Hopeless or Hopeful? Lasix and Saratoga’s Premier Race for 2-year-olds

Last week the American Graded Stakes Committee announced its 2012 graded stakes races. Among the noteworthy changes was the downgrading of the historical Hopeful Stakes from a Grade 1 to a Grade 2.

In decrying the downgrading, commentators invoked the race’s history – the Hopeful was first run in 1904 – and the post-Hopeful performances of its recent participants, including Boys at Tosconova and Stay Thirsty in 2010, winner and runner-up respectively in 2010, and Vineyard Haven, winner in 2008.

Entirely predictably, I am dismayed at the downgrading of the race. I can be accused, fairly, of being a homer, of wanting my historic Saratoga stakes races to keep their elevated status, but I think that logic prevails, too. The change is a perplexing decision, to put it kindly.

But maybe it doesn’t matter much, after all, whether the Hopeful is a Grade 1 or a Grade 2. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether it’s graded at all.

In August, the AGSC announced its “ban on race-day medications for two-year-old graded stakes”:

“There have been questions in many quarters about the integrity of the breed when so many of our horses race on medication,” said Dr. J. David Richardson, chairman of the committee. “We view this as a positive step for the elite level horses that will race in graded stakes, the ones most likely to perpetuate the breed. We are reaching out to the regulators and tracks in each of the six states that currently conduct two-year-old graded stakes races and look forward to working with them to implement this policy.”

So…unless the New York Racing Association and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board change its race-day medication policy before August, the Hopeful might just be another overnight, ungraded stakes on the New York racing calendar.
According to the Racing and Wagering Board, the entity that handles formal rule adoptions and application is housed within the State Division of Budget (and we New Yorkers know how well that functions, right? Twenty straight years of overdue state budgets, and that’s not an exaggeration), and the rule adoption process is not, shall we say, characterized by celerity.

Here’s the short version of how most racing rule changes are made, provided by the RWB:

1. The Racing and Wagering Board decides on or approves a proposed rule change.
2. The rule is sent to the State Division of Budget for a “comprehensive review of applicability.”
3. The rule is sent to the Governor’s Office for further consideration.
4. The rule is sent back to the RWB with any necessary changes or questions.
5. The revised rule is published by the government agency for a 45-day public comment period.
6. After the comment period, barring any relevant changes to the period, the rule is formally adopted and published in the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations.

Given the high priority that racing to the New York State government, it’s easy to imagine any proposed rule change just flying through these steps.

As of now, no rule change has been proposed. The official comment from the RWB is that it’s working with NYRA “in the best interests of racing” on the issue of Lasix.

In September, independent of the SRWB, State Senator Tom Duane announced that he was introducing legislation to ban the use of “performance enhancing drugs, including the widely overused diuretic Lasix (Furosemide), on any horse participating in a New York State sanctioned horserace.”

According to Mischa Sogut, Senator Duane’s legislative and media assistant, that legislation was just introduced and has not yet gone to any committee; presumably, when the legislature comes into session next month, the proposed legislation would go to the Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee. In other words, this particular proposal hasn’t even gotten to step one of the process listed above.

Color me cynical, but I’d say that I have a better shot of being named to ride one of Graham Motion’s horses in the Preakness (a dream I actually recently had – I had to tell him in the paddock that I’d never ridden a horse beyond a canter before) than a Lasix ban has of being enacted by the time the Hopeful rolls around.

OK, so fine. Let’s just say that nine months isn’t going to be long enough for New York State’s Lasix rule to be changed (and the recent meetings in Kentucky on this issue don’t exactly indicate that such a rule change would be smooth sailing, beyond any dilatory local legislative action).

So maybe, wanting to play nice with the AGSC and wanting to keep even the downgraded status of the Hopeful, NYRA would just decide that a condition of entry for the race would be that horses would have to run Lasix-free.

According to the SRWB, racetracks can pass house rules restricting Lasix use as a condition of entry. However, said the Board, that house rule “wouldn’t negate existing regulations in all states that are triggered when horses are taken off furosemide and put back on the medication,” regulations that require layoffs for horses that go on and off the drug. So: any trainer who entered a horse without Lasix would face “limited subsequent racing options,” said the SRWB.

NYRA would also have little power to enforce such a rule. The race prohibits the use of Lasix; the winner tests positive, and…what? The trainer is ruled off from NYRA tracks? The hypothetical Lasix-using trainer would not have run afoul of any state regulations, so he or she wouldn’t face any state sanctions for medication violations.

So, in order for the AGSC’s edict to be enforceable by the time the Hopeful rolls around, someone in Albany is going to have to decide that the Lasix issue requires more time and attention than the legislature has historically paid to the state budget; the racing franchise agreement; and the naming of a VLT operator.

Here’s my guess: the Lasix rule will not be changed by September. The Hopeful will be run as scheduled. Horses in it will run on Lasix. And it will maintain its Grade 2 status.

Stay tuned…

10 thoughts on “Hopeless or Hopeful? Lasix and Saratoga’s Premier Race for 2-year-olds

  1. Don’t quite understand the reason for the down grade. And why wasn’t the Champagne downgraded as well (because it’s older?). Both races are “win and you’re in” for the Breeder’s Cup I believe. Seems political and not too scientific. Plus, if this issue of “limited subsequent racing options” is true, why would any trainer run their high-priced 2yo’s in NYState? And when this Lasix ban becomes a full ban by 2013 I can’t see any high-level horses with a BC chance competing in NY. As they say “I’m sooo confused…” and I guess so is SRWB and AGSC. I guess I am really only talking about high level BC eligible type horses and how trainers will approach their training and prepping with this Lasix ban going into BC.

