The last anti-Lasix bastion among major American racing jurisdictions is about to fall.
Jerry Bilinski, newly confirmed chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, announced yesterday that the commission has agreed unanimously to publish a draft rule that could pave the way for Lasix usage at New York tracks by the beginning of the Belmont Park fall meet on Sept. 1.
If during the 90-day publication period the rule is not altered or withdrawn, horses running in the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park Oct. 28 will be able to run on Lasix.
The rule change would affect such horses as Maryland's Oliver's Twist. The runner-up in the recent Preakness will skip the Belmont Stakes on June 10 because he cannot race on Lasix. But he will be able to start in the Breeders' Cup this fall on Lasix should his owner, Charles Oliver, and trainer, Bill Boniface Jr., decide that's what they want to do.
Furosemide, or Lasix, is used in humans as a diuretic to correct fluid imbalance. In horses, it has proved to be effective in curbing bleeding, but not through its diuretic effect.
Bleeding, or exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, occurs as the result of exertion during a race. Lasix increases the capacity of the pulmonary vessels and prevents them from bursting, thereby halting the bleeding.
"This is coming about 15 years late," said trainer Philip G. Johnson, a former head of New York's division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.
"I think I can speak for 95 percent of all the owners and trainers that this is something long overdue. It's ridiculous that states like Maryland, California and Florida have had Lasix in use for such a long time, and we haven't. It's almost embarrassing."
Steve Crist, a senior NYRA official, said that "a complete changeover politically" is allowing New York's move to Lasix.
The two previous chairmen of the state racing and wagering board, John Van Lindt and Richard Corbisiero Jr., were adamantly opposed to Lasix, whose critics have contended it enhances performance.
Bilinski, the new chairman of the racing and wagering boards, is a veterinarian and former owner of the New York Stallion Station. He, like the majority of horsemen, is a proponent of Lasix.
Crist said NYRA's position is that, "It's time to have uniform medication rules nationally. And we think it will help us confront the shortage of horses that is affecting us like it is practically everyone else in racing."
Bilinski said: "There have been a number of clinical trials that have shown that 85 percent of the horses that race bleed. Therefore, I fully expect a large number of horses currently racing in New York will be put on Lasix once it is allowed."