Rip Off the Medication Band-Aid - By Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the July 23, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell The Breeders’ Cup board of directors took a big step July 14 toward leveling the international medication playing field for Thoroughbred racing.

Beginning with the 2012 World Championships, Breeders’ Cup aims to ban all race-day medication for the 2-year-old races. The ban is expected to expand to all races by 2013.

By race-day medication, we mean all drugs but primarily Salix and any other adjunct anti-bleeding medication, which are currently allowed.

The clock for the ban of race-day medication began ticking down last March when the incoming and outgoing chairmen of the Association of Racing Commissioners International called for a five-year phase-out of race-day medication use. The phase-out challenge was followed in June by a two-day international summit during which veterinarians and researchers extolled the effectiveness of furosemide (Salix) in reducing bleeding (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging) in racehorses while racing jurisdiction executives and trainers outside the United States talked of how bleeding can be managed without drugs. A follow-up meeting to the summit will be held Aug. 4 by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a group of 25 industry stakeholders that is now taking the lead on the proposal to ban race-day medication use.

What tack the RMTC may take after its next meeting is not clear as there is no reported consensus on the necessity of a ban or, if consensus is reached, on the ways to implement it.

What is clear, because of the Breeders’ Cup board’s action, is that the U.S. racing community better have an answer and a plan before 2012.
If an industry-wide ban is not implemented by 2013, we will have horses racing regularly on Salix leading up to the championships, then running one of the biggest races of their careers without it. From a betting standpoint, this cannot be good for the form of this high-profile event, which attracted more than $111 million in handle last year.

There is also a proposal on the table to phase in the race-day medication ban only in graded stakes first. The problem is the same as with Breeders’ Cup times 25. You’ll wind up with a patchwork of medication rules. A horse can run through its conditions on Salix until it gets the opportunity to run in a graded stakes, and then it’s racing cold turkey. Is this fair to the horse? Fair to the bettors? It doesn’t seem so.

Forget partial race-day medication bans. We have enough problems now with patchwork regulations. Let’s put all U.S. racing under one medication policy and put the U.S. on par with the rest of the world by moving forward on a race-day medication ban as soon as possible.

Summer Racing Returns

On a lighter note, July is a special month on the racing calendar; bringing us two big, feel-good, destination race meetings that highlight the year. The perfect climate and location of Del Mar bring sun- and horse-worshipers to the edge of the Pacific just north of San Diego to embrace the lazy days of summer. Across the country in the small upstate New York hamlet of Saratoga Springs, East Coasters congregate to celebrate the bred-in-the-purple Thoroughbreds competing in daily stakes action and the unveiling of 2-year-olds hopefully taking their first strides toward next year’s Triple Crown trail.

The debate rages back and forth between Easterners and Left Coasters as to which is the more scenic venue; which town has the finer culinary fare; and which boasts the most beautiful people.

The answer to all these questions is…you can’t go wrong either way.

Although racing thus far this season lacks a star of Zenyatta’s magnitude, we are likely to see over the summer top-flight runners such as Smiling Tiger, Flashpoint, Blind Luck, Havre de Grace, Awesome Maria, Winter Memories, Courageous Cat, and a host of other potential headliners looking to make names for themselves.

And, in an encouraging vein, there will be weekly Saturday live national television coverage of Saratoga’s feature race on NBC or its sister network Versus, beginning with the July 23 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) and going through the Sept. 3 Woodward Stakes (gr. I). Included in the deal is a full slate of grade I action—the July 30 Diana Handicap, the Aug. 6 Whitney Handicap, the (Sunday) Aug. 7 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, the Aug. 13 Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap, the Aug. 20 TVG Alabama Stakes, and the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes.  
Is there any better time to be a racing fan?

Features Editor Lenny Shulman contributed to this column. 

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