Thoughts on the Industry's Medication Issue
Last Thursday, the Breeders’ Cup made headlines by announcing a directive that will lead to the ban of all race day medications at the event by 2013. As a start, horses entered in the five Breeders’ Cup races for juveniles in 2012 will be prohibited from using Lasix, the anti-bleeder diuretic, on race day - and by 2012, all race day drugs will be banned from the Breeders’ Cup.
I think this directive is a great start in evaluating what needs to be done on an industry-wide basis. Up until now, the proponents of race day medication have had kind of an inherent advantage because all they would say is ‘Let’s study it, let’s study it, you know what, we’ve been studying...’ but what do you study and how can you get results if you’re not actually running these horses without the medication? Sure, you can point to studies that have shown the drug is effective in treating bleeding, but what about other studies that have clearly shown it can act as a performance enhancer because horses who are administered Lasix on race day tend to outperform horses who don’t receive it? If you’re not an advocate of banning race day meds, just say that, don’t say you want more studies - because no matter which study comes out or what it finds, you’re going to support it or not support it in a way that represents your outlook.
I believe we’ve been open-minded about people’s concerns and questions, but at a certain point you have to say, ‘Let’s get this process started.’ This is the most action that’s been taken by any North American racing organization in an effort to reduce the use of race day medication. It isn’t a theoretical study done by scientists in a lab, this is the real world. If you have a horse you think is going to be Breeders’ Cup material with a potential to run in the Juvenile, the Juvenile Fillies, the Juvenile Turf, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, or the Juvenile Sprint, you have enough of a heads up before 2012 knowing that you’re not going to be able to give them a shot of Lasix the morning of the race. If you don’t like it, don’t enter.
What this really boils down to is a leadership issue. If you look at the other entities in the business - the Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association, the NTRA - nobody was really in the position to stand up and lead from the front. And as they stay in the military: lead, follow, or get hell out of the way. You’ve got to give props to the Breeders’ Cup because at least the board members had enough gumption to say. ‘Look, we’re going to stand up and do something different.’ They knew it was going to be unpopular and it has been, but just like in 2007 when an out-of-competition drug-testing program was put in place, or as in 2008 when the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids was banned, they realized it was a necessary step to take.
The racing business compares to major league baseball in this situation. Five years ago, everybody knew MLB was a dirty game and the juice guys were hitting all the best home runs. One of the speakers at the race day medication summit at Belmont Park last month was Rob Manfred, Jr., the Executive Vice President for the MLB. He was brought in to discuss his experiences regarding performance enhancing drugs and drug testing in his sport, and he helped design and execute the new drug program for major league baseball. He said, “Before it all came together, I thought the game was headed down a bad path. I thought we were going to lose our home run hitters and our fan base, but it couldn’t have come about any different. Now the game is more popular than it’s ever been, with crowds at record heights, and yeah, you’re not getting as many of those insane home runs, but everybody looks at baseball and the players in different light, and no doubt that’s helped the overall resurgence of baseball.”
We’ve got to bounce back. Our business has really struggled in the past, especially in the last 36 months or so. Who knows, maybe this is a shot in the arm that could really help us.
What would a complete elimination of race day medication mean for our West Point Partners? One of the things it could hurt is our average number of starts, because a lot of trainers who are advocates of keeping Lasix are saying they’ll face a longer recovery period coming out of the races as they deal with concerns over respiratory illnesses and the after-affects of horses bleeding when they run. Those are issues we’ll have to address, but I really struggle with trainers and proponents of raceday medication who talk about how it’s inhumane to run horses without Lasix here. I understand that respiratory issues and pulmonary bleeding are serious challenges to overcome, but I don’t think the argument holds up that it’s inhumane to run without the drug when every other country in the world except Canada successfully does so. Does that make every other country in the world inhumane in their treatment of racehorses? Obviously not. If a horse bleeds and needs recovery time, he needs to get it. If he can’t race without bleeding severely, the question comes up about whether he should be running at all.
For the time being, this doesn’t immediately affect our runners. The rules still allow Lasix and in order to compete on an even playing field our trainers will administer it to our horses as they see fit. But industry-wide, if the day comes when a race day medication ban is in place, we’ll be happy to comply.
I think this well help our business and it will be a good start toward bringing health back to the industry and the breed. From a public relations standpoint, the fact that we are taking action on this matter will be a big plus. To me, it’s very exciting.
See you at the races!