After VenetianWay won this year's Kentucky Derby, racing fans learned for the first time thatthe state of Kentucky was allowing trainers to administer a drug calledButazolidin to competing Thoroughbreds—but was not telling the racing publicwhich horses were getting the treatment.
Was Venetian Waya Buty horse when he won the Derby? His trainer said no, some racing expertssaid yes. In any event, the Kentucky experiment with Butazolidin was clearly anunfortunate—and perhaps harmful—affair (SI, June 20).
Now,surprisingly, another state—Illinois—has legalized Butazolidin. In an attemptto avoid the criticism that followed Kentucky's adventure, the Illinois RacingBoard has ruled that the public must be told which horses on the program havebeen given the drug. Since the afternoon of July 8, at the Arlington Park tracknear Chicago, mimeographed lists of each day's Buty horses have been postedaround the grounds for the information of bettors.
Butazolidin isdescribed as an analgesic. It is given to horses either in capsules or inpowder form mixed with their feed. It relieves stiffness and soreness, reducesinflammation and thereby minimizes pain. It has never been proved to be astimulant, or even a tranquilizer.
Nevertheless, inthe two weeks since it was legalized in Illinois, of the 407 horses thatreceived it 124 finished in the money. Many of them were long shots (see chartopposite). In the first few Buty days, some alert horseplayers did indeed makequick profits. As the number of treated horses grew, however, so did the numberof informed bettors, and the odds on Buty entries fell off.
Still, theremarkable reversals of form seemingly attributable to the drug brought somehorseplayers to the point of joyful hysteria. One gave Butazolidin the apt name(for him) of Happy Aspirin. Another swore he saw a Buty horse "laughing allthe way through the homestretch."
But theButazolidin business is serious business. For a horse trainer, the cost ofhaving his horse treated with the drug is less than $10. But for Thoroughbredracing as a sport, particularly one that purports to be interested in theimprovement of the breed, the cost may be high if other commissions followIllinois' example.
Why did Illinoisstart it?
When the boardwas considering giving its approval to Butazolidin, one of its members, WilliamS. Miller, argued in its behalf: "Phenylbutazone [Butazolidin] is one ofthe newer drugs which has been added to the current medical armamentarium. Thisdrug has two major types of action; it is a pain reliever, like aspirin, and itrelieves the swelling of inflammation, like cortisone.
"Phenylbutazone is not classed primarily as either a depressant or astimulant. However, in the strict or purest sense, when Phenylbutazone relievespain, it is really depressing or reducing the ability to feel pain and in thissense might be considered to have depressant action. However, scientific andmedical personnel do not classify this drug as a depressant but rather as ananalgesic and anti-inflammatory agent."
The day afterMiller made his statement (and the board approved the drug), two horses in thefirst race at Arlington Park, out of a field of 12, were treated withButazolidin. Donavan, a long shot, was one of them, and Donavan won the firstrace and paid $91.40 for each $2 win bet. Two other winners the first day wereButy horses. On Tuesday, July 12, in the second race, there were two Butyhorses—Persian Claw and Namron—again in a field of 12. Persian Claw won andpaid $63.60 to win, while Namron finished second and paid $67.40 to place.
By this time,everyone in Thoroughbred racing was talking about Butazolidin, and a number ofofficials who had been watching and waiting were ready with consideredopinions. George D. Widener, the chairman of The Jockey Club, said, "Ithink it is a grievous mistake to allow the use of such a preparation. It lendsitself to sharp practices. That it is permitted in certain states, and that itsapproval nationally is being seriously considered, tends to destroy hard-wonand well-deserved public confidence. It is a disservice to racing."
Ralph W.Choisser, the steward representing the Illinois Racing Board, sincerelybelieves the experiment is worthwhile. "We are allowing it here in Illinoisfor exploratory purposes. There are 180 days of racing here in Illinois. Manyhorses now race 11 months a year. Today tracks are much harder than they usedto be and horses get 'sored' up. I believe that in the long run Butazolidin maymake for more formful racing. But if horses start running hot on it and coldoff it, we're not going to let them run at all."
California Ownerand Breeder Rex Ellsworth says he would not stand a horse at stud whose recordwas tainted with Butazolidin victories. Contrarily, Bull Hancock, the Kentuckybreeder whose stallions include Bold Ruler and Nashua, does not believe thedrug's contribution to a horse's record would detract from his value as a stud.Eddie Arcaro is for Butazolidin's use all over the country. "There areplenty of sore horses who will be helped," he says. "But it has to becontrolled, or else some people will be pulling tricks with it."
No man's opinionon the subject, perhaps, deserves greater consideration than the Calumet Farm'sJimmy Jones.
"I used it onone horse," he says. "I wanted to see if maybe it might help him, and,after all, if the rules say you can use it, then there is nothing wrong inusing it. But just let me say this. The reason I used it was that I didn't wantto give everyone some chance which perhaps I didn't have. But I'm against itfor several reasons. First, no matter what you call a medication, in the publicmind it's dope. Well, it has taken horse racing a long time to build up thepublic's confidence, and it shouldn't do anything to lose that confidence. Thesecond reason is that Butazolidin is going to encourage many trainers to runhorses which are definitely hurting and should be laid up for repairs insteadof running. Many trainers have an idea that Butazolidin is a cure-all, amiracle medicine, and there are trainers who are going to make permanentinjuries out of temporary ones. Also, I believe that all rules in racing shouldbe standard across the country. If all the states had come out for Butazolidinat the same time, then O.K. But when Illinois came out for it alone, it createsanother problem. How about horses who ship from one state to another? Say youship a horse from a Butazolidin state where he's run a good race to a statethat doesn't allow its use. What if he runs a bad race in the non-Butazolidinstate? Do you think that this will inspire the public's confidence? Maybe I'mjust old-fashioned and maybe I'm wrong, but I believe in the improvement of thebreed of horses, and I believe that if horses can't run good enough on oats andhay then they shouldn't be running at all."
Despite therationalizations of its advocates, the Arlington experiment indicates that theonly real reason for using Butazolidin is greed: to keep horses running afterpurse money when they should be recuperating from whatever ails them.
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