By Bill Finley
The Kentucky Legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations met Tuesday and took measures that allowed regulations that ban the use of Lasix in 2-year-old races this year and also in graded stakes next year to go into effect.
The committee did not hold a vote, a procedure that produced the same results as if had voted to approve the regulations.
Tuesday's hearing was the latest in what has been a contentious battle between pro and anti-Lasix forces in Kentucky, a fight that may now be over as the committee has the final say on racing regulations in the state.
The Kentucky tracks are among a number of racing jurisdictions that have taken steps to cut back on the use of the controversial drug that is used to control bleeding.
Led by the Kentucky HBPA and the National HBPA, the pro-Lasix forces expressed their displeasure with how the meeting was handled. Each side was allowed only one witness. Dr. Clara Fenger, who spoke on behalf of the horsemen, said she was told that each side was allowed to have three speakers. She also said her testimony was cut off before she had a chance to read her entire statement.
“This was a done deal and we had no shot,” Fenger said. “We knew that going in.”
Committee member Damon Thayer, who is the majority floor leader, said there was nothing unusual about the number of people who were permitted to speak.
“Both sides had equal time to present their case, including the racing commission and a representative of the HBPA and some veterinarians,” Thayer said. “Their complaints are much ado about nothing. This was just the final obligatory step in a long process that has included two meetings of the equine drug research council, meetings of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and public comments periods that every regulation has to go through. There's really nothing to that complaint. This is the process that every regulation goes through and there was nothing abnormal about it.”
Fenger, a practicing vet in Central Kentucky, said that any steps to cut back on the use of Lasix would be detrimental to the overall health of the horse.
“The banning of the therapeutic medication, Lasix, is one of the most dangerous proposals ever concocted by our racing commissioners,” she said. “Two horses perished from exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage in Kentucky since the KHRC has begun posting these deaths on their website. Banning Lasix in any group of horses will guarantee a higher number of such deaths.”
Dr. Bruce Howard, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, was the lone speaker allowed to talk on behalf of the proposed new medication rules.
“By adopting this compromise and moving away from the use of race day furosemide we can come into alignment with the rest of the racing world and help lessen the negative public perception that exists surrounding medication issues in racing,” Howard said. “We will minimize the argument that furosemide enhances performance by causing fluid elimination which reduces a horses weight by an estimated 10 to 20 pounds.”
Howard added that there have been 60 2-year-old races run so far this year in Kentucky without Lasix and that out of 532 starters only one had been observed bleeding from the nostrils after the race.
“This is a compromise between those who want to eliminate Lasix all together and those who want to keep the status quo,” Thayer said. “I think it is a good compromise, by eliminating Lasix use in 2 year-old-races and stakes races. It's a good starting point for other states to consider and I am happy that Kentucky is leading the way. As the great Lasix debate rages I'd like to think this is a good middle ground.”
Lasix was not the only medication dealt with in the new regulations. New rules include a ban on bisphosphonate use in horses under 4-years-old; non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), may be given no closer than 48 hours pre-race instead of 24; the race day use of electronic therapeutics has been banned; trainers must make veterinary records available if they are asked for by racing officials.