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Lasix Off at Saratoga
By Nick Kling
The Troy Record
For the past 16 years, fans going to Saratoga Race Course have seen a big, black capital “L” in the past performances (PPs) of most Thoroughbreds entered to race. Some PPs have a black oval with a white L embedded inside. The black letter represents horses racing on lasix. The other is for horses racing on lasix for the first time. Only animals with neither symbol go to post without the diuretic. Lasix is used to purge water, lower blood pressure, and, hopefully, reduce the incidence of EIPH (bleeding) in Thoroughbreds. Depending on which “authority” you consult, anywhere from less than 2 percent to at least 90 percent of Thoroughbreds bleed. The gulf in numbers illustrates the controversy over its use.
Before the September 1995 legalization of raceday lasix in New York, zero percent of Thoroughbreds racing at Saratoga used the drug. It is now around 98 percent. The vast majority of the world's sporting authorities consider lasix as performance-enhancing. It's supporters in racing claim, no, it only allows the animal to perform to the best of its ability. The prevalence of lasix in 2-year-old racing may change this year at Saratoga. The reason? Breeders' Cup, Ltd. has declared juveniles racing in the 2012 Cup will not be allowed to receive the drug on race day. The Cup returns to Santa Anita this fall, a venue which can hit 90-plus degrees in early November. Since there are now five juvenile races in the Breeders' Cup, the ruling means dozens of the most talented 2-year-olds of the year will be affected. With seven-figure purses on the line, as well as potential Eclipse championships, horsemen must now consider their options. Should they run their stock on lasix leading up to the Cup, then withdraw it? Or, will it be a better strategy to race them lasix-free to determine how their horses perform? Few two-year-old races have been run in New York so far in 2012, and the evidence is mixed. For example, there are eleven juveniles entered in Thursday's race five at Belmont Park. Six are listed as getting lasix, the other five not. One of the trainers not giving lasix is Christophe Clement, a native of France where raceday lasix is banned. Another is Tom Albertrani, who has used lasix on 80 percent of his juveniles over the last five years, according to Daily Racing Form (DRF) Formulator Web. Albertrani's number sounds high until you compare it juvenile maven Todd Pletcher.
Pletcher, who has saddled 483 first-time starting juveniles over the five-year period, and had 1,243 2-year-old starts overall, treats an astonishing 99 percent with lasix.
The likelihood is that more two-year-olds will start at Saratoga in 2012 without the drug. In past years just a handful of top horsemen, Kiaran McLaughlin, Bruce Levine, Jimmy and Allen Jerkens, and Albertrani among them, unveiled horses lasix-free. It signaled the animal was out for educational purposes and not necessarily well-meant. It became a betting angle when those horses returned second-time out switching to lasix on. McLaughlin and Eoin Harty train for Darley Stable, and some like-minded owners not as prone to depend on the purported importance of lasix. Both have been racing juveniles without the drug for months, and are likely to extend the practice to Saratoga. The well-regarded owners' partnership known as Team Valor has been racing some of its juveniles with no lasix, under the stewardship of trainer Graham Motion. Prominent owner Bill Casner, who had Kentucky Derby success with Super Saver, has been campaigning several of his Thoroughbreds, including some older horses, without lasix. Anytime there is a significant shift in methodology, bettors get nervous. The Breeders' Cup decision and other moves away from lasix have spawned the notion that handicapping will become more difficult. Based on my observations of New York racing before the 1995 legalization, I believe those fears are unfounded. A simple guideline to follow is that high percentage trainers will continue to win with horses racing without lasix. Horsemen with experience in New York before 1995 already know what it is like. Smart, younger trainers whose apprenticeship began after 1995 will consult with veterans about animal management. There are lots of pre-lasix hands still around in New York to help. It is no accident most of the stables which win with juveniles, and first-time starters in particular, are top notch outfits. Think about it. You are taking a horse which, other than workouts not conducted at top speed, has never raced in structured competition. Not only must you get the horse physically fit, it must be fast enough to outrun its rivals, and/or professional enough to avoid racing greenly. If anything, handicapping could become easier without lasix. Why is that? Because lasix gives a crutch to trainers not as talented as the best in the profession. Top horsemen manage details. Hall of Fame trainer Leroy Jolley said recently he withheld added salt to the diet of his animals, the better to control their blood pressure. A former professional bettor with whom I'm acquainted stopped playing Finger Lakes several months after the introduction of lasix in New York. His reason? People never
before known to win many races began succeeding almost as often as the track's leaders. It made winnowing contenders from probable losers much more difficult.
Where ever you stand on the usage of lasix, there is no reason to fear races in which some entrants aren't getting the treatment. Closely watch the early results at the Spa, determine who is or isn't adapting, then proceed from there.
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