The Sid Fernando Column - The Lasix anomaly

Ex-jockey and current trainer Wesley Ward, a cowboy, has established a niche program in North America that's as unique as it is unprecedented: He ships runners to Europe, targets mainly the prestigious five-day Royal Ascot meet, and consistently runs well. Through the years he's streamlined the mid-June assault on Ascot through a May stay at Chantilly in France, where he's won several races as well; Ward's specialty is fast horses, mostly precocious two-year-olds, but also older sprinters. Many are off-bred types, too, and this adds even more color to the improbable but cliched storyline of the "ugly American" dueling with European aristocrats. But Ward's runners have looked plenty good as they've taken on Europe's best on Europe's terms: turf instead of dirt; undulating, straight tracks rather than fast left-handed bends; and no race-day Lasix. Racing successfully without Lasix is the significant byproduct of Ward's European program. And it should have reverberations within the Lasix debate here. After all, isn't Lasix the "performance enhancer," as stated by The Jockey Club and other owner groups, supposed to make a horse morph into an animal that's 15 to 20 lengths better than he would otherwise be? Or, to put it the opposite way: Isn't Ward supposed to be at a competitive disadvantage by going off the ubiquitous diuretic that many here claim they are unable to train and race without?

Which is it? Performance enhancer as Lasix's detractors claim, or a therapeutic medication for exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), as its supporters say? Ward's most recent European foray came on July 12 at Newmarket in the Group 1 Darley July Cup with Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker's eponymously named Undrafted, a decent enough four-year-old gelding by Purim who'd won four of 14 starts Stateside. Not top class by any means, Undrafted had never raced without Lasix and was shipped to Newmarket for the Group 1 race with a Grade 3 turf sprint win to his credit. At long odds, he wasn't given much chance yet closed strongly to finish fourth of 13 behind pro-tem champion European sprinter Slade Power, beaten only a length and a half, a short head, and a neck for everything. And all this first-time off Lasix, on a demanding good-to-soft course that tested stamina – the winner got six furlongs in 1:12.40 on a straight course – while under 132 pounds, 18 more than he'd carried to victory in his last start over a rock-hard Belmont turf in 1:07.24. By all indicators, therefore, it was the best performance of Undrafted's career, yet it came without the aid of "performance-enhancing" Lasix.

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THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN - NORTH AMERICAN TRAINER - ISSUE 33

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Author: Sid Fernando