For Racing Regulators, Salix Debate Just Beginning
Regulators around the country are examining the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's (KHRC) move to phase out use of race-day furosemide in graded and listed stakes beginning in 2014, but there doesn't appear to be a rush to follow suit.
Comments from officials in other racing jurisdictions suggest there is reluctance for several reasons, including legislative approval processes, a focus on other issues related to equine medication and safety, and opposition from horsemen's groups. In addition, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, a 40-member racetrack trade group, on June 21 called for medication reforms that don't include a ban on furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix.
Even states with an abundance of graded stakes events--California, Florida, and New York--appear to be on the fence, according to comments obtained by The Blood-Horse. The potential of banning Salix has been widely discussed for more than a year, but the regulatory debate may be just beginning.
"There is not a lot of support in California for such a ban among horsemen," said Rick Arthur, DVM, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). "(A ban on Salix) would have a huge effect here. There are multiple generations of horsemen that have never known anything but race-day Salix. They wouldn't know how to race without it."
Arthur said he personally believes the game would get by without Salix, but convincing people will be difficult. He said he's not sure how the CHRB will react to the Kentucky phase-out proposal, but "I'm sure it will be discussed."
"It would be a big change," Arthur said. "People would have to learn to do things differently. But I'm not convinced that it would have as much impact as some people claim. It's a very complex issue, and there are legitimate arguments on both sides."
The Breeders' Cup thus far is standing by its policy to ban race-day Salix in its World Championships races for 2-year-olds this year at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Arthur said the CHRB is talking with Breeders' Cup officials about how the ban will be implemented at Santa Anita.
Arthur said one rule change that will come before the CHRB this summer is adoption of a model rule that prohibits private veterinarians from administering Salix on race day. The issue has to do with limiting the injections to Salix rather than a combination of Salix and adjunct bleeder medications; about 50% of injections contain a combination, he said.
Arthur said the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT) support the change, but TOC president Lou Raffetto Jr. said the Kentucky decision hasn't changed the organization's position on Salix.
"The TOC and the CTT, we're totally in support of the use of Lasix on race day," Raffetto said. "This is something The Jockey Club and others have been trying to do for some time. I think the mindset is that once a state approves it, another will follow, and another, and so on. But this is not like other medications such as clenbuterol.
"I don't really think there will be a change in policy in California because the horsemen don't want it."
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB) refrained from making detailed comments on the prospect of a race-day ban at the state's racetracks. The NYSRWB earlier this year solicited comments from industry stakeholders on race-day medication.
"The board has not made any decisions regarding its policy on race-day medications," said NYSRWB communications director Lee Park. "More than 2,800 comments were received by the board during a two-week comment period on Lasix. Those comments are under review."
In Florida, medication regulations allow use of Salix and prednisolone sodium succinate, a synthetic corticosteroid also called Solu-Delta-Cortef, on race day. Other corticosteroids and phenylbutazone--commonly known as "Bute"--can't be administered within 24 hours of a race.
"Any changes similar to what Kentucky is considering would require legislative action, and we are not aware of any proposals at this time," a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW) said.
There are differing opinions in Florida on whether Salix should be banned on race day. Tim Ritvo, president of Gulfstream Park and chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, said owner/breeder Frank Stronach favors a phase-out of all race-day medication because it would be in the best interest of horse racing.
"We commend Kentucky for being the first to act," Ritvo said. "We hope that other jurisdictions will follow suit."
Gulfstream had considered a ban on race-day medications, but one reason it didn't follow through is because the drug-testing laboratory is controlled by the state. Ritvo said he has received no indication the Florida DPMW or state legislature is planning to act on the Salix issue.
Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Kent Stirling reiterated the group's support for Salix and speculated the proposed phase-out in Kentucky might not come to fruition.
"I don't think it will happen," Stirling said. "It will be a long journey to get legislative approval. This would put Kentucky on an island by itself."
