The pillars of commerce have always of necessity rested on integrity coupled with government oversight. Without honesty in dealing, commerce will begin to falter. Horseracing is not exempt from this principle. Today America stands alone at a crossroads in Thoroughbred racing and it must decide if it will choose to restore its image and integrity by legislatively banning the indiscriminate use of performance-enhancing drugs, including Lasix.
Any such effort will require federal assistance. There is now a bill before Congress that will give the racing industry the respect it deserves by enabling racing to achieve national uniformity for drug and medication rules. This bill is called the Horseracing Integrity Act.
Cheating, or the desire to gain an unfair advantage, is a powerful driver for what plagues this industry today. Lasix is a potent diuretic that when administered before a race results in a horse losing on average between 25-30 pounds of weight by race time. A lighter horse can run faster and longer. That is why the industry has long judiciously controlled the weight of the jockey and the equipment on the horse at race time. By way of example, all horses entered in the Kentucky Derby are required to carry 126 pounds of jockey/equipment, with one exception for fillies who carry only 121 pounds. It is said that one extra pound carried in a mile race will cause a horse to lose up to a length.
Can anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty argue that one pound of jockey/equipment weight is important, but that 25-30 pounds of a horse’s lost weight by the use of Lasix is not? Lasix is a performance-enhancing drug and every person in the American horseracing industry knows it and uses it for that purpose. So, too, do nearly all of the international trainers who feel their horses must use Lasix to be competitive when they come here for our major races. In addition, Lasix also masks the use of other performance-enhancing drugs by making it more difficult to catch cheaters through urine and blood testing, which begs the question: Why would almost 100% of horses run on Lasix when only around 5% bleed?
Seattle Mariners baseball star Robinson Cano was recently suspended by Major League Baseball (MLB) for 80 games after he tested positive for Lasix, and he will lose $11 million of his salary. He violated MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy. MLB did this to protect the game of baseball because they realize that the game is bigger than the individual and that without integrity the game will fade away. The NBA, NFL, the Olympics, and other major sporting events operate with a policy of integrity at all costs, and yet every horse in every race in our showcase to the world, the Triple Crown, ran on the same drug that Cano was suspended for: Lasix.
The New York Post headline read: “Behind the ‘masking’ drug that got Robinson Cano banned,” yet sadly, although perhaps understandably, most veterinary organizations oppose the elimination of the use of drugs like Lasix in racing. I believe it is due to the huge profits they generate. It has been estimated that Lasix and the fluids given a horse to help him recuperate from the effects of it cost racehorse owners an estimated $100 million per year, not to mention the losses incurred from owning a horse who is now only capable of making an average of 11 lifetime starts in contrast to when he once averaged 45.
As with any problem, there is always the question of, “How did we get here?” The simple answer is that cheating has always been at the doorstep of racing. However, the door was flung open when in the 1951 case of Fink v. Cole, the New York courts struck down the authority of The Jockey Club to regulate the rules of racing.
This kicked regulatory functions to the various state racing commissions, eliminating uniformity in the conduct of racing, including what types and amounts of medication would be allowed. Without a central authority, regulation now depends solely on the various state racing commissions, which today are neither uniform nor without political influences in their oversight of our industry. This is precisely why the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act is so important if we wish to free ourselves from the scourge of drugs in racing.
The next question should be, “Where is all this headed?” Since the use of performance-enhancing drugs on race day is forbidden by all the major racing jurisdictions around the world except in North America, it is only a matter of time until American racing successes will not be credited or recognized … and why should the international authorities continue to recognize victories for horses that win on performance-enhancing drugs?
When and if this occurs, American Thoroughbred racing will truly be a lone wolf, cast out, with our horses disrespected and unrecognized around the world for their accomplishments.
Arthur B. Hancock III, the owner of Stone Farm in Paris Ky., raced two Kentucky Derby winners, Gato Del Sol and Sunday Silence, without the benefit of Lasix. He and wife Staci are founding members of the Water Hay Oats Alliance, a grassroots organization whose members support legislation to create a national, independent, non-governmental agency to oversee medication policy and enforcement in American racing.
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