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.