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Some favored the action, some were against, and others questioned the timing. Most acknowledged being off guard when Belinda Stronach, TSG chairman and president, declared in an open letter “zero tolerance for race-day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields.”
“I have no major problems with the changes,” trainer Simon Callaghan said. “But I don’t think it’s going to help the horses-breaking-down situation.”
“It’s stupid,” trainer Richard Baltas said of the Lasix ban. “Horses bleed. They bleed in workouts, and they bleed in races. The health of horses is jeopardized by not giving them Lasix. A lot of horses will leave the state.”
Trainer John Sadler expressed dismay at the suddenness of the ban, suggesting major reforms should be “with input of horsemen.” He said, “That’s part of the horsemen’s frustration and anger, the way we are not being consulted.”
The no-Lasix notice and accompanying declaration regarding curtailed whip use became public Thursday afternoon, only hours after the 22nd equine fatality of the winter meet at Santa Anita, which began Dec. 26. Princess Lili B broke her front legs in a workout.
Owners and trainers were scrambling for answers Friday. It was unclear when the Lasix ban would take effect. The Thoroughbred Owners of California raised concerns regarding the welfare and safety of horses racing without Lasix. The TOC scheduled a Saturday teleconference to address members’ concerns. The California Thoroughbred Trainers scheduled a meeting Friday morning.
Santa Anita, which suspended racing for two weeks to reexamine the racing surface, will reopen for racing on Friday, March 22. If the Lasix ban is in effect, the number of race-ready horses is likely to have dwindled.
Baltas said he has about 20 horses who require Lasix and would need relocation. Sadler estimated he had about 10.
“If they’re going to do it cold turkey, then everybody’s got to look at their horses, look at the options, and decide what they want to do,” Sadler said. “You don’t feel comfortable. [TSG is] going to ask you to just wing it. I want to be safe, I’m not sure I want to wing it.”
Like many, Sadler is concerned with perception: “If you say you like Lasix, then they say you’re a cheater. But what if they get two or three that collapse [from bleeding episodes]?”
Bob Baffert stated similar concerns: “I’m always going to do what’s better for the horse. We don’t know if running without Lasix is better for the horse.”
Could the Southern California circuit continue to race four days a week? “I don’t think anybody has that answer,” Baffert said. “Our horse population is pretty thin right now. And right now, we’re a target. We’re under the microscope.”
Baffert worked 10 horses Friday on the main track; 74 horses worked on the main track, without incident.
Trainer Neil Drysdale endorsed the Lasix ban. “I think it’s a very good sign of catching up with the times,” he said. “The public’s perception needs to be addressed. We also need to catch up with the rest of the world that has no medication. All in all, I see it as a positive sign.”
Callaghan suggested likewise. “I don’t mind if our regulations get more in line with the world regulations. I have no massive problem with that,” he said. His concern? “I think just implementing it right away is going to scare a lot of people, and people are going to move.
“If you set a date in three or four months, people are going to slowly get used to the idea, and they might come around to the idea that, ‘You know what? It’s probably not a bad idea.’ ”
While some declined to comment, one trainer speaking off the record suggested a sinister motive behind the Lasix ban. The thought was it would finish off racing in a prime Southern California neighborhood.
“I don’t think this is about horse racing. I think it’s a real estate play,” the trainer said.