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The Week in Review: March 20, 2019
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20, 2019
by: Valerie Mellema
It's been an up and down week for everyone involved in horse racing and to say the situation at Santa Anita has been on the forefront would be an understatement. Here's your weekly news wrap up with the developing situation at Santa Anita, the Dubai World Cup and the loss of a great stallion.
On Again, Off Again and More Drama at Santa Anita
As most are aware, since December 26th, there have been 22 breakdowns on the Santa Anita racetrack. This has resulted in the track shutting down all racing and training while they inspected the main track. It made sense that there was something wrong with the track. California had been a long drought and recently received tons of rain over the fall and winter. It would only make sense that after many years of drought that the track crew would get used to maintaining the track one way and now it has changed due to the deluge of rain. This was the sentiment expressed by Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who just lost BATTLE OF MIDWAY in one of these breakdowns in an interview on The Horse Racing Radio Network Equine Forum podcast March 16th.
However, two days after declaring the track was the same as it was in the fall, the 22nd horse fell victim. The result, however, was Belinda Stronach of The Stronach Group, owners of Santa Anita, publishing an Open Letter to the horse racing industry stating that they would no longer allow race day Lasix and would only allow whip use for correction purposes only.
For many, she simply deflected the issue of the safety of the racing surface to the use of a diuretic that has been used by trainers since the 60s. The original use of Lasix was to prevent bleeding in horses who suffer from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhages (EIHP), these horses have been known as "bleeders." Lasix was used to reduce or prevent bleeds in horses by reducing the pressure within the lungs via the diuretic. On the flip side, trainers also discovered that by causing the horse to urinate, they lost body weight and therefore could run faster. With this discovery, it also became a requirement that trainers provide handicappers with the knowledge of whether or not a horse was running on Lasix and particularly if they are running on Lasix for the first time. Hence, racing programs mark horses with an "L" and various variations thereof to inform handicappers if the horse is running on Lasix, if it's the first time, etc.
So, why is everyone up in arms over Lasix? Well, because it could be considered a performance-enhancing drug. There are also arguments that Lasix could cause the body to eliminate calcium to the point to where the bones are weakened. While there is scientific research to support that Lasix causes the loss of calcium and weakens bones in humans, there is very little research in horses to support this theory. What we do know from the 22 breakdowns however is that while all 22 horses ran on Lasix, four of the horses were graded stakes horses while the majority of the others were maidens, claimers and four were unraced. Their ages ranged from seven to three years old. Based on this information, it's difficult to pin the breakdowns on Santa Anita to the use of Lasix. Under that theory, the older horses should have broken down long ago.
Another argument is that Lasix can be used to hide other medications and therefore used by trainers who "cheat." However, due to the fact that there are limits on the amount of Lasix that can be used by trainers, the current dosage and even the new agreed upon dosage is not high enough to mask other drugs. Drug testing has also become much more sensitive and able to detect illegal substances much easier than in the past.
Additionally, the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians (NAARV) issued a press release stating, "However there is abundant evidence that reduction and elimination of furosemide (Lasix) administration will lead to increasing levels of EIPH and subsequent pulmonary disease in horses." Within the statement, they also asserted, "The result is that it has been decided that appeasement of specific sectors of society as well as a minority of stakeholders in our industry is more important than prevention of [EIHP] in our horses." This statement was in reference to The Stronach Group implementing the reduction of the use of Lasix simply to appease PETA.
For obvious reasons, the horsemen at Santa Anita were not ready to just drop the use of Lasix at the drop of a hat. Some of the horses racing really do require the drug in order to be able to run. After meetings between the horsemen, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) and The Stronach Group, an agreement on the use of Lasix was reached pending approval of the CHRB. The result is that the maximum amount of Lasix that can be used will be halved from 10 cc to 5 cc starting with the 2018 crop. All future crops will not be able to race with Lasix. Current Lasix users will be allowed to use the medication throughout their remaining careers. By 2024, racing at Santa Anita will essentially be Lasix-free.
Now, since the use of Lasix is apparently so important to The Stronach Group, you would think they would follow what the preach. In reality, Stronach Stable Inc. is still using Lasix on their horses. Their two horses that ran at Laurel Saturday were both on Lasix. In the Pegasus World Cup Turf, their horse DELTA PRINCE was also on Lasix, despite the fact that they would have been able to receive a weight break without Lasix.
The new Lasix rule may also affect the Breeders' Cup, assuming that they still hold the event at Santa Anita. 2018 foals will be racing Lasix free against older horses. Depending on the race and the ages in the field, it's very possible that three-year-olds will be running without Lasix against older horses who are "grandfathered" in.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Santa Anita situation is that the LA County District Attorney is now investigating the breakdowns. They released a statement stating, "At this time, the District Attorney's Office has assigned investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board." This investigation came after PETA requested an investigation into the deaths and requested specifically that the track's trainers and veterinarians be investigated.
The main track and training track are currently being used for workouts, but horses are only allowed to jog or gallop. At this time, Santa Anita is scheduled to reopen March 29th, pending approval by the California Horse Racing Board.
Updated Santa Anita Stakes Schedule
Pioneerof the Nile Dies from Heart Attack at 13
After leaving the breeding shed uncomfortably March 18th, WinStar's top stallion, Pioneerof the Nile passed away en route to the vet from a heart attack. This is a substantial loss for the farm, as the son of Empire Maker was the sire of Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah.
Pioneerof the Nile was the first horse bred by Ahmed Zayat, owner of Zayat Stables. The stallion had a fantastic career including the CashCall Futurity (G1), Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2), San Felipe Stakes (G2), Santa Anita Derby (G1), and placed second in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Dubai World Cup U.S. Participants
The Dubai Racing Club has released the likely fields for the Dubai World Cup card. The $12 million Dubai World Cup will be race 9 and is expected to include:
The City of Baltimore Sues The Stronach Group
The Stronach Group has been debating relocating the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel Park. Both tracks are owned by The Stronach Group. This tough decision came after a December report by the Maryland Stadium Authority published a report stating that Pimlico would require a $424 million renovation. The Stronach Group stated that they do not plan to invest that significantly in the track. Currently, The Preakness is will run at Pimlico through 2020 as they work to prepare Laurel Park into a "super track." Laurel is located between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit was filed by Mayor Catherine Pugh on behalf of the City of Baltimore. The lawsuit requests the Baltimore Circuit Court to award ownership of Pimlico and the Preakness Stakes to the city. The lawsuit is based on a 1987 Maryland law that states that the Preakness may be ran at a different track "only as a result of disaster or emergency." In the lawsuit, Pugh argues "Defendants could indeed manufacture an 'emergency or disaster' to justify the transfer of the Preakness to Laurel, as under-maintained infrastructure begins to fail and crowds attending Pimlico races and the horses racing there are endangered."
Current Kentucky Derby Point Standings
With the second place finishes in the two Rebel Stakes divisions at Oaklawn, favorites GAME WINNER and IMPROBABLE have moved down the point standings for the Derby. Here's the current points standings for the top 20:
The next Derby Prep race is the Louisiana Derby March 23rd followed by the Sunland Derby March 24th.
Have a great week!
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