The Maryland Racing Commission has endorsed recommendations that will broaden the use of Lasix at state tracks.
The controversial drug, which is widely used in almost every racing jurisdiction in the country except New York, will now be available locally for use on 2-year-olds.
The new guidelines are designed to provide a uniform Lasix program for Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, all neighboring states that allow horses to be treated with Lasix.
Until now, the youngest of racehorses were kept off the drug. But at a commission meeting at Laurel yesterday, Dr. Allan Levey, who chairs the board's medication committee, said the consensus among horsemen, veterinarians, commissioners and track officials was that "a horse is a horse, regardless of age. If you use Lasix on older horses, why not use it on a 2-year-old if he needs it?"
Lasix is a diuretic, commonly used in humans to lower blood pressure. It is acknowledged to be the most effective drug to stop "bleeding" in racehorses. The term "bleeding" refers to internal hemorrhaging brought about by the stress of racing. Sometimes, the hemorrhaging is so severe that a horse trickles blood from the nose.
Horses must be certified as bleeders by a veterinarian to race on Lasix.
Under the new guidelines, a horse must be given a minimum dose of 2 ccs of Lasix, or a maximum dose of 10 ccs. Currently, there is no dosage rule.
Horses will continue to be monitored on race day in special Lasix barns, where they are injected with the drug three hours before post time.
The use of the drug has become so commonplace that the majority of older horses race on Lasix. However, since 2-year-olds will now be OK'd to use the medication, so many more horses will be jammed into the already overcrowded Lasix barns that management has expressed concern over the increased cost of building and staffing these quarantine-type facilities.
Eventually, Levey said, the Lasix barns will be eliminated and horses will be treated in their regular stables without the current security precautions.
Such a move could damage the integrity of Maryland's Lasix program. In addition to its therapeutic qualities, Lasix is also widely regarded as a masking agent for other drugs. Currently horses housed in the Lasix barns can receive no other medication before races. But if the special barns are eliminated, there will be no supervision over other drugs that could be administered along with Lasix.
"The only way then to control Lasix use will be to allow every horse to race on it, or eliminate it completely," said Tom Lomangino Jr., head of the state's testing laboratory.
The new recommendations must now go through a lengthy rules process before they can actually be instituted during 1991.
The use of Lasix became a controversial racing issue earlier this year when a study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, showed that it enhances a horse's performance and does not always stop bleeding.
Some industry officials, principally those associated with New York racing where the drug is prohibited, called for the nationwide abolition of Lasix. But outside of New York, the opinion is almost universal that Lasix is absolutely needed to keep horses running and filling daily race cards. Since the study results were announced, the use of Lasix has actually increased instead of decreased.
In other commission activities, the board voted to renew the license of millionaire racehorse owner Peter Brant, who was convicted and served 90 days in jail earlier this year on two federal tax violations.
Brant, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., operates a 250-horse stable headquartered in New York and California. He only occasionally runs a horse in Maryland. But since the tax violations were only misdemeanors and applied only to Brant's paper conversion business, the board concluded his convictions were not a detriment to racing.