Leading by Example - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the April 28, 2012 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 Kentucky recently took up the race-day Salix debate and once again illustrated how difficult it will be to pass state rules banning the anti-bleeder medication.

A proposal to ban Salix use in all 2013 races for 2-year-olds died on a 7-7 vote by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission April 16. Besides banning the medication’s race-day use in 2-year-olds, the failed proposal would have extended the ban to all 3-year-olds in 2014 and implemented a full ban in all Kentucky races by 2015.

The issue is not completely dead, however. During the same standing-room-only meeting, the commissioners agreed to table for 30 days an amendment pitched by KHRC member Tom Ludt to ban race-day Salix in only stakes races for 2-year-olds. In 2011 Kentucky tracks offered 12 stakes for juveniles, excluding the ones run during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships’ visit to Churchill Downs. Of the regularly scheduled stakes, six were run at Churchill Downs, five at Keeneland, and one at Turfway Park.

While the sampling of races is fairly small, we suspect it will not diminish the rancor that has saturated the race-day medication debate since the outgoing and incoming chairmen of the Association of Racing Commissioners International suggested a year ago that all medication on race day be banned within five years.

The legal and political processes will continue to be a tough slog.

For all racehorse owners, however, who are passionate about the elimination of race-day medication because it’s harmful to horses and to the integrity of the sport, there is a cleaner and quicker solution. They can stop giving their racehorses Salix.

Yes, the question has been asked before of owners who support the ban and the response has been almost unanimous—Salix is a performance-enhancing drug and owners who race without it are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. What’s needed, they say, is a uniform ban so everyone is competing on a clean and level field.

Fair enough, but at least one owner, who passionately believes race-day Salix is bad for racing and bad for horses, has taken the leap of faith and now preaches the gospel to other owners.

Bill Casner, long-time owner and former partner with Kenny Troutt in WinStar Farm, began racing his 2-year-olds without Salix last year. In an opinion piece written for The Blood-Horse (Dec. 3, 2011, pg. 3429), Casner said his horses are thriving without the drug. They’ve scoped clean, maintained weight, and have been fresh and recovered the day after a race.

His horses have performed well, too. Right to Vote, a gelding by Political Force out of What a Knight, finished third in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) behind Union Rags and Alpha. The gelding came back March 24 to win a $62,750 allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park over Scaramagna, who won an allowance race in his next start, and Incredicat, who won the $100,000 Wando Stakes at Woodbine April 21.

For any owner who truly believes the racing world won’t end without race-day Salix, Casner recently told the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders board of trustees he is proof that positive change can be made without the political pain and frustration, according to fellow owner, trustee, and believer in drug-free racing, Gary Biszantz, who attended the meeting.

“Bill is the only owner I know who has made the commitment and is running without Lasix,” Biszantz said. Casner may soon not be alone as several owners in the TOBA board meeting pledged to phase out Salix in their own stables, perhaps starting this year with 2-year-olds.

“I’m happy to help get this started,” Biszantz said.

Owners write the checks. They have all the clout and leverage required to make significant change. How powerful would it be if a substantial group of owners agreed to race without Salix and showed it could be done successfully? What owner wouldn’t be delighted to cut his veterinary bills and still have a healthy stable?

All that’s required now is the will to make it happen. 

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