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. 


Leave a Comment:

Lise from Maine


Using medications, other than their use for medical reasons, should not be allowed.

It appears to be cheating in order to have a chance to win.

The horse racing industry needs to assure the public that everyone is playing evenly without adding some assistance such as medications for horses who do not have a medical problem.

Furthermore, some of the horses have adverse reactions, for ex., Life at Ten.

It is unfair to the horses first of all, the jockeys who ride them, the fans, and also the betting fans.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

25 Apr 2012 11:16 AM
Mac Macus

I love this sport.  

My bank account is not the kind that allows breeding/owning race horses. (They don't call it 'The Sport of Kings' for no reason)

I share my love of the sport with my non-race fan friends when opportunity arises.  If a big race is televised, I try and provide back stories on the horses, jockeys, trainers involved.  

A female friend of mine actually cried when I once explained 'The 70 year old trainer of the #4 horse has been in the game for forty years and this is his first 'big' horse. The horse lost, she cried.

Another friend once stated he didn't think it 'right' that the riders would 'whip' the horses to make them run faster.  I explained (to his satisfaction at least) the concept of the 'whip'. (more of a communication device between rider and horse...no pain/damage...prey animal response...blah, blah, blah.)

 I have turned many people on to thoroughbred racing, by simply pointing out that 'over hundreds of years these animals have been bred and inbred with the goal of producing magnificent creatures of speed, stamina, heart and courage...I recount the stories of Secretariat, Man O'War, Native Dancer etc...I point to the sire success of A.P. Indy and Storm Cat.

 After one such 'history lesson' a non-racing friend observed, "If the goal of the thoroughbred industry, is through selective breeding, to produce a superior animal and showcase those skills on the race track, then why would they allow drugs to be used to either allow a horse to race or to enhance a horse's performance?!"

"Wouldn't that be something 'horse people' would abhor?"  "Wouldn't that be counter to the whole concept of the thoroughbred?"

I have no answer for that.  

As long as 'doping' is allowed there will be a taint upon our beloved sport.

Until a national regulatory body is established, no significant strides will be possible on this issue.

The general public feels that the racing industry is actually filled with people more than willing to try to 'make a buck' at the expense of horses, rather than with people who love horses.

God Bless Mr. Casner and his stand against doping, he is a true gentleman in the Sport of Kings.

26 Apr 2012 4:35 AM

The official Notice Of Hearing relating to Monday's Subcommittee On Health hearing at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, PA is very clear in stating "Witnesses will be announced and are by invitation only"  This condition presents a perfect script for taking only favorable testimony from previously selected (and screened) witnesses and then selecting certain sound bites and presenting them later as fact.  A typical government action taken in matters that should, in reality, be a search for truth.  Truth, along with honor and integrity are being removed from our American Culture.  The closer one gets to The Beltway, the faster the rate of decline increases.

I have not reached a final conclusion on race day Lasix, but I am leaning toward no race day medication.  With that in mind I still do not want the Pro Lasix supporters silenced.  The industry screams for a resolution to this problem but it should only come from science and not emotion or self serving individuals.  The conditions placed on Monday's hearing are a clear indication that government will not support such a resolution.  For those advocates of Federal Regulation of Horse Racing, you will not realize what has happened until it is too late.

27 Apr 2012 10:27 AM
Pat Lee

Don't forget that the people who benefit from a lasix ban are the big breeders like Mr. Casner . . . I think the ultimate goal is to "purify" the breed as the Germans do . . . no stallions can be bred who have ever used lasix, and we move on from there (e.g., only Grade I winners allowed to breed).  All the little guys will be forced out.  Lasix is salutory for racehorses--80-90% of horses bleed.  It is a necessary drug...not a bad drug, all of which have basically been banned already.

27 Apr 2012 4:47 PM

Wow, Eric! You got your wish!  


40 owners announced today they will race their 2 yr olds free of Lasix!

This is great news, however, I hope the owners' trainers read the memo and won't sabotage this effort by failing to adjust their training methods to accommodate this going "cold turkey".  In Europe, horses in training are not held days on end in their stalls, which is very deleterious to horses' feet. I'm sure there are other adjustments American trainers will have to make, and I hope it is made clear that "failure is not an option" in making this experiment work.

20 Jul 2012 2:47 AM

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