Owners breeders and trainers joined forces today to testify against a bill that would make it illegal to use Butazolidin, Lasix and other medications or drugs on racehorses in Maryland.
Only two witnesses spoke in favor of the bill by Del. Catherine Riley (D-Hartford) during a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee that considered eight racing-industry bills today.
Riley's bill would make it a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, for anyone to give Lasix, "Bute," pain-killers, steroids or stimulants to racehorses in training.
Lasis is a diuretic intended for horses with chronic bleeding and breathing problems. Butazolidin is an anti-inflammatory medication.
The two drugs have been legal in Maryland racing since 1975, but have come under increasing fire since the death of jockey Robert Pineda last May in a four-horse spill caused by another horse that allegedly "broke down" after being treated with "Bute."
While many horsemen feel that charges of overmedication are unfounded, they are worried that jockeys are asked to ride horses that would be better off retired or rested rather than temporarily relieved of pain for a race.
Horses treated with "bute" and Lasix are listed as such in racing programs and Riley found that 68 percent of the horse entered at Bowie two days last week were on the medications. She further estimated that 90 to 95 percent of all horses racing in Maryland are on "Bute."
Testifying on the economics of the racing industry today, some witnesses said horses are put on "Bute" because none of them is completely sound and most are claimers. If a horse runs without "Bute" -- even a small dose -- it is tantamount to advertising that the horse is sound and the mount will be claimed.
Contending that "many people were intimidated into not appearing here today," Riley said, "there is a conspracy of silence. The breeders, trainers, jockeys are all reluctant to talk and say there is a problem. If it's so, it's sad because they're participating in the demise of an industry they love."
B.P. Hacker, a trainer and breeder who opposes the bill, because of its felony penalty said "it's ('Bute') a big overrated drug. I've trained horses on it and it's never helped. There's not a lot of difference between using 'Bute' and icing a horse."
Dr. Robert Vallance, a veterinarian, said, "No one can state with authority that 'Bute' has caused accidents."
Fendell Clagett, chairman of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Society, argued that "Bute" is not a drug, but a medication no more powerful than aspirin -- a claim Riley disputes.
Riley suggested that her bill may be amended to make violation of the proposed law a misdemeanor and to permit the use of Lasix or "Bute" up to 48 hours before a race so injured horses can readily be detected before running.
"The fans are tired of betting on 'dogs'," she said. "And if you (the legislature) don't do something soon, this industry will be in trouble."
The committee also heard testimony on two bills to redistribute pool receipts. Both bills would aid Maryland breeders and one would also give the race tracks a larger share by reducing the state's take of 5.43 percnet on money wagered.
There also was a request to alternate the 16 days of summer racing currently assigned to Bowie with Pimlico and Laurel. Bowie officials said the summer dates -- part of 48 redisstributed from the defunct Marlboro track -- are impacting the town and increasing traffic risks for school children.