Keeneland plans to run a limited number of Lasix-free races in 2016 following a contentious vote Monday by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
The commission voted 8-4 to allow individual racetracks to operate under what will be called an "international medication protocol" as a condition of the race.
The rule was approved earlier in the day by a 3-2 vote of the commission's rules committee, over the objections of some Thoroughbred trainers and horse owners.
But there are a significant number of owners and trainers who want these types of races, "and they are also members of our industry," racing commission chairman Robert Beck said.
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Many of those owners and trainers have asked Keene land to create the drug-free races, which the track plans to do next year, said Keene land vice president of racing Rogers Beasley. In the spring meet, Keeneland would begin with 2-year-old races and then in the fall might expand to older horses, he said.
The new rule apparently would not have any effect on the Breeders' Cup, which will be at Keeneland for the first time this fall.
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said that his group both supported the use of furosemide, known as Lasix, to combat bleeding in horse's lungs, and wanted uniform rules for racing.
Chauncey Morris, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/ Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said his group supported the rule.
The Jockey Club, the breed's registry and a lobbying organization, has called for ending the use of any medication during racing. The Breeders' Cup put in place a policy to end the use of Lasix but rescinded it even though a veterinary study found that horses on Lasix were more likely to have bled than those not on Lasix.
The use of furosemide in North America has been controversial. Kentucky in 2012 came close to banning it outright, instead voting to phase it in only on higher-level stakes races. But the rule was never filed with the state Legislative Review Commission and never took effect. Instead, the state banned so-called "adjunct" bleeder medications often given along with Lasix, and now only state regulatory vets may give the shots to the horses before the races.
Some racing commissioners said Monday that they feared the new rule would become a vehicle to revive the effort to get rid of Lasix altogether.
"If we pass this, what would prevent a racetrack from running a few days with Lasix races, and then saying the rest of the meet are non-Lasix races, trying to force the horse population away?" asked Dr. Foster Northrop, commission member.
"My answer to that would be natural market conditions," Beck said. "No track is going to card races that they can't fill. ... If a racetrack is going to severely cut back on their race dates, they are going to have to come here for approval and that would be a very difficult sell."