- Paul Moran
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The intended point is anything but clear.
Is there anything of genuine value to be learned from an experiment -- if that is indeed what you would call this exercise -- conducted in a vacuum?
There is wide agreement among those who invest in or train thoroughbreds that not bleeding is a good thing.
Withholding Lasix, an almost universally used and, among participants in the sport, a near-unanimously supported medication, from American-trained 2-year-old horses racing on one weekend in five Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita Park is in reality neither a bold experiment nor one that has the potential to provide a valid conclusion. That would take the better part of a century.
If there is a point, it has not become obvious. There is wide agreement among those who invest in or train thoroughbreds that not bleeding is a good thing, prevention of pulmonary hemorrhage is humane, and those who oppose the regulated administration of Lasix have nothing at risk.
Best result: No horses are led off the track gushing blood from the mouth and nostrils. No careers are compromised or human lives endangered.
Worst result: Something really ugly happens.
Risk/reward: There is great risk but no reward. When this is over, it will be treated as though it never happened. One weekend is meaningless, and Lasix is too widely supported and deeply ingrained to be threatened by the knot of people who make decisions for the Breeders' Cup.
Though it is permitted in all American racing jurisdictions and almost universally given to horses racing in this country, the diuretic is not permitted for 2-year-olds running on Friday and Saturday because the Breeders' Cup wanted a season-ending event run, in the words of its president, "without the influence of race-day medication." It is inaccurate to call this one-day ban an experiment because it will be impossible to arrive at a conclusion or learn anything of significance. Exactly what it is, why it is being forced upon unwilling participants and what the expected benefit might be are unclear, even muddled. On Sunday, normalcy will again prevail.
The five Breeders' Cup races for 2-year-olds drew 52 pre-entered American-trained horses. Only one, Fortify, has not raced on Lasix. That amounts to 98.1 percent of the American-trained 2-year-olds running at Santa Anita coming off Lasix, a monumentally uncertain, potentially disastrous situation for horses, horsemen and handicappers that results from an entirely arbitrary, ill-advised event-specific rule change for this year's races.
The first impact is immediately evident. The Juvenile Fillies drew only nine pre-entries, the Juvenile 10. The Juvenile turf races are bolstered by Europeans, six fillies and seven males in their respective races, and saw 18 and 19 pre-entered. Lasix is prohibited for use in European racing but is commonly administered to European horses racing in the Breeders' Cup and other major American races.
Some view the Breeders' Cup Lasix ban as recklessly dangerous, a move that, in fact, puts the horses at unnecessary risk.
"It's uncharted territory," said trainer Todd Pletcher, a supporter of Lasix as a prophylactic measure to prevent pulmonary bleeding who saw his Breeders' Cup hand diminished when a major owner, Mike Repole, elected to pass because of the Lasix ban. "All of these horses have run on Lasix and the only way we'll know is to see how they run and scope them afterward," Pletcher said last week.
This presents a serious question and risk to owners whose horses may be compromised in competition or suffer internal injuries because of the Lasix ban. Many train as well as race on Lasix.
Four of Repole's absent Breeders' Cup prospects are 2-year-olds, and the scant American participation in races for juveniles suggests that, while more vocal than his fellow owners, he is not alone in his decision to not risk injury to the horses for the sake of a seven-figure purse.
For them to experiment on one of America's biggest racing days and stages makes no sense. It's kind of par for the course.
”-- Owner Mike Repole
"I'm a pro-Lasix person," Repole told the Daily Racing Form. "It's the one drug that can prevent a horse from bleeding and help a horse. I've spoken to a lot of veterinarians and a lot of trainers who have given me enough information to make me feel Lasix is a drug that horses need. For them to experiment on one of America's biggest racing days and stages makes no sense.
"Definitely, it's not fair to the fan," Repole said. "You're going to be handicapping five 2-year-old races with horses that 99 percent ran on Lasix their whole careers, and now you're asking them to run without it. They're going to be impossible races to handicap, impossible races to bet."
This is an opinion widely shared. No form can be trusted. Any horse, if it bleeds in the face of a denial of medication, will stop badly. In the aftermath, the impact of the Lasix ban on the betting handle may be viewed as a self-inflicted wound that affects not only the individual pools but a number of horizontal, multi-race wagers -- not the least of which is the usually popular pick-six.
American horseplayers are familiar with dealing with the addition of Lasix, not the withdrawal, especially on this scale, and while an isolated, extremely rare case of a horse coming off Lasix may be a puzzle to be considered individually, the mass "Lasix off" mandate is an impossible unknown with no discernible best-case scenario that will dissuade the substantial commitment of capital required of a reasonable pick-six play in the Breeders' Cup.
George Sheehan is a longtime professional horseplayer who specializes in 2-year-olds. Five quality stakes on both dirt and turf should present a bounty of potential opportunity, but not this time.
"Normally, I won't play a first-time starter that doesn't run on Lasix," Sheehan said. "They don't win very often. But I don't know what to say about this. I haven't a clue about how to deal with Lasix off. I don't know where to begin. The short answer is that this is unanswerable. It would certainly temper enthusiasm for any horse. I've been very fond of Shanghai Bobby. Distance may turn out to be a problem for him. But now "
A faction of the Breeders' Cup leadership seeks to emulate European racing, though in fact that posture may be akin to emulating the economies of Greece and Spain.
"A very large percentage of [horses] end up bleeding at some point," British-born trainer Graham Motion, who will send the European-raced Kitten's Point in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, said during a teleconference last week. "I don't get the argument that I hear from Europe that horses don't bleed over there. I don't believe that. Probably 80 to 90 percent of my horses at some point bleed."
Though the key industry participants and most owners and trainers are heavily in favor of Lasix on race day, this is a controversy that may ultimately put the Breeders' Cup at odds with those upon whom it depends for its very existence. In the future, Repole may have much company.
We don't view 2012 as an experiment but as the first step toward extending the policy to all our championship races in 2013.
”-- Craig Fravel, Breeders' Cup president and CEO
Over a period of two days, every American-trained horse older than age 2 entered in a Breeders' Cup race will run on Lasix as will one from Japan and two from Argentina. At least some Europeans, such as Nahrain, winner of the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont in her last start and second in the Filly & Mare Turf last year, both while running with Lasix, will be added to that long, long list. European horsemen have a history of using Lasix whenever it is available.
This is the potential irreconcilable difference.
"The objective of the policy is to ensure that our championship races, the culmination of the season, are run without the influence of race-day medication," the Breeders' Cup president and CEO Craig Fravel said in a statement issued in response to a query last week. "Our board and members feel strongly about that and that's why we enacted the policy. We don't view 2012 as an experiment but as the first step toward extending the policy to all our championship races in 2013."
That -- owners and trainers in diametric opposition to the policies of an organization meant to serve their purposes and funded in great part by their participation -- and a failure to reconsider an untenable position will mark the beginning of the end of the Breeders' Cup.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at email@example.com.