By T. D. Thornton
Gulfstream Park’s first foray into writing Lasix-free races for juveniles drew enough interest from horsemen Wednesday that a 4 1/2-furlong $65,000 maiden special weight for fillies–to be run Saturday–was split into two divisions of 11 and 12 runners.
The $65,000 Lasix-free purse incentive represents a substantial increase over 2-year-old maiden special weight races at Gulfstream, which have recently been run for $48,000. The conditions also state that “all starters will receive a minimum of $500.”
The Lasix-free races will go as Saturday’s sixth and eighth races. The colts and geldings companion to the pair of juvenile maiden special weights will be drawn Thursday for Sunday.
Lasix–also branded Salix–is furosemide, a nearly universally prescribed legal diuretic in American racing. It gained widespread use in the 1970s for its ability to reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage in equine athletes. In the decades since its legalization, Lasix has been debated as a performance-enhancer. Over the past year, various jurisdictions have attempted to phase out or disincentivize its use.
Trainer Ralph Nicks entered three fillies in Saturday’s races: Dancie (D’wildcat) and Harlan’s Darlin (Harlan’s Holiday) (sixth race) and Kandoo (Kantharos) (eighth race).
“They’re all first-timers and they don’t need it,” Nicks said. “If they did need it, they wouldn’t be in there.”
Last month, Gulfstream’s owner, The Stronach Group (TSG), announced that the Lasix-free races would be included in the condition book, partially as an experiment to see if the concept was worth expanding to other TSG tracks, such as Santa Anita Park, Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Golden Gate Fields and Portland Meadows.
At racing’s Pan American Conference in New York last month, TSG founder Frank Stronach said “race-day medication should be eliminated starting in 2016.”
Gulfstream is also working with Dr. Stephen Selway, DVM, who is conducting a study involving the voluntary scoping of 2-year-olds racing with and without Lasix.
“The results of the study will hopefully be of significant benefit to the well being of racehorses,” Selway said. “The study has been set up as to eliminate most variables and yield non-bias data.”
In 2014, Arapahoe Park in Colorado introduced $1,000 bonuses to any winning horse that ran totally medication-free. A total of 21 Arapahoe horses ran medication-free last summer, and three of them won a total of four races. Arapahoe is continuing the bonuses at its current meet. A track spokesman did not have updated medication-free figures for 2015 when queried Wednesday.
This past January, Oaklawn Park paid a 10% bonus above and beyond the winner’s purse to any horse that won a race without being administered Lasix on raceday. Over 477 races, five were won by Lasix-free Thoroughbreds. At the end of the meet, Oaklawn’s Director of Racing David Longinotti said it was too early to tell if the incentives would be brought back for 2016.
In March, The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission voted eight to four to allow tracks to write race conditions that ban horses from receiving Lasix within 24 hours of post time. No such races have yet to be scheduled in the state.
In June, the California Horse Racing Board’s Medication and Track Safety Committee debated a proposal to allow Lasix-free races, but no rule was brought before the full board for a vote. “The bottom line was that there does not appear to be an appetite at this time among the stakeholders for this amendment to proceed,” commissioner Madeline Auerbach said at a June 25 CHRB meeting. “The folks who are in the game don’t want it at this point.”
On Aug. 24, the New York State Gaming Commission will host a Lasix-themed seminar at Empire State College in Saratoga that will feature panels comprised of academic researchers, horsemen, veterinarians, track officials and regulators. Possible changes in rules governing Lasix usage in New York will be discussed.