A Turning Tide - By Eric Mitchell

The debate over race-day Salix in America is at a logjam that puts the federal government shutdown to shame. Both camps are entrenched, Breeders’ Cup has backed off its race-day policy, and the American Graded Stakes Committee is waiting to see how state racing commissions will address the issue.

Any more forums, workshops, or summits are not likely to change any opinions. Ultimatums have not been persuasive, but hopefully more research is being conducted that will shed light on the causes behind exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging and also on the physiological toll of giving Salix regularly to racehorses.

In the meantime, any progress from here is likely to be shaped by the one factor that drove us to widespread Salix use in the first place—competition on the racetrack.

An owner will pay attention if his horse is getting beat by someone else who is paying lower medication bills. A trainer will note whether the horses in another barn are recovering more quickly following their races.

We got a small sample Oct. 27 at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs as to how this shift in attitude could occur. Both racetracks ran cards exclusively for juveniles. Most of the races were maiden special weights ranging from six furlongs to a mile on the dirt and a few turf races from six furlongs to 11⁄16 miles. Belmont offered three stakes—the Sharp Cat Stakes, a 61⁄2-furlong contest on dirt for fillies; the Chelsea Flower Stakes, a one-mile turf race for fillies; and the Awad Stakes, a one-mile turf race for males. Churchill Downs offered two stakes, one for males (Street Sense Stakes) and one for fillies (Rags to Riches Stakes) that were both one-mile races on dirt.

Out of 86 starters at Belmont Park, 20 juveniles (23%) raced without Salix. At Churchill Downs, 15 (14%) of 110 starters raced without Salix.

The results should get some attention.

Juveniles running without Salix won races 2 through 7 on Belmont’s nine-race card and two of the three stakes. Tea Time, owned by Helen Groves with Jon and Sarah Kelly, won the Sharp Cat Stakes. The Pulpit filly was bred by her owners and is trained by Michael Matz. Tea Time was the only one in the four-horse field running without Salix. The Chelsea Flower Stakes was won by Recepta, a daughter of Speightstown owned by Phillips Racing Partnership and Pam Gartin. John Phillips and Hank Snowden bred the filly, who was one of two horses racing without Salix in a 12-horse field. The other filly racing without the medication finished second. Recepta is trained by Jim Toner.

Among the other winners at Belmont Park, three are homebreds for Darley Stable and are trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. They are Penwith (by Bernardini), Macaroon (by Tapit), and Fingers Crossed (by Elusive Quality). The sixth winner was Peace Mission, a colt by Harlan’s Holiday who is owned by Bill Farish and trained by John Shirreffs.

At Churchill Downs, horses racing without Salix won three of the 11 races run and one of the stakes. Clever Beauty, owned by Green Lantern Stables, won the Rags to Riches Stakes as the fourth choice in a seven-horse field. The daughter of Indian Charlie is trained by Rusty Arnold and was bred by Tony Holmes, Breffni Farm, and the Indian Charlie Syndicate. As in the Chelsea Flower, the only other horse in the race not running on Salix finished second.

The other winners sans Salix at Churchill included a Tapit filly named Playful Love, who won the first race on the card. She is owned by Narola Racing and is trained by Ian Wilkes. A colt by Kitten’s Joy named Sly Tom won a MSW for Jim and Susan Hill. The colt is trained by Brian Lynch and was bred by Scott and Elise Kendall.

Clearly, the majority of juveniles race on Salix, but only four races on this day (three at Churchill and one at Belmont) had fields in which every horse was running on Salix—a small but not insignificant shift.

No sea change occurred Oct. 27 and U.S. racing still has a long way to go toward addressing its medication use, but assuredly the tide is turning. 

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