The Maryland Thoroughbred Racing Commission is reexamining its medication program.
Robert Banning, the chairman, called an open hearing on the subject at Pimlico recently and the response from all segments of the industry was excellent. There were comments from owners, trainers, veterinarians, breeders, jockeys, track executives and professional handicappers. Only the state chemist was missing.
There was little agreement on anything except that more information was needed before an assessment could be made of Maryland's permitting the use of Butazolidin and Lasix. A committee was appointed to gather such expertise. But several of the observations made during the two-hour discussion were enlightening. A few follow:
Chick Lang, general manager, Pimlico - "Do we have a problem? I don't know, but I really don't think we do. I think we're making a mountain out of a molehill. But if there is something that we're doing wrong, then let's correct it.
"I know it's a prime topic nationally, not just here, judging from the seminars I have attended at TRA (Thoroughbred Racing Associations) conventions. It leads me to believe there is no such thing as an expert when it comes to Butazolidin. My grandfather once told me racing destroys all theories, and I think he's correct.
"On the other hand, I realize we have to do everything possible to hold up the integrity of this sport, by providing accurate information. But when you bet on a horse, does the best information tell you that horse didn't eat up in the morning, that he was iced or tubbed, that he ran off from his groom?"
"I sometimes wonder if there is anything such as expert in racing. I stood out in the paddock yesterday with a trainer. He was running the horse, he said, only because the owner insisted, then he was going to tell the owner to 'shove' his horses. By the time I got back to the office to see the race, that horse was two lengths in front leaving the 16th pole . . . and it won."
Jack Mobberley, trainer - "I think what we're really talking about here, in the broadest sense, is the integrity of the trainer or the people responsible for the medication of the horses. I don't think it's a question of Butazolidin, or not Butazolidin; we're talking integrity.
"I think freezing a horse is more effective than Butazolidin - by far. You have a horse. He can run a race and be perfectly fine, pull up sound, go back to the barn and in cooling out he's a little gimpy. You get your vet over, X-ray, and you find a split cannon bone, a hairline fracture.
"The vet will say, "Give him three months, he'll be perfectly fine.' But let's assume the horse just finished second for $15,000 in that race. That trainer says the hell with what the vet just recommended. 'I'm not going to keep this damn horse around for three months.' So he walks him for 10 days, drops him in for $7,500 gives him Bute and runs him back.
"Now he might get to the first turn but when he switches leads and something is eligible to go. I'm not saying it will happen, but it's a good possibility. The point is, anybody who puts a jockey up on that horse, who puts the life of a rider in jeopardy knowing the situation with this horse is particularly dangerous, well, I think their license should be pulled."
Fred Colwill, state steward - "How many horses are listed as running on Lasix today? Sixty-two, out of 87! Can anyone really sit here and say these horses are all breeders or potential bleeders? Sixty-two out of 87? I recommend, strongly, that no 2-year-old should have to use Bute or Lasix in order to run. We prohibit Bute for 2-year-olds; we allow Lasix. If a 2-year-old is a breeder, he ought to go back to the farm and rest. it is a disgrace that a young horse like that should have to run on Lasix."
Kimball Firestone, breeder - "Mr. Banning, you started out by saying we were going to try to determine today whether we had a problem. It strikes me, from what I've heard, that it is obvious that we do and that the problem, to a great extent, is that knowledgeable people can't agree as to what the true situation is with respect to these drugs.
"Now, what the hell is the public supposed to think? How are the bettors supposed to figure out what is going on? How are the legislators, in Annapolis, who have such an enormous influence on our industry, supposed to figure this out when we can sit here and we don't even know what the hell the true story is?
"I'm not an expert. But it seems perfectly clear to me that if we didn't have this medication we wouldn't have to worry about this problem and the sport would be a lot cleaner."