Agreement made on changes to race-day Lasix administration policy
Santa Anita Park is again scheduled to host live racing March 22 following an agreement worked out midday March 16 between The Stronach Group and Thoroughbred Owners of California.
The reopening for racing at the Arcadia, Calif., oval—which has been closed for two weeks for testing of its main track—was in jeopardy when the two groups could not agree March 15 on Santa Anita's new house rules regarding the anti-bleeding medication Salix, commonly known as Lasix.
The policy on race-day administration of that medication was the primary obstacle after TSG chairman and president Belinda Stronach released the new rules March 14 for Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields declaring "zero tolerance for race-day medication." Lasix is the only race-day medication allowed in California.
The rules were announced in the wake of a spate of breakdowns at Santa Anita, where 22 horses have died either racing or training since the meet opened Dec. 26.
Under the new agreement, no race-day administration of Lasix will be allowed, beginning with foals of 2018 (2-year-olds of 2020). Current levels will be reduced from 10 ccs to 5 ccs.
Alan F. Balch, executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, confirmed the news via text Saturday afternoon. Greg Avioli, president and CEO of TOC, participated in a teleconference call with TOC membership to inform them of the news. While California law requires an agreement with TOC and the racetracks in order for a Lasix ban to go into effect, CTT was consulted during the late stages of negotiation and approved the agreement.
If TSG and TOC had been unable to come to an agreement, the issue would have gone to the California Horse Racing Board. That would have delayed the reopening of Santa Anita because the CHRB would have had to post a 10-day notice before holding a hearing. The CHRB is currently investigating the equine deaths at Santa Anita and is scheduled to meet March 21.
Santa Anita's new house rules were designed to be compliant with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, which bans all race-day medication.
Horsemen voiced concern about the consequences of an immediate ban and noted Lasix has not been linked to breakdowns.
"There's no linkage—they're two different issues," said Avioli.
"It all comes down to Lasix because, pretty much, I would say we're on agreement on everything else," Ritvo said. "And, understandably, because this is a very scary thing because generations of horses have run on Lasix."
Ritvo said Belinda Stronach "is steadfast about the health and welfare of the horse." He noted that people had advised Stronach that Lasix has not contributed to the breakdowns. However, TSG wanted its house rules to reflect "the standards of the rest of the world," Ritvo explained.
"I think, in the end, the horsemen and track management want what's in the best interest of the horse," said Ritvo. "Sometimes we disagree about how we get there and how fast we get there."
Avioli said TOC wanted the timing of Lasix removal tied to foal crop "to give breeders some time to adjust their breeding decisions." He said 90% of horses today have run on Lasix and/or both of their parents did.
If you ban Lasix tomorrow, what does that do economically?" Avioli asked. "How does that impact a horse that won the Kentucky Derby on Lasix?"
Before TSG and TOC came to an agreement, TSG put Golden Gate Fields entries on hold. Entries had already been drawn for March 16-17, and the track had three scheduled dark days before a scheduled resumption of racing March 21. As of Saturday afternoon, Golden Gate had not announced the resumption of entries, but it is expected that entries for March 21 will be taken March 17.
The Water Hay Oats Alliance voiced its support for Belinda Stronach Saturday.
"Her brave, bold intentions for reform at Santa Anita and Golden Gate address the growing negative public perception toward American horse racing," WHOA said in a statement. "The Stronach Group's stand at their California tracks could cause the first domino to fall. It is WHOA's hope that this will be the beginning of a bigger, broader industry shift toward meaningful medication reform in the U.S."