By Bill Finley
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will not ban Lasix at its two meets in 2019, track CEO Joe Harper told the Thoroughbred Daily News.
The continued use of Lasix at all California tracks became a major issue after Santa Anita announced Thursday that it planned to ban the use of all race day medications. The medication ban, plus several other measures designed to make racing safer at Santa Anita, came about after the 22nd horse was euthanized this meet, which began Dec. 26.
While Harper said he thought Santa Anita was “on the right track” and that Del Mar could implement many of the changes Santa Anita will enact when it re-opens, he said a ban of Lasix will not be one of them.
“Yes, I do see that,” Harper said when asked if Del Mar’s Lasix regulations will remain the same as they were in 2018. “In this meeting I just came out of, it was clear that the vets in there were saying Lasix has nothing to do with these breakdowns. I think this is something where we need to keep sitting down with horsemen and see if there is any common ground. With the CHRB rules and regulations, any changes in medication policy have to be approved by the horsemen before taking it to the Racing Board. The Lasix issue is always going to be a negotiating point because the horsemen feel very strongly about it. It’s basically a therapeutic drug, approved for use. Even the AAEP okays it. So I think eliminating Lasix is something the horsemen do not want.”
In 2016, Del Mar experienced a situation similar to what Santa Anita has been going through at its current meet. Seventeen horse broke down during the meet and Del Mar was routinely picketed by animal rights protestors. Harper said the track took major steps to correct whatever problems there might have been during the meet and believes the current track is safe.
“We went through a similar thing a few years ago at Del Mar with a number of fatalities,” he said. “We took some steps. We spent a lot of money; we spent $5 million redoing the racetrack. We dumped our first week of racing, so we’d have more time to get the track in order after the fair ended. We put on more vets, had less horses in the stable area and we took a hard look at the entries. That seemed to help us.”
Is he concerned about breakdowns at the 2019 meet?
“I’m always concerned,” he said. “Look, everybody asks what causes breakdowns. I’ve yet to see anyone come up with a smoking gun on these injuries. You look down, it could be a combination of a bad track, a bad horse, bad luck. You name it.”
Harper said that he and his team will take a long look at enacting many of the other rules, besides the Lasix ban, that The Stronach Group has put in place at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.
“Almost everything they’ve said, I wouldn’t mind putting in at our meet,” he said. “Most of the horsemen agree on many of them, including injections and number of days horses can run after that. It is absolutely imperative that these horses aren’t injected to the point they can’t feel pain when they race. You don’t need a brain in your head to figure that one out. Something like that should be addressed and fixed.”
TSG’s changes to its house racing rules include “increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.”
Santa Anita is also planning on banning the use of the whip, with the exception of when jockeys use it as a “corrective safety measure.” Harper said he was firmly behind that change.
“The use of the whip is something I’d love to see us get rid of,” he said.
Harper said that which parts of Santa Anita’s new rules will be in effect at Del Mar has yet to be decided.
It appears that no one will be rooting harder for Santa Anita to right the ship after what has been a hellish few weeks than Harper.
“I feel for Santa Anita,” he said. “I know this is very tough, especially on Belinda [Stronach]. She a horsewoman. She loves them and she would do anything in the world in her power to find the answers to this.”