Horses entered in the five Breeders' Cup races for juveniles in 2012 will be prohibited from using the diuretic Lasix on race day to treat bleeding in the lungs, according to a policy adopted by the Breeders' Cup on Thursday.
The directive will lead to the ban of all race-day drugs at the organization's year-end event by 2013, the organization said.
The partial ban for next year is the strongest measure to be taken by any organization in North American racing since efforts began earlier this year to roll back the use of race-day drugs in U.S. racing. The rollback has been backed by the Breeders' Cup and other influential industry organizations, including the Jockey Club and the Association of Racing Commissioners International, but horsemen in the United States have resisted.
In a release, the Breeders' Cup said the ban in 2012 for the juvenile races was the first step in "the implementation of a new policy for all [Breeders' Cup] races in the 2013 event and subsequent events." The Breeders' Cup currently consists of 15 races run over two days with purses totaling $26 million.
According to the Breeders' Cup, the policy was first discussed and "strongly supported" at a meeting of the organization's 48 members Wednesday. The 13-member board of directors then voted to adopt the policy at a meeting Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
Lasix, which is used to treat bleeding in the lungs, is legal to administer on race day in all U.S. racing states and Canadian provinces. Studies have shown that the drug is effective in reducing the frequency and severity of bleeding, but other studies also have shown that horses who are administered Lasix on race day outperform horses who do not receive the drug, introducing questions as to whether the drug enhances performance.
Around the world, no other major racing jurisdiction allows the race-day use of drugs, and many participants in the international racing community have been highly critical of the policies in the United States and Canada. That criticism has dovetailed with an aggressive attempt by the Breeders' Cup the past several years to expand the influence of its event overseas and tap into international wagering markets.
"Given the high level of international participation in our [races] and the increasing support for our nominations programs throughout the global thoroughbred breeding and racing community, Breeders' Cup feels strongly that the time has come to modify our medication policies to be consistent with international practices," Tom Ludt, the chairman of the Breeders' Cup, said in a statement.
Most horses who come from overseas jurisdictions to run in the Breeders' Cup are administered Lasix on race day. Horsemen have said that they did not want to perform at a disadvantage by declining to give their horses the drug. At last year's event at Churchill Downs, all but five of the 163 horses who ran in the 14 races were administered Lasix.
The five Breeders' Cup races restricted to 2-year-olds are the Juvenile, the Juvenile Fillies, the Juvenile Turf, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and a new race for 2011, the Juvenile Sprint.
Breeders' Cup has not yet named a host site for the 2012 event, but the organization is considering Belmont Park in New York, Churchill Downs in Kentucky and Santa Anita Park in California. Although Lasix is legal to administer on race day in all three states, horses in Kentucky also are allowed to be administered one of three "adjunct bleeding medications" in addition to Lasix on race day. Those drugs also would be banned under the new policy.
In the past five years, the Breeders' Cup has adopted several policies in advance of state regulators who enforce the sport's rules, including a ban on the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids in 2008 and the implementation of an out-of-competition drug-testing program in 2007.
Unless other racing jurisdictions also ban Lasix on race day for the 2012 racing season, the move by Breeders' Cup will present complications for handicappers who may need to consider the impact of taking a horse off Lasix after the horse has been racing and training on the drug.
Because Lasix use is so ubiquitous in North American racing -- more than 90 percent of all horses receive a race-day injection of the drug -- it is exceedingly rare to see a horse taken off the drug while racing.