Anita Cauley’s highly regarded homebred On Fire Baby, 4-1 co-second choice on the morning line for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs, began her racing career as a rarity these days. She made her debut at Ellis Park last August as the only member of the eight-horse field to race without Lasix (or Salix as furosemide is known by its brand name these days), and she won by four lengths, easily.
A daughter of Smoke Glacken and the Gilded Time mare Ornate, On Fire Baby was next sent to the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland by trainer Gary Hartlage. Again, she was the only one of 13 not to race on Lasix, but this time she finished fifth as the longest shot at 40-1. Undaunted, Hartlage wheeled her back in the Grade 2 Pocahontas at Churchill, and the filly won at 9-1. And yes, she was the only one of 12 in the race not on Lasix.
On Fire Baby concluded her 2-year-old season as one of the best fillies in the country by winning Churchill’s Grade 2 Golden Rod by more than six lengths, easily, Lasix-free again.
With two Grade 2 races in the bank and a winner of three of four at 2, On Fire Baby was ambitiously sent to Oaklawn for the Listed Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 16 against colts. She was so highly considered off her form that she was sent away the favorite against them—and again, the only runner of 12 not on Lasix—but this time the filly finished third, beaten a length for everything.
She reappeared in the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes against fillies at Oaklawn on March 10, but this time on Lasix. She won by two lengths, showing the same form against fillies from a few months earlier. Nothing about the Lasix suggests that On Fire Baby became a different horse from what she was, because she won as expected against her own kind in Grade 3 race as a previous Grade 2 winner. But here’s the kicker: She hadn’t bled in the Smarty Jones. Hartlage was frank about why he put her on the anti-bleeding medication despite that when he told Daily Racing Form‘s Mary Rampellini before the Honeybee, “There’s no reason to put a horse through bleeding if they don’t have to. I’m not saying she’s going to bleed, but we’re not going to take a chance she bleeds.”
When Lasix first appeared on the scene in the early 1970s in Maryland, there were strict requirements for racing on furosemide, but that’s not the case now because most horses race on it. Judging by the way Hartlage has handled On Fire Baby’s career, he’s not a trainer that liberally medicates his horses—he could have raced On Fire Baby on Lasix throughout her career otherwise—but he also believes that Lasix will help a horse from not bleeding, even one that hasn’t bled before.
Most trainers feel the same way, and most owners—including those that recently testified at a hearing in Pennsylvania that race-day Lasix should be done away with—must feel the same way. Otherwise why would they race their horses on it? Or conversely, why don’t they race their horses off it, as Hartlage did with On Fire Baby until recently?