Just days before the Breeders' Cup board of directors conducted a vote on Salix use at its 2013 world championships, prominent owners Gary and Mary West threatened litigation against the organization.
In a letter sent to Breeders' Cup, an attorney said the Wests would be joined by other owners in filing a lawsuit if Breeders' Cup moved forward with plans to prohibit race-day Salix (furosemide, a diuretic also commonly called Lasix) at its world championships. The letter notes that Gary West had submitted several proposals to Breeders' Cup regarding Salix policy at the event but West had not heard back from the organization.
While the impact of the threatened litigation is unknown, the board voted March 1 to keep the 2012 Salix policy in place for the 2013 races. That 2012 policy prohibits Salix use in races for 2-year-olds but allows it in the other championships events. The decision changes a plan Breeders' Cup announced in 2011 to phase out Salix beginning with the 2-year-old races in 2012 and expanding to all races in 2013.
The Wests certainly opposed expansion of the Salix prohibition. With the board deciding to keep race-day Salix restrictions in place only for juveniles for a second straight year, the Wests have not made a final decision on possible litigation, according to their attorney Ronald Zdrojeski.
"We're still trying to determine if there was any scientific study behind this decision," Zdrojeski said March 12. "The chief concern of the Wests is the health and welfare of the horses and jockeys."
In the Feb. 27 letter threatening litigation, the Wests say that Salix is the most effective treatment for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and requiring horses to race without it would put their health in danger, which in turn, would create financial hardship for owners.
"The real issues here are the safety and health of Thoroughbred race horses and jockeys while racing, the damaging effect on the U.S. Thoroughbred industry and its participants of a ban on the use of Lasix, the obvious financial injury to owners and breeders who have conducted business for decades in an environment which permits the use of Lasix to avoid harm to horses and jockeys, the unfair advantage that such a ban would provide to horses bred outside of the U.S. and their owners, and the need for a thorough, objective, well-designed, scientific study of the consequences of the use or non-use of Lasix," said the letter. "On the first point, BC's decision to ban Lasix literally puts the life of the horse and jockey at risk and that is totally unacceptable and indefensible. And the solution is clear: The continued use of race-day Lasix is the only way to ensure that (EIPH) is safely and reliably treated."
In 2011 when Breeders' Cup announced plans to phase out race-day Salix from its races, the organization noted its strong ties to breeding made it important to conduct races without the use of race-day medication. The policy also would be in line with other international racing events.
In the letter, the Wests argue that the policy was put in place based on the "whim of some BC board members," despite scientific evidence that Salix, a diuretic, helps prevent or lessen the severity of EIPH and evidence from the 2012 races that such a policy caused a negative financial impact. The letter said an expanded policy would lead to smaller fields and reduced handle in those races.
"In short, BC's actions present a number of issues that, barring a more reasonable approach by BC, our clients have authorized us to litigate fully and completely, which we sincerely hope is unnecessary," the letter said. "We thus encourage you to immediately and without qualification reverse your 2011 decision to ban race-day Lasix from all BC races in 2013. That decision was made under different circumstances and without the knowledge and input we now have from nearly the entire American racing community about the therapeutic benefits of Lasix."
The Wests' letter notes that as a tax-exempt trade association, Breeders' Cup has a fiduciary duty to advance the interests of the U.S. racing industry.
While The Jockey Club has cited ending race-day Salix as a means toward long-term success for the industry -- noting studies that show racing is failing to attract new fans in part because of its use of race-day medication, the Wests believe discontinuing race-day Lasix would negatively affect racing and breeding in the U.S.
West did offer a $1 million donation for a "thorough, objective, well-designed, scientific study of the consequences of the use or non-use of Salix." He called for Breeders' Cup to take the lead in such a study and suggested that the organization missed an opportunity to study the effects of last year's policy in the event's juvenile races.