The day Summer Squall won the Preakness at Pimlico, the 3-year-old colt was injected with 10 cubic centimeters of Lasix, twice the legal dosage that horses with pulmonary bleeding can receive on race day in California and most other states.
Maryland is one of eight states that do not limit the amount of Lasix horses who have suffered from respiratory bleeding can be given. Three other states have a limit higher than five cubic centimeters, the amount recommended by Racing Commissioners International, a group of state racing officials from the United States and Canada.
The rest of 32 American racing jurisdictions, including California, adhere to the five-cubic-centimeter limit on Lasix, a diuretic that is used to treat horses who bleed from the lungs because of exercise-induced stress.
The differences in dosage are merely a small part of the Lasix issue. New York doesn't allow horses to race on the drug, or any other, for that matter, while the rest of the country does.
The Lasix issue has clouded the 122nd running of the Belmont Stakes Saturday. The handicappers' problem is what to do with Unbridled. The Kentucky Derby winner and second-place finisher in the Preakness will be heavily favored in the final Triple Crown race, even though he won't run on Lasix for the first time since he hemorrhaged after a race late last year at Calder in Florida.
The ban on Lasix is keeping Summer Squall out of the Belmont, depriving New York racing fans of a showdown between the colts who won the first two races in the series.
To the credit of the managers of Unbridled and Summer Squall, they announced their Belmont plans before the Preakness was run and have honored them.
Summer Squall's owners--a 28-member syndicate that is run by Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable--are passing up the chance to win a first-place purse of more than $400,000, plus a $1-million bonus that goes to the horse who runs in all three Triple Crown races and accumulates the most points on a 5-3-1 basis for finishing first, second or third. Summer Squall is tied at eight points with Unbridled, who needs only to finish the Belmont to win the bonus.
Some observers say this year's Belmont evokes memories of macabre interest, of Demons Begone, the 1987 Kentucky Derby favorite who bled profusely from the nostrils after the first half-mile of that race and was unable to finish.
Unbridled apparently has not bled since the Calder incident. Summer Squall, on the other hand, has bled after at least three morning exercises this year, most recently the day before the Preakness, when he showed a trickle of blood from the nostrils.
"Because of what happened the day before the race, the reputation of all of racing was on the line in the Preakness," said trainer Wayne Lukas, who believes that Lasix serves a purpose in treating horses. "If Summer Squall had bled in the race and run badly, the whole industry would have been put in the position of trying to defend what we do to our horses.
"I don't think it's the same in the Belmont. Apparently Unbridled's condition has been under control since he was a 2-year-old and his trainer (Carl Nafzger) will be trying through natural means to make sure he doesn't bleed on Saturday."
Nafzger is going to dehydrate Unbridled, gradually taking food and water away from the horse in the 24 hours before the race. Unbridled will also ingest a potassium powder, which is intended to keep his muscle tone high.
"Lasix would be easier, of course," Nafzger said. "The horse has actually gained weight since he ran in the Derby. If he didn't, I would think twice about running the Belmont."
Will the dehydration work, keeping Unbridled from bleeding but not weakening him enough to hurt his chances?
"Nothing is 100% in this world," Nafzger said. "I've done this with horses before, and had some of them run good, and some of them not run one more step."
Some trainers doubt Nafzger's plan will work.
"I haven't had any success trying to do what Nafzger's doing," said Nick Zito, trainer who conditions Belmont entrant Thirty Six Red. "I've played sports, and horses aren't any different than human athletes. When you play sports, your system needs water."
Alysheba, who was trying to sweep the Triple Crown in 1987, and Tank's Prospect, who won the Preakness in 1985, are two Lasix horses who ran poorly in the Belmont, although neither bled. Alysheba was the victim of a tentative ride by Chris McCarron, and Tank's Prospect, who had respiratory problems rather than being a bleeder, went lame.
Lukas often will ship his bleeders out of New York, many of them coming to California where they can be treated with Lasix. With rich owners and hundreds of horses in his far-flung operation, Lukas can do what isn't economically feasible for other trainers.
Occasionally, however, Lukas will run a bleeder in New York without Lasix and take his chances. Last month, for instance, Lukas ran Criminal Type, who ran on Lasix while winning the Pimlico Special two weeks earlier, in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont. Criminal Type upset co-favorites Easy Goer and Housebuster.
