FRANKFORT — Supporters of the anti-bleeder racehorse medication known as Lasix made impassioned pleas to Kentucky regulators Tuesday for its continued use during races.
"I am extremely pro-Lasix. It is the best option available to me to control bleeding," said trainer Rusty Arnold. "There's a reason it was introduced 30 years ago: Horses bleed and Lasix helps control it."
On June 13, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will consider a phased-in ban of furosemide during graded stakes races, executive director John Ward said. A previous effort to ban it in all races failed last month; the new proposal would allow horses in lower-level claiming races to continue to use Lasix, known as Salix for veterinary use. And the medication, which also is a potent diuretic, still could be used in training at all levels of racing.
Arnold asked Ward, a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, why the state should be the first and only state to make the change so far.
"Why now? Why make us go it alone? Why deliver us another blow that we may not be able to withstand? Owners and trainers are leaving the state daily. ... Don't help push them out the door," Arnold said at a 11/2-hour public hearing on the issue.
Only one speaker, Ohio horse owner William Koester, spoke in favor of the proposal. But Ward said that the commission had received almost 800 emails, with the vast majority so far in favor of the limited ban. All appeared to be from online campaigns such as The Jockey Club's Cleanhorseracing.org and opposing efforts from trainers, he said.
Commissioners Tom Conway, Burr Travis and Dr. Foster Northrop also spoke against the ban. Conway and Travis said they would not buy young horses if the ban passes because they could not run the financial risk.
"If we pass this, ... we will be an island. We're already an island — we're the only one without gambling," Travis said. "We're going to make it even worse by not permitting Lasix. It doesn't seem fair to me. All the evidence says this just protects the horse, yet we want to change this rule. I have no idea why. ... If people want to race without Lasix, race without Lasix. We're making a tremendous mistake if we ban Lasix here."
The push to ban race-day medication began more than a year ago with a groundswell of support among major organizations in the horse industry. The issue has been debated at several mass meetings, including The Jockey Club's annual roundtable. Supporters of the ban say it is needed to combat a widespread public-perception problem that is driving away racing fans.
But the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association along with Kentucky and other state groups want to keep Lasix. They say it is the only way to prevent cumulative damage from bleeding in the lungs that could stop horses from racing and even cause death.
"Lasix does not make a horse run faster than its God-given talent. On the other hand, bleeding does make a horse run slower," said Phil Hanrahan, National HBPA executive director. "Lasix has been swept up in the media hysteria over the alleged doping of horses."
Prominent articles in The New York Times and other media recently have drawn attention to equine fatalities and spurred calls for increased safety measures.
But veterinarian Andy Roberts, a member of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council, said banning Lasix will have the opposite effect and put jockeys and horses in danger.
"I think this is being sold to you as a grand compromise," Roberts said to commissioners. "I think we're doing a great disservice. ... I support clean horse racing. Clean horse racing and the administration of Lasix are two different things."