A few years ago, when controlled medication was approved for thoroughbred racing in Maryland, we were told the new program would mean more starts per year per animal. Horses would continue to be "racing sound" for longer periods of time, thanks to the analgesics and diuretics. The field would be larger, making for more interesting betting events, year-round, and everything would be well supervised.
Now, gradually, there is increasing statistical evidence to indicate the racing public and racing press has been misled.
A Kentucky study comparing the 1962 racing season, when Butazolidin was banned and Lasix was unknown, to the 1978 season, has shown that horses averaged one more start per year 14 years ago. Worse, there is no such thing as controlled medication, what we have, and have had since the inception of the program in Maryland, is uncontrolled medication.
"We've given the technocrats a license to mainpulate," contends Clem Florio, a handicapper for The Washington Post, Florio observes nine races a day, six days a week on the Maryland circuit. He does not like what he sees.
"The patricians were correct," Florio says. "They could afford to run their horses on hay, oats and water. When a horse became sore, it was given rest.Now the vets squeeze every last ounce out of a horse to keep it going, because the owner and the trainer can't afford for the horse to be idle."
Few patricians are left as thouroughbred owners. The great stables are becoming names of the past. Too many owners in 1977 need the money, and they need the money immediately, if they are to continue racing. If the veterinarian can get one more race into the owner's horse it might gain a share of a purse or, better yet, it might be claimed.
This is racing today. Next year is traded for tommorrow, daily.
"The medication factor overcomes all other considerations in handicapping," Florio contends. "Medication can turn a horse's form cycle around.
"What bothers me at the Laurel meeting is that money is showing regularly for horses that come out on the track looking like new. The money shows, and they win, while horses in the same race that figure to be 6 to 5 are going out to 2 to 1, they look dead, and run dead. I get the feeling the general betting public is going up against specialized information."
I get the feeling controlled medication is not doing what it was supposed to do. It may, as some horsemen suggest, be permitting more marginal horses to compete, thus lowering the national average inasmuch as a marginal horse does not figure to hold up as long in competition.
But certainly there has not been a startling increases in the number of races per horse per year in Maryland, as prophesied by proponents of the medication program. And the reporting system is a joke. Many trainers routinely list their runners as having been medicated, whether they were or not. Only the vets know for sure, and they're not talking.
Owners, meanwhile, pay higher and higher vet bills. Under "uncontrolled" medication, cheating is made easier while the bettors in the grandstand end up saddled with yet another important handicapping consideration they can not fathom.
"They are ruining my game, with all this permisssiveness," Florio moans. Many bettors agree. The poor supervision of controlled medication has made betting on horses more of a gamble than ever. And if, as it now appears, controlled medication does not enable more horses to run more often, what good is it, in the long run, to anyone?