Stronach Group announces ban on Lasix at California tracks

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 14, 2019

Just hours after a coalition announced reintroduction of a federal bill that would place the United States Anti-Doping Agency in charge of equine medication policy and drug testing, The Stronach Group March 14 said it will ban the use of race-day Lasix at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California.

The announcement was made at Santa Anita, where 22 horses have suffered catastrophic injuries in racing and training since the meet began in late December. The latest training fatality came the morning of March 14, just a few days after the main track was examined again during a self-imposed shutdown of live racing in early March.

The company had earlier announced new policies requiring examination of horses scheduled to work out and transparency in veterinary records for racehorses.

Along with a ban on Lasix, the only permitted medication for race-day use, The Stronach Group statement from President Belinda Stronach said other actions include “increasing the ban on legal therapeutic (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), joint injections, shockwave therapy and anabolic steroids” and stepping up out-of-competition testing. Horses in training “are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis,” the statement says.

Stronach said the Lasix ban would follow International Federation of Horseracing Authorities standards, which have been advocated by The Jockey Club, the primary backer of the Coalition of Horse Racing Integrity. That group’s bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act, will have its third go-around in Congress this year; it has never had a formal committee hearing.

“The Stronach Group has long been a strong advocate for the abolishment of race-day medication, but we will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes,” Stronach said. “Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be. This mandate encompasses a complete revision of the current medication policy to improve the safety of our equine and human athletes and to raise the integrity of our sport.”

Stronach said the company also plans to address use of the riding crop and will continue regular examination of racing surfaces.

“We will be continuing our daily conversations with industry stakeholders to further define these transformative guidelines,” she said. “But make no mistake: these changes will be implemented. There are some who will take a stand and tell us that it cannot be done. To them we say, ‘The health and welfare of the horses will always come first.’ We also say, ‘Not only can it be done, it is what we are doing.’ Racing at Santa Anita and Golden Gate is a privilege, it is not a right.”

The Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers, Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association have long held the position that use of race-day Lasix to control bleeding in the lungs is about the safety and welfare of the racehorse.

The statement gave no indication how or when a Lasix ban might begin. Santa Anita is the scheduled host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships. TSG Cbief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo said the California Horse Racing Board will meet March 21 to discuss the developments.

The company acknowledged a Lasix ban will “impact” field size and that some horses may not be able to race. “For those horses, we are prepared to dedicate the capital required to rehabilitate, retrain, rehome and provide aftercare for them,” the statement said.

There was no mention in the release about policies at TSG’s other tracks in Florida, Maryland and Oregon.

This story will be updated when there are further developments.

THA position on race-day Lasix

New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety report

(Santa Anita Park photo courtesy of Santa Anita/Benoit photos)