Horses and jockeys scramble for position in the early stages of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland on Nov. 6
Where are the pearl clutchers? You know, those people who promised that we’d be seeing jockeys with red-splattered pants getting off horses who gushed blood during a Thoroughbred race because trainers couldn’t give the animals a diuretic four hours before competition.
They’ve gone silent.
Officials with the Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission managed to stage five world championship races for 2-year-olds on Nov. 6 (seven races for juveniles if you include a pair of undercard stakes) where the letter “L” for Lasix was missing next to each horse’s name in the program, past performances and official chart.
Eighty-five 2-year-olds competed without race-day administration of Lasix. I’m sure some of the horses showed signs of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage when they were examined by endoscope following their races, but the bottom line is this: The sky did not fall because of a ban on Lasix.
On Nov. 7, the second day of the Breeders’ Cup, things were back to “normal.” All 88 North American-based horses contesting nine championship races (plus all 28 runners in undercard stakes) were given an injection of Lasix approximately four hours before competition – whether or not they really needed it to treat internal bleeding. Trainers of 13 of 18 runners from overseas opted to have the drug given to their horses, too, even though they don’t need it or use it in their home countries. All of the European winners – Glass Slippers in the Turf Sprint, Audarya in the Filly & Mare Turf, Order of Australia in the Mile (plus the second- and third-place runners from Aidan O’Brien’s Irish stable) and Tanawa in the Turf – raced on Lasix.
I think it’s fair to assume the use of this drug is a “when in Rome” decision by those overseas trainers who don’t want to compete on a playing field that isn’t level. And if they didn’t believe Lasix enhances performance of the competition they were facing, why would they use it on their horses?
It’s not just the Breeders’ Cup Future Stars Friday program that has gone Lasix-free. In several major racing jurisdictions across the U.S., 2-year-old Thoroughbreds are competing without the use of the race-day drug. And the sky is still not falling.
I’ve talked to several trainers who were not eager for the change and they’ve said a small percentage of their 2-year-olds have bled this year – one of them adding that it’s possible a horse that did bleed might have done so even if it had been administered Lasix. One of the trainers said horses seem to be coming out of their no-Lasix races with more energy than their 2-year-olds had in previous years when competing with the drug in their system..
Things get more complicated in 2021 when the ban on Lasix is extended to all stakes races in states where a coalition of tracks are partially eliminating the drug. That means horses likely will be racing on Lasix in non-2-year-old maiden and allowance races, then going without it in stakes races. Will “Lasix off” become the same kind of handicapping angle many horseplayers now use with “Lasix on”? It’s not a good look for a sport when drugs are considered a factor in whether or not a horse will win.
The stakes race Lasix ban also means trainers with horses that have a history of bleeding will be trying other remedies. There will be lots of junk science and snake oil being sold.
The pearl clutchers who claim American racehorses cannot survive without Lasix are the same people who maintained that anabolic steroids were therapeutic and that horses (especially geldings) needed them to get through demanding training regimens. They’re the same people who say horses need regular doses of clenbuterol because they’re in dusty barn environments that create breathing problems.
Lasix is not the biggest problem facing this sport. It’s nowhere near the focus of the FBI’s investigation into illegal doping of racehorses that will be playing out for months, possibly years, to come. But the use of Lasix in nearly 100% of horses to address a problem that exists in a much smaller percentage of runners is an indication of how pervasive horse racing’s drug culture has become.
That’s my view from the eighth pole.
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Published at Mon, 16 Nov 2020 19:48:37 +0000