KHRC chairman Robert Beck Jr. has said he doesn't believe that's the case. Beck told other Kentucky commissioners there is support in other racing states for the phase out of Salix.
Regulators in other states seem to have little appetite for addressing the controversial issue, at least for now. The impact a ban could have on filling fields is a concern, as is a desire to pursue medication reform that has majority support.
"It's not high on our agenda," Ohio State Racing Commission chairman Robert Schmitz said. "We have a committee on medication issues that met in May; we're looking at all these things, but what I want is an administrative rule where folks can see what they can and cannot do (in regard to medication).
"Lasix is not a big deal here. It is a big deal to (commissioner) Will Koester, who went to Kentucky (to speak on the topic at a KHRC hearing). But as far as being a mover and shaker in Ohio when he was (commission chairman), it was not as big an issue for him."
Schmitz noted Ohio has one graded stakes--the grade III Ohio Derby--so the situation is different than that of Kentucky. He acknowledged that could change somewhat with purses expected to increase from video lottery terminal revenue over the next several years.
"(The Kentucky proposal) doesn't apply to the day-to-day racehorse," Schmitz said. "That would be a big issue for us here."
In Indiana, which like Ohio borders Kentucky, the Indiana Horse Racing Commission (IHRC) bases its medication policy on model rules approved by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI). IHRC executive director Joe Gorajec said the state is "most receptive" to acting on an RCI-endorsed policy.
Indiana more than two years ago changed the way Salix is administered on race day. Practicing veterinarians can administer the drug, but under supervision, Gorajec said.
Illinois also is waiting for action by RCI.
"We are not in a position at this point to act on the Lasix issue," said Marc Laino, executive director of the Illinois Racing Board. "We are going to wait and see what happens in Kentucky and move on from there. Only time will tell if it negatively impacts (Kentucky's) racing program. Hopefully, it will not.
"We're not immediately acting on the Lasix issue but we are very conscious of it and looking into a number of medication issues. There is some research going with (the RCI and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium), and we are re-visiting and always re-tooling as it relates to medication rules and policies in the state."
Laino said Illinois adopted an American Graded Stakes Committee-pushed rule that the amount of Bute permitted on race day be lowered, and soon the threshold level will apply to all races in the state.
The West Virginia Racing Commission (WVRC) recently underwent an extensive overhaul of its rules of racing, which required and received legislative approval. Regulatory administration of Salix is among the new rules, but there was no interest among stakeholders in banning the drug on race day.
"At this time it's not really on our radar screen," said Kelli Talbott, deputy attorney general for the WVRC. "The commission is aware of what's going on in Kentucky, but there's nothing on the horizon here. I'm not saying we won't eventually get there, but there's nothing happening now."
In Pennsylvania, stakeholders are putting together a medication and safety reform package they hope to present to regulators. Again, there is no provision to ban Salix, only to have it administered by regulatory or third-party veterinarians in a controlled environment.
"We have been following the decision by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, however, no decision has been made by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission as of yet," spokeswoman Samantha Krepps said.
In Delaware, regulators are aware of Kentucky's action but acknowledge the split between those that want to ban Salix and those that want to continue using it. At the very least a period of regular dialog is about to begin, according to John Wayne, executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission.
"Some people in racetrack management would like to see it phased out, but other people here have different opinions," Wayne said. "The commission won't meet again until July 11, and we haven't had a chance to meet to discuss (the Kentucky action)."
Wayne said the RCI has a board meeting scheduled for July 23, and Salix most likely will be on the agenda. "I'm sure it will be a topic we discuss," he said. "We haven't had a chance to digest it yet."
Beck, during the meeting at which the KHRC passed the Salix phase-out regulation, indicated a need for support from other racing jurisdictions. He said if there isn't a critical mass of states on board by a certain point in 2013, Kentucky may have to rethink its position for 2014.
Jim Freer, Ron Mitchell, and Jack Shinar contributed to this report
About the Author
Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.