Major tracks to ban race-day use of anti-bleeding medication Lasix

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ARCADIA, Calif. — All three sites of the Triple Crown are among several major tracks that have agreed to phase out the use of a common anti-bleeding medication starting next year.

Starting in 2020, 2-year-old horses won’t be allowed to be treated with the drug Lasix within 24 hours of racing. Lasix is a diuretic given to a majority of horses on race days to prevent pulmonary bleeding.

In 2021, the same prohibition would extend to all horses running in any stakes race at tracks in the coalition that announced the ban Thursday. That’s the year the Triple Crown would be run for the first time under the new medication rules. Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont are the hosts for the Triple Crown races: Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

While many American trainers say Lasix is a vital medication that keeps horses safe, animal-rights activists say it amounts to a performance-enhancing drug and note most tracks in the world do fine without it. Outside North America, most racing countries ban race-day medication.

The Breeders’ Cup, which is thoroughbred racing’s world championships, is part of the coalition announced Thursday. This year’s event is set to be run at Santa Anita in November.

Other major tracks participating are Aqueduct and Saratoga in New York, California’s Del Mar and Los Alamitos, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, Arlington International outside Chicago, Keeneland in Kentucky, Lone Star in Texas, Fair Grounds in Louisiana, Remington in Oklahoma and Oaklawn in Arkansas.

Other tracks involved are Laurel in Maryland and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania.

Santa Anita in Southern California and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California will continue to run under recently announced limits to race-day medication that were prompted by the deaths of 23 horses since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. Both California tracks are owned by The Stronach Group.

“It took 23 dead horses on one track, but we were sure that the racing industry could change if it wanted to and phasing out Lasix for stakes races and 2-year-olds is an excellent first step in what must be an ongoing overhaul of racing rules nationwide,” Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a statement.

The tracks will need to work with trainers and racing commissions in each jurisdiction to implement the plan.

“This is a huge moment that signals a collective move to evolve this legacy sport,” said Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, whose holdings include Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Pimlico. “While there is still more work to be done, these reforms are a good start.”

New York Racing Association president and CEO David O’Rourke called it “a progressive and unified approach” to race-day medication.

Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said, “This is a significant and meaningful step to further harmonize American racing with international standards.”

PETA is urging a ban on Lasix for all races, in addition to banning all medications in the two weeks before a race, banning trainers with multiple medication violations, mandating complete public transparency of injury and medication records, ending the use of whips, and switching to high-quality synthetic tracks.

California previously experimented with synthetic surfaces at its major tracks, spending $40 million to install them before eventually returning to dirt.

Irad Ortiz sets single-season record with 77th stakes win

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NEW YORK – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his record 77th single-season North American stakes victory on Saturday when he guided Dr B to victory in the $200,000 Go for Wand at Aqueduct.

The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico broke the old mark of 76 set by the late Hall of Fame rider Garrett Gomez in 2007.

“This is great. Amazing feeling,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey from 2018-20. “Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport.”

Ortiz Jr. won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal in June to go with Breeders’ Cup victories in the Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint and Sprint. He also earned nine other Grade 1 wins in New York, including Life Is Good in the Woodward and Whitney and Nest in the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks. He won riding titles at Belmont’s spring-summer meet and Saratoga’s summer meet.

Ortiz Jr. leads North American riders with 304 overall victories this year. His purse earnings totaled over $35.8 million going into Saturday’s races, which already surpassed his single-season record of $34.1 million in 2019.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”