The condition of bleeders from other states is not identified, either in the track programs or in the Daily Racing Form, when the horses run in New York. Unbridled's condition will be familiar to most horseplayers Saturday, but what about horses running in minor races, or the dozens of horses who will run in the seven Breeders' Cup races at Belmont Park in October?
Despite the controversy, the New York racing Establishment remains intransigent. Its position on Lasix was fortified by a recent University of Pennsylvania study, commissioned by the New York Jockey Club, which showed that the diuretic doesn't necessarily stop bleeding, but sometimes improves the speed of horses.
Reaction to the study was predictable. Horsemen in favor of Lasix said that the sample of horses was small and that they all ran at a track, Philadelphia Park, that generally runs cheap horses.
"The study has scientific credibility," said Tony Chamblin, executive vice president of Racing Commissioners International. "But I think the jury is still out on the results, because only 79 horses were used and that makes the study suspect.
"I was surprised, though, that Lasix was found not to stop bleeding in 52% of the horses used. But there's something wrong about the number of horses that are running on Lasix in this country. The number is about 70%. I find that to be absurd, or, at the very least, bizarre."
Chamblin doesn't believe racing will ever be unified on the Lasix issue, mainly because of the economic needs of tracks caught up in year-round racing competition.
Said Joe Tanenbaum, an official at Gulfstream Park: "If Lasix were banned, the big tracks would survive, the middle-of-the-road tracks would struggle because of a lack of horses, and the little tracks would go out of business."
R. Richards Rolapp, president of the American Horse Council, is still hoping for uniformity on the Lasix question.
"I think the Jockey Club survey has been constructive," Rolapp told the Daily Racing Form this week. "I think we can get there (uniformity).
"A lot of people in racing believe it's impossible, that the states are going to go their own way, but I think that if you could come up with the facts and relate them to what is reasonable and enforceable policy, you can have a regulatory scheme that is uniform and that everyone can live with. A lot of the publicity we have witnessed recently is unfortunate. We need to get 'drugs in race horses' out of the news. It can be done."
In California, there is such a strong lobby by the horsemen that it doesn't seem likely that Lasix will ever be abandoned. One of these horsemen is Bill Shoemaker, who rode five Belmont winners and a record 8,833 winners before he retired to take up training early this year.
"When they say Lasix 'moves up' horses, I think this is deceptive," Shoemaker said. "It's not like it's a hop or something. If you've got a bleeder, Lasix makes him more comfortable to run. That's the way it might move him up."
According to Jock Jocoy, the state veterinarian at Del Mar, Lasix was introduced to California racing in the 1970s.
"(Trainer) Arnold Winick brought it here from Florida," Jocoy said.
"Bleeders had been treated in a variety of ways before then, but Winick thought Lasix was even better. It made horses feel good, and it made dull horses run well."
Other trainers started using Lasix, and finally the state legalized it, even though some veterinarians cautioned that the medication was capable of masking illegal drugs in postrace testing. "Lasix has a place, it's just another tool a trainer will use," Jocoy said. "But like with anything else, trainers can also manipulate horses by using it and then not using it on them."
Jocoy estimates that $2 million a year is spent treating bleeders at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. A five-cc injection of Lasix can cost $20 to $35, depending on the veterinarian, and the going rate is $75 for an internal endoscopy of a horse to check for bleeding.
For the Preakness, not only did Summer Squall receive a dosage of Lasix that was twice the size of the legal limit in California, but he also received two injections, one in a vein and the other in a muscle. It is illegal for a veterinarian to give a horse Lasix in the muscle in California.
"When a horse gets Lasix intravenously, it really smacks home," Jocoy said. "A shot to the muscle is like a reservoir--it's used as insurance. It dribbles into the system, instead of going straight in. The problem with this type of injection is that it would affect the testing of a horse."
Cot Campbell made the unintentional pun of the year shortly after Summer Squall won the Preakness.
"You've got to bleed a little bit to win a race like this," Campbell said, and then caught himself.
"Not literally," Campbell said. "What I meant to say is that you've got to sweat a little bit to win a race like this."