By: Frank Angst

The California Horse Racing Board will again consider adopting a third-party Lasix administration policy at its regular meeting June 16.

The rule on third-party Lasix administration on race day is on the agenda for the June 16 CHRB meeting, confirms spokesman Mike Marten.

The rule would meet the standards of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rule and the National Uniform Medication Program in that independent veterinarians, rather than track veterinarians, would administer race-day Lasix. It would be similar to New York in that veterinarians employed by the racing association would conduct the race-day administrations.

In California, like all other U.S. racing states, Lasix (furosemide and formally called Salix) is allowed to be administered on race day as a way to prevent or reduce the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

Many states have had third-party Lasix administration policies in place for several years now, as the trend has been to shift away from track veterinarians to independent vets administering race-day Lasix (furosemide, officially called Salix). Seventeen racing states have put some form of third-party Lasix administration in place.

Third-party Lasix administration is one of the four pillars of the National Uniform Medication Program, which aims to bring state-by-state consistency in horse racing rules and regulation. NUMP also calls on states to adopt the same list of controlled therapeutic medications, use an accredited laboratory, and adopt a policy that puts in harsher penalties for multiple medication violators.

The RMTC reports that 18 of 31 racing states have put some form of third-party Lasix administration in place. California, which has debated the topic for years, could take a significant step June 16 when the CHRB considers a rule that would see racing association vets administer race-day Lasix.

California has been slow to act, debating the policy for nearly four years. Last summer track veterinarian Karen Valko encouraged the CHRB to adopt a rule similar to Indiana’s where track vets administer Lasix but are monitored by security personnel. The RMTC prefers to have independent veterinarians administer Lasix.

Valko said then that California’s push to put the rule in place was painting all track vets as cheats.

“Don’t paint us with a brush that we are doing something wrong, and that is why this rule has to be changed. We are not,” Valko said at a CHRB meeting in August 2015. “I guess I’m just tired of being painted in that way, and I feel very strongly about that.”

After hearing concerns from Valko and other track veterinarians as well as the California Thoroughbred Trainers at that August 2015 meeting, the CHRB voted to send the third-party lasix administration proposal back to committee. That CHRB sent the proposal back to committee despite recommendations to put the rule in place from one of its own committees and from CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur.

In September 2015, the CHRB sent out a new proposal for public comment on third-party lasix administration that clarified that the vets administering the race-day medication would be employed by the racing associations. There have been few changes of significance to that proposal and it will be considered at this month’s meeting.

Should the rule be approved by the CHRB this month and move through the state’s office of administrative law, the rule could be put in place as early as this year.

Should California approve the regulation, it would mean that 19 states—according to the RMTC—would have third-party Lasix administration in place. The RMTC reports that 20 states have adopted the list of controlled therapeutics, 27 states are using accredited labs, and 12 have adopted the multiple medication violation penalty system.

The push for third-party Lasix administration is aimed to address integrity issues. RMTC executive director Dionne Benson said regulatory vets over the years have found evidence that additional supplements, like magnesium sulfate, were being added during the Lasix administration. Benson said because those substances are naturally occurring, post-race testing is not the best tool to fight them.

“I think the reason third-party Lasix is so important is that there are so many things you can do on race day that you can’t test for. And a lot of them involve manipulation of the horse’s normal system,” Benson said. “You add a little more of what the horse already has. It affects the metabolic processes downstream and it will either get the horse to calm down or be excited or any combination of those.

“There are substances you could give three hours out that the horse will stay calm for three hours but when they are awake, they really kind of pop awake. So the idea is that we can avoid that whole issue by not having the temptation of having a vet in the stall on race day. I’m not saying all vets do these things but the fact is we have to regulate for the vets that do.”

There are a couple of states, Indiana and Minnesota, that use variations of third-party Lasix administration that the RMTC has approved for now. Indiana has security personnel oversee the race-day Lasix administrations conducted by track veterinarians, a policy Benson said was grand-fathered in because the state had the policy in place before NUMP.

“Our preference is to have someone hired by the regulatory body actually administering the Lasix,” Benson said. “Just to give you an example. I did Lasix at Churchill (May 7) and I had a trainer say, ‘Just 3CCs, all in the vein.’ Kind of implying that you could still administer it into the muscle and that would be OK. And this is four years into Kentucky’s program. …

“A vet could shoot Lasix in the muscle without anyone knowing, so monitoring is not ideal. It’s incredibly easy to slip through the vein and be in a muscle area. It’s very subtle, and possible, to have something like that happen. That’s why we would like true third-party Lasix administration.”

Based on the experience of states that have had third-party Lasix administration in place for several years, Benson believes California, if it approves the rule June 16, will quickly settle into the new routine.

“Oaklawn (Park) implemented it in 2015 and they were very worried about doing it. I’d probably talked to them every two days before they started. Now to them, it’s become a non-issue,” Benson said. “It has gone very smoothly for them and they feel like they’re moving the ball forward on integrity by keeping the vets out of the stalls on race day.”