. What we really need to do is figure out a way to assess risks to horses and identify all at-risk horses (even before they begin racing).

“Pay attention to what this industry does—and what it doesn’t do.”

On April 18, Martin issued a statement to clarify the definition of “international standards” for horse racing. He said there are three organizations that set such standards: ARCI, the Federation Equestre Internationale and the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities.

“Recent press releases and political advocacy campaigns in the U.S. have made reference to the need to adopt ‘international standards,’ ” Martin said. “The implied standards referenced are those of the International Federation of Horse Racing 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 exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.”