Dan Liebman: Speaking of Disqualifications, Should We Really DQ Lasix?

Dan Liebman

By Dan Liebman:

Trainer Bill Mott is surely right – we will be talking about this Kentucky Derby for some time to come.

Whether you agree with the decision of the stewards or not—and I do—the first disqualification in the Kentucky Derby for an infraction on the racetrack will be analyzed, discussed, debated and pontificated upon for years and years and …

That being written and said, I actually find my mind today filled much more with thoughts of the Kentucky Oaks than the Kentucky Derby.

Much has been written lately about many racetracks instituting new policies regarding the use of race day Furosemide, commonly known as Lasix.

Last month, the Stronach Group, the New York Racing Association and Churchill Downs Inc., announced 2-year-olds next year racing at its tracks, and at some others, will be prohibited from being treated with the anti-bleeding medication within 24 hours of a race. In 2021, the decision extends to all Stakes races at the tracks that have agreed to the policies.

Currently, nearly every horse racing in the United States—more than 95 percent—are treated with Lasix on race day.

So standing there in the winner’s circle after the Kentucky Oaks was Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress, who not only races on Lasix, but in her prior start bled through Lasix.

In that start, the March 23 Fair Grounds Oaks, in which she was the 3-10 favorite, the daughter of Alternation visibly bled and left the racetrack in an ambulance for precautionary reasons. She was listed as having finished last of seven by 50¼ lengths.

Between the Fair Grounds Oaks and Kentucky Oaks, Serengeti Empress posted two bullet works at Churchill for trainer Tom Amoss, indicating she was back on track for a top effort, which she turned in last Friday, going wire-to-wire and posting a 1¾-length score.

The question, and none of us can answer it with any certainty, is:

Would the 3-year-old filly have won her division’s most important race of the year — with a $1.25 million purse — had she not received her race day shot of Lasix?

One plus one equals two. So, because she has always raced on Lasix, and because she bled through Lasix in her prior start, I can certainly surmise that she would not have run well without the diuretic in her system.

The great Nolan Ryan often said he took Advil before he pitched, including the night he threw his seventh no-hitter … at age 44.

Athletes in all sports take medications to help them deal with pain, injuries, etc. Legally prescribed, or over the counter, and approved by their league offices.

Of course, it goes without saying that human and equine athletes are far different. And it should be noted that while pro sports — such as Major League Baseball — have a league office to determine policy, horse racing does not.

Thirty-five years ago, in my first year covering racing full-time, I attended the Racing Commissioners International (now known as the “ARCI”) convention.

The topic of uniform rules for medication was discussed at length. I was a greenhorn, didn’t know anyone or anything. But it certainly made sense: one set of guidelines and rules for all racing jurisdictions.

“Never happen, not in my lifetime, not in your lifetime,” a racing commissioner said to me that day. As he explained, racing was being conducted in about three-dozen states, each with its own racing commission.

No way, he said, would you ever get every state racing commission to agree on medication policies, rules, violations, penalties, etc.

And, he was right.

Today, however, it is the racetrack owners, not the racing commissions, that are pushing new policies. Still, not everyone is on board, nor is everyone agreeing: for example, the Stronach Group is already lowering the administered amount of Lasix on race day.

This column would be a multi-part series to discuss the efficacy of Lasix, the impact of drugs on the breed, or the myriad of other related topics.

But watch again the performance of Serengeti Empress in the Kentucky Oaks.

Ask yourself if she would have won had she not raced on Lasix.

Ask yourself if she would have even run.

Ask yourself if she deserved the chance to run.

Gives one much more to think about than the disqualification the following day.

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Dan Liebman

    Dan Liebman

      Dan Liebman attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1973 when, from the infield, he saw a glimpse of Secretariat, still today the greatest horse he has seen race. He later worked full time in equine journalism for more than 25 years, his last full time position as Editor in Chief ...

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