Novak: Select McLaughlin trainees run drug free

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was a quiet experiment begun by Kiaran McLaughlin with his 2-year-olds starting under the colors of Darley and Shadwell Stables.

Four times during the 2011 season at Saratoga Race Course, juvenile runners from the barn of the New York horseman went postward without anti-bleeder medication. One of them — a Darley homebred named Alpha — won.

There’s so much talk of no Lasix, we decided not to run them on it until they need it

— Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin

With the Breeders’ Cup banning the use of Lasix (also known as Salix) in the 2012 2-year-old events at the World Championships, and with the American Graded Stakes Committee announcing that it will deny graded status to any 2-year-old stakes race in which horses can run on the diuretic in 2012, the trainer made the call.

“There’s so much talk of no Lasix, we decided not to run them on it until they need it,” McLaughlin said Monday at the upstate oval. “No one told me I had to do this, I decided it.”

The proposed elimination of the drug, which is used to control exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, has become a polarizing topic once again. Many horsemen here maintain that Lasix is vital to the health and humane campaigning of their runners, but purists insist North American racing must fall into line with the rest of the world (all other major racing jurisdictions ban the use of Lasix on raceday). Many believe the medication also has performance-enhancing qualities, and even trainers who are in favor of eliminating the use of the drug still race on it now while it is legal to remain competitive — an “even playing field” sort of philosophy.

For 10 years, McLaughlin spent half of each season working in Dubai and half in New York for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who owns Darley, and his brother, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, who owns Shadwell. McLaughlin was the leading trainer at Nad Al Sheba Race Course in 1994-95, 1995-96, and 2002-2003, where no drugs are permitted within 48 hours of post time, although Lasix is allowed in training.

“The Maktoum family runs all over the world without Lasix and we ran without it for 10 years in Dubai, so we know we can run without it and win without it,” McLaughlin said.

The chart from Alpha’s Sept. 3 victory here tells a tale of the times — of 10 horses in the seven-furlong maiden special weight, only two started without Lasix. The other was also a Darley first-timer, Nandino, trained by Tom Albertrani for the Maktoum-owned racing stable. McLaughlin said in former years he would have started runners on Lasix the first time out just like any other trainer in North America, but given the current climate here, he wanted to get ready for the possibility of having to run without it.

“The last two years it wasn’t this hot topic of ‘No Lasix!’ but the way things are going now you have to be prepared,” McLaughlin explained. “We’re just trying to prepare ourselves and get some confidence. We just started with the two-year-olds, we’ll see how it goes. We’re just doing our own little thing in-house.”

McLaughlin said he hasn’t seen any negative effects from the four starters he sent out without medication so far. In addition to Alpha, McKinley Square finished seventh on Monday, Eben Alsafa ran 10th on Aug. 13, and Al Mudeer finished fourth Aug. 3.

“They could end up needing it,” he remarked. “We’ll scope them after every race and if they need it, it’s legal to do right now, we’ll sign them up. But we just want to see how it goes on our own.”

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets. You can reach her via her website.

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