The Maryland Jockey Club, The Stronach Group and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association announced an agreement Thursday for a Lasix-free pilot program that would take effect this year and last through 2023.
The pact ended a standoff between the state’s chief track operator and its horsemen, who were frustrated that the Jockey Club was not scheduling races for 2-year-old horses while its parent company, The Stronach Group, pushed for greater restrictions on Lasix. Trainers have long relied on the drug to control bleeding, but critics argue that it’s an over-used performance enhancer.
In a joint statement, both sides said the new Lasix program was “the result of weeks of good-faith discussions.”
The Maryland Racing Commission discussed the proposal at its meeting Thursday and agreed to ask a state legislative panel to pass an emergency regulation changing the rules governing Lasix. Mike Hopkins, executive director for the Racing Commission, said he did not know how quickly the issue would be taken up by the administrative panel, made up of state senators and delegates.
“It’s a big change,” he said.
The program would facilitate Lasix-free races for 2-year-old thoroughbreds, Lasix-free graded stakes and a minimum number of racing days per week during any Maryland Jockey Club meet. It also includes an increase in funding for the Beyond The Wire aftercare program, which didn’t receive revenue from races when Laurel Park was shut down for two-and-a-half months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the agreement, in 2020, Lasix would not be administered to 2-year-olds within 48 hours of a race. From 2021 through 2023, 2-year-old races and graded stakes would be carded Lasix-free. As a result of COVID-19, live racing has been held only twice a week since Laurel Park reopened at the end of May. This agreement would guarantee a minimum of three live racing days per week, at current purse levels, during all Maryland Jockey Club meets beginning July 23.
The agreement also calls for a study of Lasix-free racing, stating: “The parties agree to discuss in good faith, in consultation with the MRC, the development, implementation and funding of a study and related protocols for post-race scoping of horses to obtain relevant data.”
The Jockey Club announced last month that it had informed the Maryland Racing Commission it would ban the use of Lasix for 2-year-olds on race day. At the time of the announcement, horsemen complained that the track operator was attempting to ram its policy through by refusing to schedule 2-year-old races at Laurel Park.
“The time has come to phase out Lasix beginning with 2-year-old horses,” said Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group and 1/ST, which owns both Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. “We are following through on 1/ST Racing’s commitment to put horse and rider safety and welfare at the forefront. We believe in the principle that horses should only be racing free of medication. By taking this important step together, the Maryland racing community will become stronger and provide the right foundation for our sport to progress into the future.”
The company has already imposed similar bans at its tracks in Florida and California.