The general consensus around the Churchill Downs backstretch this week has been that requiring hopefuls on the Road to the Kentucky Derby to race without Lasix has not been a major hindrance for the year’s 3-year-old crop.
Precisely half of this year’s Kentucky Derby field has never raced on Lasix, while all 20 entrants completed their final prep without the diuretic medication, which aids in preventing exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) in racehorses.
“This may not be a popular opinion,” warned David Carroll, assistant to dual Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. “I was pro-Lasix, but having seen that now, you know what, maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe no race-day medication is a good thing. I think a lot of things we do, we’re creatures of habit, and we have a tendency to do things because that’s the way we’ve always done it, not the way it’s meant to be, and not what’s best for the horse.”
“I would say it’s an individual thing,” said two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill. “And in an ideal world, if the horse doesn’t have any kind of tendency to have any kind of nosebleed, running without Lasix, they do seem to come out of the races with more energy, and they get back to their normal exercise energy quicker. So they recover quicker, I think, without Lasix.”
Many trainers spoke out against the restriction of Lasix use for years before a ban was implemented for 2-year-old runners in many jurisdictions last year. Now, both the Triple Crown series and the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, as well as the World Championship races themselves, are all scheduled to be conducted without race-day Lasix. In several jurisdictions, all graded stakes races will be held Lasix-free.
“It’s something, I think, we all in this sport kind of knew it was coming,” O’Neill said. “Just – if you look around the world, most of the big races around the world are run Lasix-free. So as much as I was apprehensive, like I think a lot of horsemen were and are, I think the longer we’ve done it, the more able to – I’ve been able to adjust.”
Some trainers have altered their pre-race and pre-workout regimens, while others say they have not.
“Obviously last year we started with the 2-year-olds not being on Lasix, so we really didn’t do anything particularly different with them at all,” said Carroll. “From a personal perspective, we had a few that showed some traces (of EIPH), but no bad cases.”
“We have a little bit different diet leading up to works and races,” O’Neill said. “Just, we’re more thoughtful of not having much in their stomach for exercise, which probably, we should have been thinking of that. Anyways, so just try to have them a little bit more light going into their works and races. It’s definitely been something that we’ve been more conscientious of with no Lasix.”
While the majority of this year’s Kentucky Derby trainers agreed that the Lasix ban wasn’t harmful to the current 3-year-old crop, they remain concerned about requiring older horses, those who are used to running with Lasix, to now race without it.
“I think with this particular crop, for my cohort, it’s not been an issue,” said Hall of Fame nominee Todd Pletcher. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I think some of the bigger concerns are around older horses that maybe have been running on Lasix for three, four, five years and then have to come off with it. But bleeding can be an issue for horses, with or without Lasix.”
“You have some horses that struggle with that,” echoed John Sadler. “I’ve had some older horses, and I have to say no more stakes for them. They’ve got to run in the easier races. They weren’t capable of running without Lasix.”
“I do feel bad for the horses who have been racing on it for years, and now have to stop,” Carroll concluded. “For older horses now that have been racing on it for the last three to four years, I think that’s really hard. I wish they’d made it more of a progression.”
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