Kentucky

No more Lasix in the Kentucky Derby? Hold your horses, trainers say.

America’s two most expensive sires have sons in the 2019 Kentucky Derby

The top Thoroughbred sires earn more off the track than they do during their racing days. Here's a look at the lineage of some of this year's Kentucky Derby contenders, as well as the breeding history of past Derby greats.
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The top Thoroughbred sires earn more off the track than they do during their racing days. Here's a look at the lineage of some of this year's Kentucky Derby contenders, as well as the breeding history of past Derby greats.

As the racing world homes in on Louisville and the upcoming Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs is shifting the narrative from inexplicable disaster to seizing the reins.

CEO Bill Carstanjen told market analysts in a conference call Thursday morning that his track “wants to protect the history and tradition of the Kentucky Derby so we will always pursue best-in-class practices ... to protect the athletes, human and equine.”

Meeting the “highest standards of safety ... is what is behind the commitments we announced last week,” he said before pivoting smoothly to quarterly earnings and ways the casino and racetrack company plans to capitalize on the upcoming race financially with new seating, smoother parking and simulcasting in Japan.

Dead horses were not even mentioned and nobody raised the potential for the economic disaster if there is another fatal breakdown at the Kentucky Derby.

While Churchill and the officials at other Triple Crown races portrayed the April 18 announcement to run the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Lasix-free in two years as a fait accompli, it’s unclear if they actually can pull it off.

Churchill; The Stronach Group, which includes Pimlico where the Preakness is run; the New York Racing Association, which controls the Belmont, the third leg of the Triple Crown; and Keeneland plan to begin phasing out the use of Lasix with 2-year-olds next year and would eliminate it in all stakes races in 2021.

Not so fast, many trainers say.

“I still see all of these as proposals,” said Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, on Friday. “I think there will be time for discussion, deliberation on specifics.”

Hamelback said that he can’t speak to what action state affiliates might be contemplating to block the tracks from moving forward with “house rules” on Lasix, but he believes state regulatory bodies, including the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, would have to act for the changes to take place.

He pointed to a December 2015 ruling by then-Attorney General Jack Conway’s office declaring that the regulation passed by the racing commission to allow tracks to design Lasix-free races was “an unconstitutional delegation to private actors of KHRC’s administrative authority to promulgate regulations governing the administration of drugs to horses.”

However, opinions in such matters are advisory only and the regulation is still on the books.

Hamelback also pointed to the position of equine veterinarians, who have stated that Lasix, or furosemide, is the only medication they support for use on race day.

Last week, American Association of Equine Practitioners president Dr. Jeff Berk issued a statement that appeared to contemplate a future without it.

“Horse racing in the U.S. faces significant challenges to its long-term health. ... The landscape is changing,” he said. “As Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, science and evidence-based discovery is our foundation, and as such the AAEP’s long-standing racehorse medication policy has supported the administration of furosemide on race day to mitigate the adverse effects of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. The AAEP also is committed to funding research into alternative EIPH management strategies which would eliminate the need to administer furosemide on race day. The proposed phase-out of the medication’s use beginning at many Thoroughbred racetracks in 2020 emphasizes the urgent need for continued research into new methods for mitigating EIPH.”

Meanwhile, the changes announced by Churchill Downs and the other Triple Crown tracks don’t go far enough for animal activists. This week, at Churchill Downs’ annual shareholders meeting in Chicago, PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo confronted company executives. She thanked them for what she called “a good first step” but called on the company to adopt a slate of further changes across the board, “given the deaths of horses, both during and after their racing careers, the public dislike of or indifference to racing, and the issues with medication and track surfaces.”

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