Editor’s Note: Tuesday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will hold a hearing before the Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations, regarding the proposed amended regulation which would partially ban the use of Lasix at Kentucky tracks. The proposed ban would include all 2-year-old horses racing in Kentucky this year and be extended to stakes races in 2021, and is being advanced by a national coalition of racetracks and other racing organizations that includes all of Kentucky’s racetrack operators. On June 1, Franklin (Ky) Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate denied a motion by the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (KHBPA) that sought a temporary injunction that would have kept Churchill Downs and Keeneland from running Lasix-free 2-year-old races, ruling that the KHBPA had no standing in the case. He later vacated that ruling to give the organization time to address the issue of standing. Jerry Brown, the president of Thoro-Graph, will be called as one of the witnesses by the KHBPA to represent the interest of bettors. Brown provided the TDN with the opening statement he plans to make.
Mr. Chairman and other distinguished members of this Committee, thank you for the opportunity to address you in opposition to the proposed amendments to 810 KAR 8:010 Section 6 partially banning the use of furosemide (commonly called “Lasix”). I am the President of Thoro-Graph Inc., which publishes proprietary data used by high-end horseplayers and horsemen around the country. We currently have about 3,000 active customers who bet several times the national average. I personally bet seven figures annually, and some of our customers wager through a joint pari-mutuel venture we have with the New York Racing Association that will handle $25 million this year.
The first thing I need to make clear is that I am not pro-drug; in fact, just the opposite. No one has been fighting longer or harder than I have to stop the use of performance-enhancing drugs in our industry. That’s why The Jockey Club invited me to assist them when they took on the issue with their Safety and Integrity Committee back in 2008, and in the next few weeks will be announcing a new project using our data to identify potential drug cheaters.
Having said that: being pro-Lasix is not being pro-drug. Legal use of Lasix is an entirely separate issue from illegal use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). There is no serious claim that Lasix causes unsoundness or other damage to racehorses, in fact, to the contrary, it helps the ones who need it stay healthy. There is also not, to my knowledge, even any claim of a benefit to the business of racing that would come from banning Lasix, let alone any evidence that would back up that claim.
The idea seems to be that they race without Lasix in Europe, so we should. Well, American dirt racing is much different than the grass racing they have over there. In those races they gallop along early and only run full out the last part of the race. Here, on dirt, they are going close to full blast the whole way–every horse in dirt races is tired and decelerating in the stretch, even the ones that make up ground. Running that way causes far more stress on the horses, and horsemen will tell you that bleeding is caused by stress.
The reason racing works as a business is because of wagering. Bettors pay directly for the purses the horses race for, and thus indirectly for the paychecks of everyone in the industry, including ultimately commercial breeders, who only have a market for their products because buyers have an opportunity to race for those purses. And the reason racing is so heavily regulated is those bettors have to be protected, so that they can have confidence the game they are playing is fair and will continue to provide the revenue stream for our industry.
If Lasix is banned, more horses will bleed during races, and it will cause them not to be able to run to their ability. That’s a fact that nobody even disputes. As a result, there will be no way anyone handicapping races will have any idea when that will happen, or to which horses. And they also won’t know whether a horse that ran poorly last time did so because he bled, unless he did so visibly, so there will be no way to know how that horse will run today. And there are only two possibilities–he will run again untreated for bleeding, which is bad not only for the horse but for the betting public, or he will be treated with something else, legal or illegal. But unlike with Lasix, which is listed in the program, the public won’t know the horse’s status, or how to evaluate him, in either case.
Do you know who will? There are people who pay for information like that, and bet accordingly. They will effectively be insider trading–which is exactly the kind of thing regulation of racing is meant to avoid, and instead we will be creating a market for it. Get ready for horses coming off a terrible performance and listed at 20-1 getting bet down to 2-1, and winning by 10 lengths. And get ready for the backlash when honest bettors get upset about it, and take their money elsewhere, to games where they think they get a fair shake.
When Lasix was first used to treat bleeders, those were the kind of jump-ups and betting coups we saw, and it’s the reason Lasix quickly became the only drug listed in the program. For bettors, that’s the Good Housekeeping Seal Of Approval–it tells them the horse will get every chance to run up to its natural level of ability that day. And that is why I have never heard a horseplayer say they will bet more if Lasix is banned–and many, like me, will bet less. As in business, uncertainty hinders investment–and in this case, that investment is wagering.
A point about “optics”: Some people apparently think that banning Lasix will make our game look better to the public, and to PETA. Those people have never seen a horse bleed badly, like Demons Begone did on national TV in the 1987 Derby, when he came back to be unsaddled with blood all over him. If you saw it, you won’t forget it. And in today’s environment, all it takes is that happening once, at any track, on any day, if someone with a cell phone is nearby to take a picture. The photo would quickly be on the PETA calendar. And what happens if the horse in front in the Derby bleeds, chokes and stops, with 19 horses right behind him, on national TV? PETA won’t be calling for the return of Lasix. They will be calling for a ban of racing.
Finally, I would like to say that the Lasix issue is being presented as a false choice–either everyone gets to race on it, or it gets banned. The goal should be to let the horses who need medicine have it, and to not have the others race on it. This can be done by having the state vets examine horses to certify they really are bleeders and therefore eligible for Lasix, which was the original rule, and by taking away the incentive to use Lasix if you don’t need it, by having those that do use it carry a weight penalty. If this issue is dealt with sensibly, within a couple of years you can have the vast majority of horses racing without Lasix.