April 18 (UPI) -- A coalition of major American race tracks announced Thursday they will phase out the use of the common race-day horse medication Lasix starting in 2020, with the drug banned for all major races, including the Triple Crown events, in 2021.
In a joint announcement, the organizations did not directly reference the fatal horse injuries that have marred the current race meeting at Santa Anita. That track, however, addressed that issue independently in March by putting in place tighter restrictions on medication as part of a broader safety-improvement initiative.
Lasix, technically known as furosemide, is used to prevent pulmonary hemorrhages during races. Most other racing jurisdictions around the world ban its use on race days.
The new plan brings on board all tracks owned or operated by Churchill Downs Inc., the New York Racing Association Inc. and the Stronach Group, as well as Del Mar, Keeneland, Lone Star Park, Remington Park, Los Alamitos Racecourse, Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
Those tracks stage 86 percent of the stakes races assigned graded or listed status in the United States in 2018. Those designations include the Triple Crown races -- Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes -- and the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Breeders' Cup Limited, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association and the American Graded Stakes Committee of TOBA, and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association also joined the coalition in support of this new policy.
While the Stronach Group was able to reach accommodation with horsemen and California regulators for its changes, trainers and owners elsewhere have mounted stiff resistance to limitations on using Lasix. The tracks that signed on to the new initiative pledged to work with horsemen's associations and racing commissions toward implementation.
The coalition proposed that, beginning Jan. 1, Lasix use would be banned for 2-year-old horses within 24 hours of a race. Beginning in 2021, the same prohibition would extend to all horses in any stakes race at coalition tracks.
"This is a huge moment that signals a collective move to evolve this legacy sport. While there is still more work to be done, these reforms are a good start," said Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group.
While the elimination of drug use is a key element in horse safety initiatives, track executives also emphasized the importance of eliminating race-day medication for growing U.S. participation in international racing and breeding.
"This is a significant and meaningful step to further harmonize American racing with international standards," said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. "We will continue to work with other stakeholders, including our horsemen and regulatory agencies, to fully implement this and other important reforms."
Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason called the initiative "an essential step as we look toward the long-term sustainability of U.S.-breds on the national and international stages. Protecting the integrity of our sport is core to our mission and is our collective responsibility to the industry."