As soon as the ball drops on the new year, New York horse racing will look dramatically different. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced today that it would be banning the use of Lasix (or furosemide) within 48 hours of all stakes races at all of its tracks, including Saratoga Race Course, beginning on January 1.
For the uninitiated, Lasix is a commonly used medication administered by veterinarians to racehorses that prevents internal bleeding. The reason it’s used, is because the strenuousness of running races at high speeds can cause horses to bleed into their lungs, which could potentially lead to a fatal pulmonary hemorrhage. Lasix is also a known diuretic and could cause a horse to urinate as much as 20-30 pounds of fluid from its body, and in doing so, potentially run a faster race. Though Lasix hasn’t been linked directly to horse deaths, there’s been a growing number of voices in the industry calling for heightened safety of horses, following a rash of horse deaths at tracks across the country over the last few years. (The use of the drug is widely banned before race days outside of America.)
In April 2019, NYRA formed a coalition of industry organizations to address the issue of race day medications like Lasix. From January 1, 2020 onward, NYRA banned Lasix in all 2-year-old races its three tracks and this coming new year, that ban will extend to all horses participating in any stakes races, including New York–bred and New York Stallion Stakes Series races.
“NYRA is pleased to honor the commitment we made to our coalition partners by greatly expanding the ban on race day medication to all stakes races in 2021,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with racetracks around the country who share our desire to achieve uniform and consistent rules that advance safety and integrity. As evidenced by the passage of The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, there is significant appetite for positive change that will benefit the sport.”
NYRA conducted a total of 127 stakes races in 2020, with the exception of New York-bred and NYSSS races, accounting for 25 percent of all stakes run in the United States. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the reorganization of NYRA’s stakes calendar, 36 stakes races scheduled for 2020 were not run, with 17 of them being graded.
The 2021 stakes program begins on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct with the $150,000 Jerome.