All three hosts of the Triple Crown were among several major tracks that agreed Thursday to phase out the use of a common anti-bleeding medication starting next year, sparked by the deaths of 23 horses in three months at Santa Anita.
Starting in 2020, 2-year-old horses won't be allowed to be treated with the drug Lasix within 24 hours of racing. Lasix, formally known as furosemide, is a diuretic given to horses on race days to prevent pulmonary bleeding.
In 2021, the ban would extend to all horses running in any stakes races at tracks in the newly announced coalition. That's the year the Triple Crown would be run for the first time under the new medication rules. Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont are host to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Lasix has not been linked to any horse deaths, but critics of the sport have cited its use in calling for the end of race-day medication. Outside North America, most countries ban race-day medication.
In the U.S., 38 states regulate horse racing, but the sport lacks a common set of rules enforced by a single entity. Previous efforts to ban Lasix on race days have fallen apart because of a lack of consensus.
Other tracks participating in the coalition are Aqueduct and Saratoga in New York, California's Del Mar and Los Alamitos, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, Arlington International outside Chicago, Keeneland in Kentucky, Lone Star in Texas, Fair Grounds in Louisiana, Remington in Oklahoma and Oaklawn in Arkansas.
Other tracks involved are Laurel in Maryland and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania.
Santa Anita in Southern California and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California will continue to run under recently announced limits to race-day medication that were prompted by the rash of horse deaths since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. Both are owned by The Stronach Group.
Lasix is being phased out in stages at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. Now it's allowed on race day at 50 percent of previous levels. In 2020, all 2-year-old horses will have to race medication-free at the two tracks.
"National collaboration is necessary in order to truly evolve the sport," said Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group. "The desire to achieve uniform policies is the beginning of a movement that will redefine the expectations and views on safety within our sport."
The announcement was welcomed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"It took 23 dead horses on one track, but we were sure that the racing industry could change if it wanted to and phasing out Lasix for stakes races and 2-year-olds is an excellent first step in what must be an ongoing overhaul of racing rules nationwide," Kathy Guillermo, PETA's senior vice president, said in a statement.
New York Racing Association president and CEO David O'Rourke called it "a progressive and unified approach" to race-day medication.
Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said, "This is a significant and meaningful step to further harmonize American racing with international standards."
PETA is urging a ban on Lasix for all races, in addition to banning all medications in the two weeks before a race, banning trainers with multiple medication violations, mandating complete public transparency of injury and medication records, ending the use of whips, and switching to high-quality synthetic tracks.
California previously experimented with synthetic surfaces at its major tracks, spending $40 million to install them before eventually returning to dirt.