Easy Edith was known as a lady of slight reputation in the backstretch long before she broke down at Pimlico, May 3, setting off a chain reaction four-horse spill that killed Robert Pineda, who was aboard Easter Bunny Mine.
Easy Edith, a 5-year-old mare, was cheap: eligible to be claimed by anyone willing to risk $3,000 on her woefully bad knees and chronic soreness.
"Easy Edith was an accident waiting to happen, going into the race," says Mel Gross, a trainer on the Maryland circuit. "You had (Leroy) Moyers winning two races on the horse and he didn't want to ride her back. That's a good indication. Nobody took (Rudy) Turcotte and tied him on that horse."
Gross, a young, outspoken trainer, is not being callous; rather, he is merely stating the facts of life on the backstretch of most American race tracks.
Nor should trainer Tom Caviness be singled out for running Easy Edith that day. The economics of racing in the U.S. today give the marginal horseman little room for humane considerations.
Caviness said after the spill he runs all of his horses on bute because none of them are completely sound and most are claimers. "If you run without bute, it's an advertisement you have a sound horse and people will plan him," he said. "The most beneficial part is that bute will let them down easy after a race."
Pineda's death and subsequent comments by two injured jockeys Turcotte and John K. Adams, criticizing the misuse of Butazolidin have had an impact, however, Horsemen feel virtually all of the charges of overmedication are unfounded. But there appears to be an increasing awareness that jockeys are occasionally being asked to ride horses that would be better off retired or sent to a farm for rest and recuperation.
Instead, many horses are sent to the races with the assistance of bute and lasix - the legal drugs of Maryland racing - and, in some cases, other illegal drugs.
"I ate a horse I claimed from abig trainer the other day," Gross said. "One of my owners had to buy a drop-down. But I had to give the horse away. I just wouldn't run him anymore. A jockey's life is in jeopardy enough as it is, on any horse. If you have a horse that you think is gonna hurt him, I give him away.
"This happens frequently. If a trainer can stick a sore horse on someone, you stick him. There isn't a trainer on the grounds that can't be fooled, once in a while, into taking a sore horse.
It was a lovely spring morning at Pimlico last week when Gross, jockey Gregg McCarron, and the trainer's veterinarian, Jim Morgan, were busy around the barn.
"I don't pretend to have the answers," McCarron said, "but I know Turcotte and Adams don't speak for a majority of the riders when they talk like they talked after the spill. The knoledgeable people I know say Butazolidin has a place in racing, that it's not harmful; the ones who don't know say it is.
"All I'm sure of is, (1) you have a lot of people comin' into this business that are inexperienced and (2) the volume of racing, year-round, has changed the picture. The horses are asked to run a lot more. I don't know. Maybe running day in and day out, I don't know how much they can take."
"Tapping" means sticking a needle into the sore part of the horse's anatomy in order to drain out the fluid in the joint capsule, then replacing the fluid with cortisone. The change in the joint is dramatic, except that repeated tappings are not as effective for as long a period and, eventually the joint is destroyed.
"But if you don't use, bute, you'd have to tap horses more," Gross interjected. "And tappin' horses does more damage than giving bute."
"That's for certain," Morgan agreed. "take a horse sitting here for $5,000, and people are standing there with their hands handcuffed, and if you can't use bute the owners are saying, "We've got to do something.' If there's no bute, there's only one choice and that's tappin' them, ankles, knees, anything. And that's the worst."
"Look at the horse of mine over there, in the last stall," Gross said. 'His name is Opal Charm. He's 8 years old and he had that gigantic ankle, but he's been running and winning for anybody over the years. He hasn't been tapped. The ankle is too calcified. You can't get it in. The bute we use on him helps him get rid of that arthritic condition. It makes him comfortable enough to run so that he'll extend himself, and he's had that ankle a long time.
"The point with Opal Charm is that, even though he won eight races last year, he's worth nothin' to nobody if he doesn't run on bute. Because of bute, he' still around. Which is what makes me upset when I hear jocks who don't know what they're talking about saying bute is like Novocaine. That's an absurd statment."
The nation's jockeys are mostly worried about what they perceive to be a general increase in the number of shatter-type breakdowns in which there is little or no advance warning that the horse will fall apart. The horse is not bumped or his heels clipped. He is running alone, in the open - and the leg snaps, sending the jockey crashing to the track.
"We don't know what's causing the breakdowns and the injuries," McCarron said. "But every jockey has a right to be worried. Like with Easy Edith. The jockey is under a lot of pressure to ride that horse. We all are.If a jock takes off, and the horse wins, that jockey is branded, absolutely branded. The owner and trainer won't forget.
"And how many sore horses win? I'll tell you how many.Thousands."
Ramifications of the medication controversy are numerous and growing. Statistic are scarce, but opinions and theories are not. Butazolidin, most horsemen agree, is not the cause of problem confronting the nation's jockeys.
Tomorrow: Possible causes