No race-day meds, strict whip rules at Breeders' Cup
For the first time, all 14 Breeders’ Cup races this weekend at Del Mar will be run without race-day medication, the final step in a process that had the antibleeding medication Lasix prohibited in races for 2-year-olds at last year’s world championships.
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien called the rule expansion “definitely a good thing.”
Breeders' Cup CEO Drew Fleming said he believes the prohibition led to a record 46 foreign-based horses competing on Friday and Saturday, including seven from Japan.
“We don’t medicate our horses over here at all,” O'Brien said, “and the only medication they get is any kind of antibiotics for cold or flu or infections.”
O’Brien, second all-time in Breeders' Cup purse earnings among trainers, previously used Lasix on his horses in the Breeders' Cup to be on an even playing field.
Formally known as furosemide, Lasix is a diuretic that is widely used in the U.S. to prevent or curtail exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. Most of the rest of the world’s major racing jurisdictions prohibit it on race days.
“It’s a legal medication, it’s a therapeutic medication, and I’m not sure the general public understands that,” said Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, who is an analyst on NBC's coverage of the Breeders' Cup. “Less medication to the general public I think would be positive.”
This year's Triple Crown races were run without Lasix, as well as most of the graded stakes at such major tracks as Churchill Downs, Belmont and Saratoga in New York, Santa Anita and Del Mar in California and Keeneland in Kentucky. That includes races in the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, which guarantees winners a spot in the two-day world championships.
Breeders' Cup officials began on-site pre-competition testing a day earlier this year, collecting blood and urine samples from all 166 horses entered. Results are due back before scratch time on Friday.
Veterinarians from the Breeders' Cup and California Horse Racing Board will have their eyes trained on all of the horses, from the paddock to the warmups to the starting gate and galloping out beyond the finish line.
The top four finishers in each race will be subject to post-race testing that looks for over 600 compounds in blood and urine samples, said Dr. Jeff Blea, the CHRB's new equine medical director.
Strict whip rules enacted in California a year ago will have to be followed by jockeys, many of whom come from out of state or overseas for the richest two days in North American racing.
Riders are limited to six underhand strikes in a race and are allowed two strikes before giving their horses a chance to respond. Whips can be used only on a horse’s hind quarters or shoulders, cannot break the skin, cannot be used in a motion that begins above the shoulder, and cannot be used when a horse is out of contention or reached a maximum placing.
Violators can be fined or suspended.
“It's different and they're going to have to adjust,” Bailey said.
He called the rules a “crapshoot” because relative to the purse money at stake, the fines seem insignificant. Breeders' Cup races range in value from $1 million to $6 million. A jockey typically earns 10% of the winning owner's share of the purse.
“If you're nose-and-nose for a win and you're only going to have to pay $500 or $1,000 to break the rules, the incentive might be there for that much (purse) money,” Bailey said.
The most scrutinized trainer at Del Mar this weekend will be Bob Baffert, who leads all trainers in Breeders' Cup purse earnings, with nearly $36 million.
In order to participate, he agreed to unprecedented screening, observation and testing of his horses at his own expense.
The closer observation is the result of Baffert having five medication violations in the last year.
He has eight horses entered, including three in the $2 million Juvenile on Friday. His filly, Gamine, is the early 3-5 favorite in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint on Saturday.
Medina Spirit, winner of the Kentucky Derby who failed a postrace drug test, runs in the $6 million Classic on Saturday.
“We look forward to a safe two days of racing,” Fleming said.
More changes await next year, when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority is scheduled to take charge of testing, enforcement and punishment standards across U.S. racing.