Beshear should OK Lasix-free races

There's no way to know how many Thoroughbreds would go to the post free of a controversial, but popular, drug until more tracks offer some Lasix-free races.

That's why Gov. Steve Beshear should open the door to such races in Kentucky, even though a legislative committee recently turned thumbs down on the proposal from the Racing Commission.

Horse racing is famously fractious, but no debate fires up emotions quite like the race-day use of the anti-bleeding diuretic Furosemide, better known as Lasix.

What Keeneland proposes, however, is not nearly as threatening to the drug's widespread use as its defenders make out.

The Lexington track wants a few of its 150 to 160 races during the spring 2016 meet to be for horses running without Lasix.

Offering this option to trainers and owners of two-year-olds making their debuts is only logical: Until a horse has competed, there's no way to know if it needs treatment for exertion-related respiratory bleeding.

Gulfstream Park in Florida offered a few Lasix-free races for two-year-olds this year and they were so popular that the fields had to be split. Still, the overwhelming majority of Gulfstream's races allowed Lasix; the same would be true of Keeneland.

But, you say, owners and trainers are already free to race without Lasix.

True. But a horse receiving Lasix a few hours before a race will shed significant weight. Few trainers can afford to give up that weight advantage to competitors using Lasix.

No one thinks that 90 percent of U.S. Thoroughbreds have severe or serious respiratory bleeding. Yet more than 90 percent of horses in U.S. races have the drug in their systems, while most of the rest of the world bans race-day Lasix.

Such reliance on the drug feeds perceptions that this country's Thoroughbreds — most of which are bred and born in the Bluegrass — are prone to bleeding and physically inferior. Beshear should want to protect the Kentucky-bred brand, given its economic importance.

A desire to protect American racing's image is why some of the sport's biggest names are asking for the opportunity to compete Lasix-free.

Opponents, most prominently the National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, insist that uniform drug rules are more critical to racing's integrity. This argument is unconvincing, however, considering the huge variety of races and bets.

Besides, a race in which none of the horses were on Lasix would be uniform and give bettors a new challenge.

Keeneland could offer some Lasix-free races on the honor system. But without the regulation sought by the Racing Commission there would be no way to enforce the Lasix-free rule.

Beshear has the authority to approve the regulation and afford the racing world a chance to see what happens.

Maybe there won't be enough interest to justify Lasix-free racing, settling the debate.

Or, perhaps, the warring camps will discover that peaceful coexistence is not only possible but profitable.

Beshear should give them the chance to find out.