With full fields passing through its entry box and idyllic weather on tap for its opening weekend, Keeneland couldn't ask for a better kickoff to its 75th anniversary meet on Friday.
Bucolic as the atmosphere has been leading into the Fall Meet, the ongoing debate over potential new medication rules for 2012 continues to be the 800-pound gorilla in the mix for several horsemen — particularly where it concerns the nation's top juvenile races.
Earlier this summer, Breeders' Cup Ltd. announced it would not allow race-day medications in any of its 2012 juvenile races and would ban them in all of its World Championship events by 2013. Subsequently, the American Graded Stakes Committee approved a measure that would strip graded status from any 2-year-old stakes that allows the race-day use of the anti-bleeder medication furosemide — commonly known as Lasix or Salix.
In the wake of those announcements, the wait has been on to see what amendments state racing commissions might make to their medication rules, especially in the face of widespread opposition from horsemen's groups.
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Like other jurisdictions, Kentucky — which has 14 graded stakes for juveniles in 2011, including its Breeders' Cup races — has not taken any action on the matter. Keeneland has three graded stakes for 2-year-olds this weekend alone, including the Grade I Darley Alcibiades for juvenile fillies on Friday and Saturday's Grade I Breeders' Futurity, but track officials aren't ready to say what impact any new measures could have on such marquee events.
"We know nothing is going to happen this October, and the people who are on the Graded Stakes Committee care about the sport very much, and I trust their judgment that they'll figure out what to do," said Keeneland President Nick Nicholson. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, and we trust the people who are making these decisions."
The tracks' wait-and-see attitude has been mirrored by many of the horsemen. Even some trainers who aren't angrily opposed to the Lasix ban have held off on making sweeping changes within their shedrows until concrete measures come down.
"We'll certainly handle it if that's what happens, and I'm fine with it either way," said trainer Graham Motion, who conditioned this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, and has four horses running in stakes this weekend at Keeneland. "But personally, I think a little more research ought to be done before we just jump in to say, 'No Lasix.' I think, of all the medications out there, that is probably the least of all the evils. So I have mixed feelings about the Lasix issue."
While it remains uncertain how races such as the Alcibiades and Breeders' Futurity might look this time next year under a new medication climate, they certainly have not lacked for drawing power this season.
Overflow fields were entered for both contests, and Sunday's Grade III Bourbon Stakes for 2-year-olds going 11⁄16 miles on the turf also has a full lineup of 13 entrants.
That kind of turnout is encouraging in a time when field sizes are on the decline, but there is concern that those states that move ahead with the medication ban will see horsemen go elsewhere.
"It's not going to work unless everybody does (the ban). You know, if everybody doesn't do it at the same time, which seems an impossibility, everybody will just flock to the track that allows (Lasix)," said trainer Reade Baker, who will saddle 6-1 co-second choice Tu Endie Wei in Friday's Alcibiades. "There probably are better drugs out there to stop bleeding than Lasix, and we need to get ourselves in that position. I'm not sure how you get there, but that's where we need to get."