While most of the debate on drugs in horse racing is currently focused on Lasix / Salix, the anti-bleeder medication given to every single horse who races in the US with very few exceptions, little is being said about Bute. Bute is the drug most identified when discussing injury-masking drugs and racehorses.
In a previous post, we highlighted a Sports Illustrated article from 1978 where jockeys were ridiculed by members of the racing establishment for warning about about the dangers of Bute to horse and rider. At that time, only a handful of States authorized its use. Today, I believe I am correct in saying that every single racing jurisdiction in the US allows horses to run on Bute, although guidelines vary.
Going back a decade earlier, in another Sports Illustrated article dated May 20, 1968, Kentucky Derby winner Dancer’s Image was “disqualified” (actually the horse kept his win but the prize money was forfeited) because he had been administered Bute, at the time a banned substance on racedays.
While the article is mostly about the mystery surrounding about how Dancer’s Image got the drug and why, the quote that jumped out to me is this one. It holds up equally today just as it did then.
In 1960 Calumet Farm’s Jimmy Jones told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED he was against Butazolidin for several reasons. “First, no matter what you call a medication, in the public mind it’s dope. Well, it has taken horse racing a long time to buildup the public’s confidence, and it shouldn’t do anything to lose that confidence. The second reason is that Butazolidin is going to encourage many trainers to run horses which are definitely hurting and should be laid up for repairs instead of running. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned and maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that if horses can’t run good enough on oats and hay then they shouldn’t be running at all.”
This may be a bitter pill to swallow for today’s horse racing to take, but swallow it they must, if they are going to protect racehorses and jockeys from catastrophic injuries and death and start healing public opinion about the sport.