Race-day use of furosemide is the most divisive American horse-racing issue in memory. It has torn the industry apart. Experts and friends can be found on both sides of the subject and strong arguments can be marshaled for and against the use of furosemide on race-day. The debate has gotten so intense that it has turned nasty and personal at times, with people denigrating one another rather than focusing on the facts of the argument at hand and a possible compromise.

A recent vote by The Breeders’ Cup board reflected this divided opinion. In a close vote, the board agreed to continue the ban on furosemide in 2-year-old races in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup. In another split vote, the board reversed the previously planned ban on the use of furosemide in all the 2013 races.

It is important to consider that the representatives on the Breeders’ Cup board from Darley Stud (Oliver Tait) and Coolmore (Clem Murphy) voted to prohibit furosemide across the board. In the wake of the decision to allow furosemide in all of the races except for the 2-year-olds, the Darley representative almost immediately resigned from the board. This is a significant event because Darley and Coolmore have for years been the leading buyers of yearlings at American auctions and have, in fact, propped up the industry during hard times.

Mr. Tait, Darley’s Chief Operating Officer, lamented the Breeders’ Cup vote: “Progress is being made in all sports around the world in relation to drugs…This is not progress.”

Were these major players to partially or fully withdraw their support from the Breeders’ Cup, or more significantly, from the American bloodstock market, the American bloodstock industry would be hurt in a monumental way. It says a lot when the world’s two most prominent racehorse owners manifestly want a furosemide-free Breeders’ Cup and at least one of them is adamant.

The American racing industry had better tread lightly with these folks.

The Darley connections obviously believe strongly in a no-race-day-furosemide policy, as evidenced not only by the resignation of Mr. Tait from the Breeders’ Cup board but also by the upcoming Dubai World Cup races, in which no furosemide will be permitted.

As a bizarre sidebar to the controversy, a racehorse owner has reportedly threatened to sue the Breeders’ Cup board for supposedly violating its fiduciary duty to do what is in the best interests of horse racing. It would be unique to hear his lawyer explaining to a court why keeping drugs in American horse racing’s championship day is in the sport’s best interests. Outlawing drugs would be a more logical line of reasoning. Moreover, unless the owner has a major stallion station, he would not have the legal standing to bring the law suit.

In my view, what is likely to eventually emerge in the unfortunate furosemide controversy is a grand bargain—a two-tiered system, wherein all graded stakes are run drug-free and the rest of the races permit furosemide. The stakes races generally will produce sought-after high-end breeding stock , who will have shown their ability to compete without furosemide. At the same time, less gifted allowance horses and workaday claimers will be able to run on furosemide and thus have help with exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding. Neither side to the furosemide issue would be happy with such a grand bargain, but that is the nature of compromise.

Finally, it is understandable that the members of the Breeders’ Cup board are in a difficult no-win situation. Most of them do business with people who feel strongly about furosemide, one way or the other. It is not easy to take on divisive topics.

Copyright ©2013 Horse Racing Business


  1. On the issue of Lasix in general, and any type of two-tiered policy, there is a third side whose interests must be considered — the bettors.

  2. Bill Shanklin says

    Here are the results, Chris, of a study of bettors’ views.

  3. If the Breeder’s Cup Committee is intent on trying to reduce the use of lasix in the Breeder’s Cup why not consider offering a 50% purse bonus to any 2yo that wins ( or finishes in the money) a Breeder’s Cup race. That way owners who still prefer to run their horses on lasix can do so and those like Coolmore or Darley can run without lasix, but are eligible for the 50% purse bonus. This way you haven’t alienated anybody by forcing them in a direction they don’t want to go but still have a significant enough incentive that may encourage some to re-consider running lasix free. Just a thought.