Posted: March 17, 2019
An immediate ban on race-day Lasix at two California racetracks has been replaced by a phased-in approach beginning in 2020 under an agreement announced by The Stronach Group and the Thoroughbred Owners of California March 16.
According to a release, foals of 2018 and subsequent years will not be permitted to race on Lasix—it begins with 2-year-olds entered to race next year. Horses born prior to 2018 will race at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields “with the same guidelines, however, following the recommendation of veterinary experts for the best interest of the health of the current horse population, Lasix will still be permitted but at a maximum of 50% of the current levels,” the release said.
The current maximum dose of Lasix in California of 10 cubic centimeters will drop to 5.
The release mentions only use of Lasix, a regulated therapeutic anti-bleeding medication, on race day. It is used for training as well, which is the case in other countries.
Santa Anita, which has been dark for a few weeks in the wake of a series of catastrophic breakdowns, was expected to resume live racing March 22, but that was moved to March 29. California requires a 10-day approval process; the California Horse Racing Board is now scheduled to meet March 28.
After the initial March 14 announcement of the immediate Lasix ban, officials at two other California tracks—Del Mar and Los Alamitos Race Course—said they planned to permit race-day use of Lasix at their 2019 meets. They have yet to weigh in on the latest plan, which was released late in the evening March 16.
TSG President Belinda Stronach said she hopes “the other tracks in California will follow suit. TSG will begin consultation with our stakeholders in other states to put these standards into effect in those jurisdictions, in the best interest of horse racing.” Those jurisdictions are Maryland, Florida and Oregon.
TSG re-outlined other health and welfare procedures, which mandate “transparency” in veterinary records; that trainers apply for permission to work a horse at least 48 hours in advance; a requirement that a diagnosis for therapeutic medication treatments must come from a state veterinarian; and “strict limitations on the use of any pain or anti-inflammatory medication and treatment, including legal therapeutic (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), joint injections, shockwave therapy and anabolic steroids.”
The use of permitted NSAIDs and other therapeutic medication is already regulated under the National Uniform Medication Program, which is in place in California and other states that account for 97% of Thoroughbred pari-mutuel handle.
In 2012 after months of divisiveness, a plan to phase-out use of Lasix over a three-year period failed to pass the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission after a split vote and hasn’t been revisited. The American Graded Stakes Committee has periodically floated a Lasix ban in graded stakes, and Breeders’ Cup banned use of the medication in 2 year olds in 2012-13 before reversing course in 2014.
As for racing surfaces, the release said “these modernizations are in addition to the previously announced commitment to the continued engagement of outside experts to regularly review our dirt, turf and synthetic courses to ensure the safest racing surfaces in the world.”
Necropsies are performed after equine fatalities in California and are ongoing. The CHRB hasn’t indicated it plans to take an approach such as that of New York, where a task force formed in 2012 after a series of catastrophic injuries during the winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack produced an acclaimed report that led to multiple changes in protocol.
According to Equine Injury Database statistics, the catastrophic injury rate for racing at Aqueduct in 2012 spiked at 3.00 per 1,000 starts after averaging about 2.25 the previous three years. From 2013 through 2017, after multiple reforms were adopted, the rate was lower than 2 per 1,000 starts in four of five years for an average of 1.69.
New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety report
(Santa Anita Park photo courtesy of Santa Anita/Benoit Photos