As Slew o' Gold was rolling through New York's fall championship series, owner Mickey Taylor was asked where the colt would go after he swept the series. Taylor said he wasn't sure, but he had great doubts about running in what he derisively called the "Lasix Cup."
Slew o' Gold had been winning in a state in which all medication is forbidden. Why, Taylor asked, should he run his horse in the Breeders' Cup, in which Butazolidin and Lasix are allowed, and in which Slew o' Gold could blow the horse-of-the-year title because his rivals are being granted an edge thanks to the ingenuity of the nation's pharmaceutical researchers.
The prospect of being an odds-on favorite in a $3 million race ultimately overrode Taylor's objections, but they were valid.
How could an event designed to test the best thoroughbreds in the world be conducted under provincial California rules, which permit liberal use of drugs and require no public disclosure of who is getting what?
The answer is that the founders of the Breeders' Cup never even thought much about the issue. "The Breeders' Cup was always structured so that we would provide the money and let the tracks handle the mechanics," said the cup's executive director, D.G. Van Clief. "There was no decision made on medication."
Thus, horses can race with medication at Hollywood Park Nov. 10, but in the 1985 Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, they will be limited to the proverbial hay, oats and water.
Only after this policy was established did various segments of the racing community point out that it was crazy. The National Association of State Racing Commissioners urged that medication be banned from all stakes races.
In Europe, where there is no legal medication, the reaction was especially strong. Jean de Chaudenay, president of the French Jockey Club, delivered a speech to an assemblage of racing officials, saying, "It does not seem logical that competitions created and organized by breeders to ensure thoroughbreds' promotion and development could in fact be won by a 'medicated' horse. It is totally contrary to the principle of selection."
Indeed, it is illogical and hypocritical for people supposedly committed to the improvement of the breed to sanction the use of Butazolidin and, especially, Lasix. The era of permissive medication in the United States is only a decade old, but the evidence is strong that it is distorting the selection process: horses compile impressive racing records with the aid of medication, go to stud and beget more unsound horses.
The evidence is found in California. The racing in this state has probably been the best in the country in recent years, but it's possible to stump the locals with this question: name one horse who has made his reputation in California since the advent of legal medication who has gone on to become a top stallion. It's hard to do, but it's easy to name thoroughbred stars here who have been disasters at stud: Affirmed, J.O. Tobin, Barrera.
The chances are great that some of the races Nov. 10 will be decided by drugs -- in particular, the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Slew o' Gold's chief opposition probably will come from Gate Dancer, who won the Preakness in Maryland and the Super Derby in Louisiana (where Lasix is allowed), but was soundly trounced in the Arkansas Derby and the Belmont Stakes (where he didn't have his drug of choice).