The following was published by Thoroughbred Daily News on Monday, March 18, 2019.
By Earle Mack
In the wake of the death of 22 Thoroughbreds at Santa Anita, Belinda Stronach and The Stronach Group have taken the bold action to ban race day Lasix, including more stringent regulations on pain killers and more transparency in veterinary records. I believe these reforms, implemented correctly, will substantially enhance the sport’s integrity, and by this extension the very future of horse racing. For the past 50 years, as an owner, breeder, administrator and operator, the use of Lasix has been one of the most controversial and complex topics that has faced the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
These reforms have been proposed before and are under attack again today. In the history of racing, many advocates of reform have been laid to rest in a veritable “Flanders Fields” of heroes.
First, there was the great Dinny Phipps. When Mr. Phipps took over The Jockey Club in 1982, he made restoring and preserving the integrity of racing his top priority. He advocated the banning of Lasix and all race day medications. Under Dinny’s strong ride, The Jockey Club was a vocal leader on all of these issues advancing uniformity in drug medication which have sadly remained without resolution amongst state racing jurisdictions for decades.
A second hero was former Chairman of the New York Racing and Wagering Board, Richard Corbisiero. For part of the 1980s and ’90s, New York, under Corbisiero’s leadership, was one of the few states that prohibited the use of Lasix. The use of Lasix would be thrust into the spotlight, when horses who raced in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness went to the Belmont Stakes. The great Alysheba had Lasix as he won the first two legs of the 1987 Triple Crown but couldn’t use it in the Belmont Stakes and lost. That hero fell when NYRA started losing money from handle as its field sizes dwindled badly and race day Lasix was reinstated in New York.
Most recently, the “Horse Racing Integrity Act.” Sponsored by representatives Paul Tonko and Andy Barr, co-chairs of the Congressional Horse Caucus, reintroduced H.R. 1754: the “Horseracing Integrity Act,” would establish a uniform national medication program, bringing the United States in line with international standards. The bill is championed by The Jockey Club and many other fine advocates. For four years this bill has been stalled in Congress, longing to be passed. Most say its chances of passage this year are slim. Why?
Now along comes the new chair of The Stronach Group, Belinda Stronach, relative newcomer to the everyday ins and outs of the complex issues of racing, who courageously makes the decision–after the horrible deaths of 22 Thoroughbreds at Santa Anita–to ban all race day medications at the track, including one of the most controversial parts of the proposed “Horse Racing Integrity Act”–to ban race day Lasix–a courageous act which has set the grounds for great concern amongst many Thoroughbred owners and trainers in America.
Let’s hope this bold act, which some have falsely criticized as nothing more than a gratuitous gesture to save face for track after the breakdowns at Santa Anita, will win the day and set an example! Belinda has the power as an operator of many prime American racetracks to make this happen. For this initiative to succeed, Ms. Stronach must stick to her guns and initiate these reforms at all Stronach racetracks with common sense guidance. This will be the telling test for the end of the Lasix era in race day medication.
I commend Belinda Stronach–following in the footsteps of her father, Frank–and The Stronach Group for its courage and hope through their leadership that all race day medication, including Lasix, will be eliminated once and for all and level the playing field. Please don’t let Belinda be laid to rest with our past heroes in Flanders Fields.
Nota bene all racetrack operators: “The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die. We shall not sleep, though poppies grow. In Flanders fields.”
Earle Mack is the former U.S. Ambassador to Finland, current member of The Jockey Club, former Chairman of the New York State Racing Commission, and was the advisor to two New York State governors on matters pertaining to racing.