By now, anyone with a clue, who cares about the well-being of the game and its four-legged competitors and does not have an agenda knows that it is time for Lasix to go. Even Congress knows it. Lasix and other legal medications were among the subjects last Thursday when the sport got smacked around again in our nation's capital, this time during a hearing entitled "Breeding, Drugs and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Race Horse."
Our elected officials asked an expert to give them a lowdown on Lasix and were basically told that it is a performance-enhancer that does little or nothing to control bleeding. The following is an excerpt from Matt Hegarty's report on the hearing in the Daily Racing Form:
"Support for a prohibition on the race-day administration of furosemide - a diuretic known as Lasix that is used to treat bleeding in the lungs - came from Dr. Larry Soma, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. Soma reiterated the results of research that showed that furosemide has not demonstrated any efficacy in stopping bleeding and said that the drug was being used only as a performance-enhancing agent, citing research showing that horses administered the drug run faster and finish better than horses who do not receive a race-day injection."
Congress doesn't think racing can fix itself because there is no person or no body in charge on a national level. Congress is only half right.
Meaningful changes can happen, but at least for now, they're going to have to happen at the state level, state by state by state by state. Every state has a racing commission; commissions that dictate policy on a local basis and have the power to fix what needs fixing.
Every ounce of evidence -- from scientific to anecdotal -- points to the overwhelming fact that the legalization of Lasix has been detrimental to the sport and is a likely contributor to the current fragility of the breed. Yet, not one state racing commissioner has stepped to the fore to do something about it.
That doesn't mean it's too late. In the wake of the Eight Belles tragedy and the focus Congress has put on racing's problems, there's been a lot of talk about making meaningful changes, but little action. Not only is a ban of Lasix on a state-by-state basis a good idea but it's very doable.
The places to start are Kentucky, Maryland and New York, which host the Triple Crown races. The three racing commissions in those states should immediately begin the process of banning Lasix, sending a message to the rest of the industry that they will not allow the three most important races in this country to be influenced by drugs. By doing so, the pressure would be on the remaining racing states to follow suit.
There's probably not much hope that Kentucky will ban Lasix. For years, Kentucky has been the Wild West of horse racing and remains the lone state that is not fastracking a ban on anabolic steroids.
But there's absolutely no reason why New York and Maryland can't and shouldn't get rid of a drug that is clearly detrimental to the overall good of the sport. They can even do it in a way that will make life easier for horsemen that are so dependent on it. You can grandfather in all horses that currently race on Lasix and allow them to stay on the drug throughout their careers. Once the bans are passed, horses beginning their careers will not be permitted to race on Lasix.
Meetings, hearings and committees are nice, but Congress, racing's many critics and even most people within the sport, are looking for decisive action. They are looking for things like a ban on all race-day medications, Lasix included. Let's get to it.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.