A significant majority of U. S. horsemen object to what the Breeders’ Cup has done. The diuretic controls the tendency of horses to bleed in the lungs after exertion — a common phenomenon. Most trainers believe strongly in its benefits and use it routinely. “Eighty to 90 percent of my horses bleed,” said trainer Graham Motion, “and the bad [bleeders] . . . need Lasix.”
In recent years, some prominent owners and breeders have made efforts to stop the widespread use of drugs in U.S. racing. They argue that most countries ban the race-day use of Lasix, and they point to statistics showing that those countries don’t have epidemics of bleeding.
The anti-drug forces have clout within the Breeders’ Cup organization, which had its own reasons to get rid of Lasix. The Breeders’ Cup sees itself as an international championship, encourages European participation and is sensitive to European attitudes — such as their opposition to the liberal drug policies in the United States. The Lasix ban, said Craig Fravel, the Breeders’ Cup president, represents an effort to conduct racing “under international standards.”
People on both sides of the argument will examine the Lasix-free 2-year-old races — three of them on Friday’s card, two on Saturday — to judge how the ban may have affected the races and horses’ performance.
The small fields for some of the 2-year-old events caught everybody’s attention. The Juvenile Fillies — whose $2 million purse is exceeded by only three races in North America — attracted only eight entrants, equaling the smallest field in its history. The Juvenile, offering a $2 million purse Saturday, drew only nine. And although there ought to be a small army of 2-year-olds with good form at six furlongs, only five started in the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint. One owner, New Yorker Mike Repole , declared that he was boycotting the Breeders’ Cup as a protest against the Lasix ban, but there was no way to know how many possible starters were missing for this reason.
Fravel anticipated — or hoped — that the absence of Lasix wouldn’t affect the outcomes, and that superior horses would win regardless. This is what happened in the three 2-year-old races:
●Beholder, after winning her prior start by 11 lengths when treated with Lasix, led all the way to capture the Juvenile Fillies, holding off the favorite Executiveprivilege by a length. The result was perfectly logical, and Beholder certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of medication.