Lasix Phase-Out Recommendation Advances to Full KHRC Board

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Racing at Churchill Downs | Coady

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In a relatively quick reversal of a vote taken Oct. 28, the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC) voted 6-2 on Nov. 25 to advance to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) a recommendation to partially phase out race-day Lasix usage.

If the measure gets adopted by the KHRC at its Dec. 10 meeting, race-day Lasix administration will be barred in 2-year-olds beginning in 2020, and the use of the drug will be eliminated in stakes for all ages starting in 2021.

The EDRC serves as an advisory board to the KHRC. Last month the EDRC voted on the same measure, but the recommendation failed to advance by a 5-3 vote.

The following EDRC members voted in favor of the Lasix phase-out on Monday: Stuart Brown II, DVM, (chairman), Johnny Mac Smith, DVM (representing Thoroughbred breeders), James Morehead, DVM, (representing veterinarians), Damon Thayer (representing legislators), Mike Ziegler (representing licensed racing associations), and Art Zubrod (representing Standardbred breeders).

The no votes came from Marcus Cheney, DVM, (representing Thoroughbred horsemen) and Andy Roberts, DVM, (representing Standardbred horsemen).

Michael Kilgore (representing pharmacologists) was not present.

After the meeting, Brown told TDN via phone that he viewed his main role as the EDRC's chairman as being a facilitator who promotes dialogue and balanced conversation on a contentious but important issue.

“This is a very controversial topic that's not news to anybody,” Brown said. “We all recognize how difficult it has been for the industry to at least come to agreement about what to do about race-day administration of [Lasix] … And because it's been hard for the industry to get its hands around this issue and to be able to codify something that it can move forward on, it's also held up a lot of other really important reforms that can [benefit] equine health and welfare.”

Brown said he voted yes primarily because he thinks the phase-out recommendation by the EDRC represents a best-shot compromise on a thorny issue. He said it attempts to balance the need for Lasix as a means to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage while being respectful of the wider negative public perception of race-day drugs.

“If it gains acceptance and if it goes through the regulatory process and passes scrutiny in the public comment period, this particular proposal gives the industry its best chance to try to move forward on this issue, and that probably had as much to do with me supporting it as anything,” Brown said.

Thayer, the Kentucky Senate Majority Leader and a longtime member of the council, was asked by TDN after the meeting if it was unusual for the EDRC to re-take a vote on the same recommendation so quickly after it initially failed to pass.

“Well, these are unusual times,” Thayer said. “We had one member, Art Zubrod, who represents the Standardbred breeders and was not able to attend the last meeting. He was in favor of it. And I was told there were two members of the council, Dr. Johnny Mac Smith and Dr. James Morehead, who [after] getting more information on how the regulation would be implemented, decided to vote with those of us who supported it.”

When asked if he thought the Lasix phase-out would be adopted by the KHRC next month, Thayer said this:

“There were five members of the KHRC, including Dr. Brown, who's chair of the EDRC, in attendance [Monday], and it's my hope that at its next meeting the racing commission will vote to implement the regulations. I think this paves the way for other states to follow Kentucky's lead and hopefully create some state-based momentum for reform.

“Kentucky is a participant in the interstate racing compact–I got a bill passed on that in 2011. And what I would like to see happen and what I think would be good for racing is for the horse racing compact states to move forward with implementing all of the changes that the EDRC has recommended at its last two meetings so we can move towards a state-based uniformity of racing rules across major jurisdictions,” Thayer said.

Smith explained to TDN why he changed his vote from no to yes from one meeting to the next.

“The proposal as it was given to us in the last meeting lacked a lot of detail, as in how are you going to enforce this [and] what are the regulatory aspects,” Smith said. “There was very little fleshing out. It was just presented as a removal of Lasix from 2-year-old races in 2020 in stakes races in 2021. And I felt like an issue of this importance that was this controversial needed more attention, and therefore I voted no. But {Monday] we were presented with a proposal with quite a bit more detail, [and] that gave me a little more confidence in voting yes for this.”

A voicemail message left for Cheney (the vet appointed to the EDRC on behalf of Thoroughbred horsemen) asking to explain his no vote did not yield a return phone call prior to deadline for this story.

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