By Jerry Brown
I’ve known Bill Finley a long time, and consider him a friend. But the comments he made about Lasix recently are misguided, and dangerous for our industry. I wrote an Op-Ed for TDN a while back which went into some of the many reasons why banning Lasix is a very bad idea, but in light of the current dialogue, which has gotten panicky and semi-hysterical, I feel compelled to make a few reality-based points.
1–There is no scientific evidence of correlation between Lasix use and unsoundness, as veterinarians have made clear (click here for an April ARCI report). Breakdowns are an extremely serious problem, both in fact and in public perception, and the industry needs to do everything it can to address it. But Lasix has zero to do with that problem. And before someone says something about horses making fewer starts, so are Major League pitchers, for the same reason–they are stronger, throw harder, and place more stress on bones and tendons. Horses are much faster and stress themselves much more, but you can’t tell because tracks are much slower, for safety reasons. (Trust me, I do this for a living). Both need more time than previous generations did to recover from extreme, taxing efforts.
2–Those of you old enough might remember the 1987 Kentucky Derby, and those of you who didn’t see it should find a way to watch the ABC broadcast, which won an Emmy. One reason was the drama they captured when the favorite, Demons Begone, came back with blood all over him after bleeding through his nostrils. If you see it you won’t forget it.
One thing that is absolutely 100% true is that if Lasix is banned, more horses will bleed. And in today’s environment, do you know how often what happened with Demons Begone would have to happen to create a public relations problem that will make the recent breakdown incidents look trivial? Exactly once, if there’s a photographer or someone with a cell phone around. And it won’t have to happen in the Derby, or any big race, it could be in a bottom-level claimer. Within 72 hours that photo would be shown in every media outlet in the country. PETA would see to it.
When that happens, you know what PETA WON’T be saying? Bring back Lasix. You know what they will be saying? Ban racing. We would be playing Russian Roulette, on a daily basis.
3–The movement to ban Lasix is being driven by “sportsmen” (i.e., those who don’t make their living in racing), and a group with a profit motive, commercial breeders, who also don’t make their living in racing. They make their living selling a product (unfortunate term, I know, but that’s the reality) that is used by those that do make a living in racing, and they think making racing “clean” will raise the value of that product. Letting those people make policy for racing would be like letting Lockheed-Martin decide military policy. In other words, as Sid Fernando has pointed out, this is straight-up class warfare, and as I said in my earlier Op-Ed, the ones getting hurt if Lasix is banned would be bettors, trainers, owners, and those trying to fill races. And that would in turn lead to a reduction in handle, then a reduction in purses, owners (and then trainers) leaving the game, tracks closing, and eventually yearling prices going down.
4–If the goal is to keep the majority of horses, the ones that DO NOT need Lasix, from running on it, there is an effective way to do it. It’s explained at the end of the earlier piece I wrote. To those who do not have an agenda, but want both this business and sport to survive, please read and think about it. If we don’t succeed as a business, there will be no sport of racing, either. This industry is in a precarious position, and in many places now exists only because it’s being subsidized. The last thing we need is a major self inflicted wound.
Jerry Brown is President of Thoro-Graph.