The New York Racing Association's decision to legalize Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication that is increasingly being given to race horses, has had an immediate impact: When Belmont Park opens its fall meet today, more than half of the 82 horses on the card will run on Lasix.
The long-range implications of the change are of concern to Maryland horsemen and track officials. Until now, trainers who wanted to run their horses on Lasix would skip the New York circuit and head, instead, to Maryland and other racing states in which Lasix has been used widely for more than a decade.
But with Lasix legal in New York, it is going to be very enticing for horsemen to ship there, run for purses that are considerably higher than those in Maryland and then remain there with their outfits.
"We don't expect the floodgates to open and a lot of stables all of sudden rush to race here," said NYRA official Andrew Byrnes. "But we do expect to see an increase in shippers, particularly in the wintertime [when major New York stables head to Florida and California] and particularly coming from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland."
Maryland racing officials John Mooney Jr. and Lenny Hale have said they don't expect an exodus of local horses heading to New York. But Bill Fitzgibbons, an owner with about 10 runners stabled at Pimlico with trainer Dick Delp, said: "It will now give us another place to run if we can't find a suitable race for our horses in Maryland."
Trainer Ferris Allen agreed, and took it a step further: "It's going to tempt owners, if not especially the trainers, to relocate there."
Allen said that other bleeder medications have previously been available for horses in New York, but none proved to be as effective as Lasix. "And treating horses with Lasix is a lot better way to manage a bleeder," Allen said.
The drug, usually administered about four hours before a race, has proven to be the most effective way to stop pulmonary bleeding that is caused by the stress of racing.
"It's definitely going to increase the flow of horses into New York," Allen said. "I have one owner, Burning Daylight Farm, that races horses in Kentucky, New York and Maryland. Previously, out of 10 horses, I might get one or two that wouldn't go to New York because they couldn't race on Lasix. Now, most likely, I won't be getting those horses.
"It's going to help New York racing get back to where they should be. Their level of racing had just about dropped to where we are. Now, it's going to go back up."
Attendance at New York tracks has declined recently, down 5 percent this spring at Belmont Park and down 4 percent this summer at Saratoga. New York rescinded the Lasix ban in order to remain competitive with other states.
The move has an added bonus this year: The Breeders' Cup will be run at Belmont Park in October, and horses that run on Lasix won't have to skip it, or run without medication, as they have the two previous times it was held in New York.
New York's Lasix rules will be similar to the ones used in Maryland, with one major difference. In New York, horses will not be detained before a race in a central Lasix barn, but can be treated in their own stalls. Veterinarians administering Lasix will fill out a slip that details the time and amount of drug given to the horse.
Maryland's racing commission is considering abolishing the central barn for Lasix administration.
So far, no local stables have said they are planning to desert Maryland for New York.
But Catherine Robinson, assistant to prominent Canadian trainer, Roger Attfield, said the new Lasix situation in New York are one of several reasons that could prompt Attfield to send his Maryland string, which regularly summers here, to New York, instead.
"We're not necessarily following the Lasix trail," Robinson said. "But with the improved purses in New York and now with the adoption of Lasix there, it certainly opens up a lot more possibilities about moving there."