Horse Racing Under Siege, On Two Fronts

Country and Western singer "Tennessee Ernie" Ford is chiefly famous for his 1955 crossover hit single "Sixteen Tons," which was in turn chiefly famous for the lines, "One fist of iron, the other of steel/If the right one don't get you, then the left one will."

The song was about coal mining, but for those not old enough to have been around when it was out and looked at today's sports headlines instead, they might think that it was about horse racing, at least judging by those two lines alone.

The right fist is, of course, the coronavirus, which has closed the racetracks in the two marquee racing states, New York and California, among many other states, and in just about all of the remainder has forced the racing to be conducted in front of eerily-empty grandstands.

But the punch from the left fist is self-inflicted: the ban on furosemide, also and better known as Lasix, which is used "off label" as a coagulant in horses, even though its intended use is as a diuretic, giving new meaning to the cliche "p*ss like a racehorse." The ban, approved by 20 tracks in 10 different states last year, will apply only to the top level of competition; i.e. stakes races, starting in 2021 (it will be applicable only to two-year-olds this year), but will encompass every track located in a warm climate except Sam Houston and Arizona's Turf Paradise which, if it were a baseball league, would barely qualify as single-A.

Furosemide prevents horses from bleeding through the nose during races. Think of the effect from driving at 55 miles an hour (Sammy Hagar notwithstanding) with the windows rolled down. Now think of the effect of a horse "driving" at 37.5 miles an hour, as the horse would be doing if (s)he ran a mile in 1 minute and 36 seconds, a pretty typical time for a one-mile race — and naturally the horse is not protected from the effect by any windows.

Here's the proverbial rub: besides stakes races as above, the other two major types of horse races, apart from, and generally in conjunction with, races whose eligibility is determined by age and/or gender, are "allowance" races, so named because horses entered therein are entitled to carry less weight if they have not won one or more races, or one or more races of a specific class, distance, etc. within a certain period of time; and "claiming" races, in which any other owner licensed at that track may claim, or buy without right of first refusal, from the original owner, any horse running in such a race for the price called for in the conditions of the race. That price can range, at a first- or second-level track, from $5,000 to as much as $100,000.

One frequently-encountered set of eligibility criteria for an allowance race might be the following: "For three-year-olds and upward (or fillies and mares three-years-old and upward) which have never won two races other than maiden (only horses which have never won a race can run in a maiden race), claiming or starter (only horses that have started for a certain claiming price, nearly always a price at or near the bottom on the scale of claiming races run at that track, or less, within the time frame stated in the race's conditions, can run in a starter race), or have never won three races, or optional claiming price $50,000."

But what if a horse has already won three races — a maiden race and two allowance races? If this horse has been using Lasix and runs at one of the 20 tracks that will not allow Lasix in stakes races in 2021 and beyond, then that horse must be entered for a claiming price — either in an optional claiming race, as above, or in a stand-alone claiming race. And what if the horse was purchased at auction for half a million dollars?

Say what you will about the so-called super-rich, but they didn't get that way by being stupid. Therefore, they will quickly become disinclined to shell out seven figures at an auction ring for a horse that may very well turn out to be an equine journeyman because (s)he turns out to be a bleeder. As a result, the prices of thoroughbreds at auction will sink faster than a Stuka on the business end of a direct hit by a Spitfire in the Battle of Britain during World War II — and the Dosage Index, which measures a stallion's capacity to beget offspring capable of negotiating the distance of such races as the Kentucky Derby (which has been postponed by an even four months this year because of the coronavirus) will be overtaken in importance by a new Bleeders Index, a mathematical rubric that will be designed to gauge a stallion's propensity for begetting bleeders (and the stallion's propensity for being the broodmare sire of bleeders). Instead of "Bleeding Kansas," there will be "Bleeding Kentucky," where more race horses are bred than any other state.

As Ricky Watters famously said: For who? For what?

PETA — People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals — is the primium mobile behind the crusade against Lasix. Apparently, they believe that horses bleeding profusely during races is less "cruel" than administering them with a simple injection of a medication that will almost always prevent said profuse bleeding.

With rats like PETA, one needs cats — and perhaps the most effective "cat" of all would be Protect the Harvest, whose commercials against nonsense such as this have been airing for years.

And shame on The Stronach Group (which has banned Lasix altogether at its California tracks, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, for all horses foaled in 2018 or later), Churchill Downs Incorporated (which in spite of its name owns six thoroughbred tracks, not one) and the New York Racing Association, for taking the side of the rats.

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