  2. The implications of state inaction are actually a little more grave. The AGSC could refuse to Grade any NY 2-year-old race that allows Lasix use. Just like they reserve the right to ungrade an off-the-turf race or if the state fails to have a steroid testing plan (e.g. the Penn Derby, Cotillion and PID Masters two years ago). That would put NYRA in a very difficult spot, with the state standing in the way of 2-year-olds earning any credit toward Derby earnings the following spring.

  3. The downgrade of the Hopeful appears ridiculous, considering the Saratoga meet is the premiere meet in the country, with horsemen bringing their best 2 year-olds there. With the projected purse increases looming large, it will only get better in terms of who shows up. I just view it as another egregious mistake by people, supposedly in-charge who should have known better. The history and the tradition of the race speaks volumes. It’s mind-boggling to note the change. If they upgrade the race in a year, tell me, what really had changed to make a difference (as if there is something different about the race that’s been run since 1903)? Better yet, maybe, it’s time to review each of the qualifications of each person that makes up the American Graded Stakes Committee, just to make them aware that, it does matter to a lot of people how they perform and if they screw up.

    A reminder that the eagerly awaited horseracing series, “Luck”, is due to debut this Sunday night on HBO starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte among others. It figures. Just my luck, the New York Giants and New York Rangers will be playing at about the same time, too.


  4. With regard to the Hopeful being downgraded to Grade 2, I think we can point to the fact that seven of the 10 horses entered this year only had a maiden win and no one really had done well in stakes. Also, the 2010 running only had four starters, and while Boys at Toscanova did subsequently finish second to Uncle Mo in the BC Juvenile, other runnings in recent years had very subpar fields. On the other hand, the Del Mar Futurity, usually run two days later at Del Mar has I believe had the two year old champion in four of the last 10 runnings, and most of them have run in stakes races at Del Mar leading into that race, which is why that is a Grade 1.

    As for the lasix issue, I wrote back in March my five-year plan that would eliminate it from the sport at: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php/324

    ALL races for two year olds along with the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup and selected Grade 1 stakes events otherwise would be the first races that would have such a ban. That would expand in year two to three year olds through the Belmont Stakes as well as ALL Grade 1 and Grade 2 races in year two, then in year three ALL stakes races (Graded or otherwise) carrying a purse of $100,000 or more and races through age three EXCEPT where three year olds are facing older horses permitted to run on Lasix, then in year four all non-claiming races, including Allowance Optional Claiming and starter events before a total ban takes effect in year five.

  5. Hi, Teresa,

    With all due respect, and even though my step-father served on the AGSC for many years, many years ago, I’ve always felt it was full of beans. Every time the AGSC issued a standing, or changed a standing, that activity followed their concussive thinking by at least a year’s time. Additionally, their thinking always seemed to be too cerebral, too concerned with correcting fairness, or a deemed status, to Racing’s sometimes ebb and flow of talent and circumstance. Stakes races really can survive any particular crop of contenders on their own historical merit; some years’ results can then be simply “surprising.”

    The Hopeful can be a Grade 1 event and it can be a Grade 2 event — So? The race remains the vaunted Hopeful Stakes. I am pretty sure I agree with your thought, “… Maybe it doesn’t matter whether it’s graded at all.”

  6. Rolly,

    Perhaps one day everyone won’t be afraid of the big bad wolf and they’ll ask, quite simply, that the game be played fairly.

    Each day I care less and less about race gradings. As long as races like the Breeders Futurity and the Spinster maintain Grade 1 ratings the entire system is in question.

    There are many different ways to view this great game….and no single one is ever the absolute answer.

  7. The whole focus on the lasix issue is when and whether to ban it or not. They need to do some research and find somthing we can use the day before that helps with the bleeding or they are going to be a lot more dead horses on the racetrack. I have written a book “The Tradition of Cheating at the Sport of Kings” topics include that 85% of trainer are giving illegal drugs on race day.This is a topic that needs to be addressed by all the racing commisions in America. They need to take the cheating seriously.Dutrow has sixty or so positives and they want to give him ten years. The problem is that 85% of the other trainers, if the rules were applied would have thousands of positives but they are just using drugs that are not tested for.There is a 24 hour rule that all seem to have forgoten, “No shots within 24 hours of a race” We need to inforce that rule so we dont end up back in the tents behind a twelve foot fence at Saratoga with our graded stake horses. Website: sportofkingsbook.com

  8. To update the Lasix issue:

    A new study in South Africa shows how big a problem Lasix really is in this sport and why I needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. My post about this: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php/29097-Jeff-Scott-%28The-Saratogian%29-Weighing-In-on-Lasix

    The study most notably showed that horses who raced on Lasix even after being replenished with fluids and the like lost anywhere from 16 to 100 pounds as opposed to horses who did not race on Lasix. This, more than anything else shows why we need to get rid of it.

  9. Walt,

    That’s not a new South African study. Scott is referring to the 2009 SA study that demonstrated the beneficial effects of Lasix on bleeding.

    Scott is writing about a trial that Casner did with his own horses. It’s not a scientific study; it’s a collection of observations. Casner himself acknowledges that it doesn’t have a lot of scientific merit.

    And while you are promoting your own site and reactions, please also link to Scott’s original article.

  10. Thanks Teresa.

    I did read that article and actually was feverishly looking for links to the articles Scott mentioned at both the Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times for the one I subsequently wrote (but could not find those).

    The point was, we need to get Lasix out of this sport because it is clearly causing a good number of the problems we have today. Back in the ’70s when horses ran on hay, oats and water they came back much quicker than now, and even if we only got some of that back it would be worth it.

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