The rumblings were unmistakable. The U.S. racing industry was ready to end its four-decades-long addiction to drugs and go back to purer times when horses were not allowed to be juiced up with Lasix and all sorts of other things before they race. But who would lead the charge for change and take the first very important steps?
It turned out not to be a racing commission, racing commissioner, TOBA or the Triple Crown tracks but the Breeders' Cup. The organization announced last week that starting in 2012 Lasix would not be permitted in its races for 2-year-olds and all Breeders' Cup races will go drug free starting in 2013.
Lasix has done nothing but harm racing. It has caused the sport serious perception problems when it comes to integrity.
This is no doubt the beginning of the end of Lasix use in U.S. racing. Since serious talk of banning the drug and getting in line with the rest of the world's medication policies began it was apparent that a lot of people were waiting for someone or some organization to lead the charge and take the first step, a first step that would no doubt lead to a domino effect. It will now be a lot easier for others to follow the Breeders' Cup's lead and also ban race-day medications. At least in top level races, these drugs are about to be a thing of the past.
That's why this story is good news on more than one level. Lasix has done nothing but harm racing. It has caused the sport serious perception problems when it comes to integrity. Rightly or wrongly, the public and, more importantly, a lot of key politicians, believe that this is a rogue sport and the outcome of too many races is won not by the best horse but the one with the best drugs. There is also antecdotal evidence that Lasix has something to do with why horses have never raced less frequently. Since the drug came into play the average number of starts per horse has dropped dramatically. It's not hard to conclude that Lasix has had something to do with that.
The other positive aspect is that the Breeders' Cup is showing signs of wanting to step into and fill what has been a huge void in the sport when it comes to leadership. Racing is not ruled by a commissioner. It is not ruled by anyone. And that's why it is so dysfunctional and, sometimes it seems, so bent on ruin.
The Breeders' Cup can only do so much, but, if it so desires it can be a positive force for change. The Breeders' Cup can spearhead a movement to create a racing series that leads up to the big event in November. It can start supporting horse rescue charities rather than non-racing charities. The latter are all good causes but shouldn't racing take care of its own before worrying about things that have nothing to do with the sport? By getting daring with its wagering menu, it can start chipping away at the excessive takeout levels that have been so detrimental to the game's overall well-being. It can change race conditions to ban the offspring of any horse whose sire was 4 or younger when the horse was conceived. Do that and watch how many top 3-year-olds stick around to race at 4.
In Craig Fravel and Tom Ludt, the Breeders' Cup has new leaders. They are off to a very good start. May this just be the beginning?
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The best race of the year so far was no doubt the Delaware Handicap, which pitted rivals Blind Luck and Havre de Grace in a fierce battle which ended with Blind Luck winning by a nose. Havre de Grace finished 18 ½ lengths in front of third-place finisher Life At Ten.
With these two knocking heads, neither will ever go on a Zenyatta-like run, but that shouldn't diminish from their accomplishments. Both are Horse of the Year candidates and the connections of both are a rare breed in racing, sportsmen who don't believe in ducking challenges. The sport could use a lot more like them.
Two of racing's most notable streaks continued this weekend. On the thoroughbred side, Rapid Redux, the king of the starter allowance races, won his 14th straight. The remarkable gelding crushed the competition Friday night at Mountaineer, winning by 8 ½ lengths. The next night, 3-year-old filly pacer See You At Peelers won the Tarport Hap at the Meadowlands and is now unbeaten in 20 career starts. This time, though, she may have been a little lucky. Idyllic was making a strong move in the stretch and looked ready to give See You At Peelers the fight of her life but broke stride about 50 yards from the wire.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at email@example.com.