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Lasix Debate Steals Belmont Spotlight : Horse racing: New York prohibits use of the diuretic to treat horses, in effect keeping bleeders such as Summer Squall away.

June 06, 1990|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ELMONT, N.Y. — 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.

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