Port Louis
Racing at Laurel Park. Photo by Dottie Miller.

The Maryland Racing Commission Thursday approved an emergency regulation clarifying the application of its rules on Lasix.

The Commission also gave the final nod of approval to a previously approved reg to prohibit the use of clenbuterol for both Thoroughbreds and standardbreds. Both rules were adopted unanimously on the conference call that served as the Commission’s monthly meeting.

The new Lasix reg grew out of a desire to combat what Commission Executive Director Michael Hopkins called “unintended consequences” during the 40-minute long meeting. The new rule will clarify that horses using Lasix in Maryland will not be penalized if they go elsewhere and are forbidden to use the diuretic, which is used to combat bleeding.

Maryland’s current rules, in essence, say that a horse who races on Lasix in Maryland must race on Lasix wherever they go, if the local rules permit it. If, for whatever reason, the connections forego the use of the medication elsewhere, then their horse is penalized.

“A horse on the Lasix Program that races without Lasix in any jurisdiction which permits the use of Lasix may not be eligible for its use for a period of 60 days,” the existing rule reads.

Beyond sitting on the sidelines for two months, such horses have to have been observed by the state veterinarian to have bled in the morning to be permitted back on Lasix.

The problem, Hopkins explained, has to do with the meaning of “jurisdiction” and the complications when the Lasix rules are different for different horses.

Take a horse like Harpers First Ride. The Laurel-based Claudio Gonzalez trainee routinely has run in local races while using Lasix. In his last start, however, he ran in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park – a venue that, like Maryland, prohibits horses in graded stakes from receiving Lasix.

Though Harpers First Ride was prohibited from using Lasix in the graded event, a strict reading of the Maryland rule would suggest he should be penalized locally because the jurisdiction in which the race took place – Florida – generally permits the use of Lasix.

The new language clarifies that in such a circumstance, a horse like Harpers First Ride would not be penalized upon his return to Maryland.

It does so by adding the following introductory clause to the existing rule: “Except for a horse that races in any jurisdiction where the rules of the regulatory authority or the conditions of the race established by the racing association does not permit the use of Lasix…”

The complication arose after Stronach-owned tracks – including Gulfstream and the Maryland tracks – pushed last year rules changes prohibiting the use of Lasix in two-year-old races and in graded stakes.

In Maryland, those rules, adopted by the Commission in July, were the codification of an agreement between the state’s horsemen’s group, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the Stronach Group, parent company of the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates the two major Maryland racetracks. The rules change had been pushed by the Stronach Group, which declined to card two-year-old races until the Lasix rule was changed.

The clenbuterol regulation finalized by the Commission today tightens the existing rule limiting the use of the medication, which is a popular bronchodilator. Under current rules, the presence of clenbuterol in a horse’s blood is permitted on raceday up to a concentration of 140 picograms per milliliter of urine, or the limit of detection in blood plasma or serum.

Under the new rule, the presence of any clenbuterol in a horse’s urine or blood will trigger a positive finding. It is slated to take effect March 1.

While clenbuterol has legitimate uses, many horsemen have grown concerned that it is being abused by some because it can also help horses build and keep muscle mass.