A Horse Is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course

Turning On at the Old Racetrack; A Short Guide to Horses and Dope

Some of the most turned on members of this generation are the horses which go to post every day of the year all over America.

Drugs can only be legally administered by a veterinarian but around the racetrack many drugs are given without the "doctor's orders." Trainers, a paranoid and calculating lot, seek the infinitesimal edge over their neighbor. They suspect their best friend of trying to beat them out of a purse and a winning bet, and as a defense they scheme 24 hours a day to protect themselves against chicanery. For a few of them the best defense is a good offense, and their rule is- if you don't get caught, you didn't do it.

There are three types of drugs used on horses- stimulants, pain-killers, and tranquilizers. Stimulants are forbidden in every state, but that, of course, does not stop their use. Typically a stranger and a horse in a small trailer arrive at the race track and gets stable permission for a racing season. For several races the horse shows no sign of life and the odds on the animal keep rising. One morning the stranger goes into the horse's stall to pet him, feed him some carrots, and give him "a little help." That afternoon the horse should go off at odds of seventy to one, but at post time the odds are only fifty to one. No one notices. The horse wins by five lengths, and the trainer is not to be found.


The track stewards are concerned about his whereabouts. They want to ask him some questions about his horse's surprising reversal of form. When the results of the urinalysis become known and when no one comes around to pick up the horse after the race, the stewards intensify their search for the stranger. It does no good. All a subsequent investigation usually produces is a sworn statement by the cashier at the $100 window that he remembers a "tall, dark stranger" cashing in ten tickets together worth $50,000. This sort of thing does not happen often, but it does happen. Sometimes the track security agents working with the FBI (everyone licensed at a racetrack has his fingerprints taken), turn up the culprits.

A little publicized case occurred at Gulf- stream Park this past year when a filly paid $427 for a $2 win bet. The horse had been given "the juice," but the offenders were caught and prosecuted.



In the past heroin ("horse") was an overwhelming favorite for stimulating horses to run faster, but heroin had unfortunate side effects and some horses became uncontrollably wild. Today's stimulants are much more sophisticated and harder to detect in the post- race spit and urinalysis, but the penalty for use of stimulants- being barred from racing forever- is so severe that the unscrupulous use other methods to help their horse across the wire first.


Tranquilizers have the opposite effect. By feeding a horse tranquilizers a trainer can insure that the animal will run slowly. The horse will then repeatedly drop in class. The public, fooled by a string of last place finishes and unaware of the true condition of the horse, will ignore him in the betting. The trainer then stirs the animal from his stupor with workouts. The horse becomes an easy winner at long odds.

The tranquilizer game has its merits. In the winning effort the horse is not drugged. The trainer can explain that he worked some soreness out of the horse's legs. Many honest trainers can get one last race out of a sore performer before the horse goes completely lame, and the crooked trainer's explanation to the stewards must often be accepted.

Dancer's Image

Pain-killing drugs are a different story. The disqualification of Dancer's Image from first place to last in the 1968 Kentucky Derby caused a controversy still unsettled in the courts. Was Dancer's Image given butazolidin within the forbidden pre- race period? Peter Fuller and company argued that the test was inconclusive and the competence of the chemist was suspect. The State Racing Commission argued that the test was adequate and that if the stable hands were not guilty of administering the pain-killing drug to the horse, they were at least guilty of negligence in the care of the horse-witness the suspension of the trainer and two grooms after the race.

'Drugstore Derby'

In the 1960 Kentucky Derby- the "drugstore Derby"- Venetian Way beat Bally Ache. Venetian Way was a sore horse who responded admirably to butazolidin, legal in Kentucky at the time. When Venetian Way ran in the Preakness two weeks later without the help of butazolidin (pain-killing drugs are not legal in Maryland), he did not even finish in the money while the sound- legged Bally Ache won. The performance of Venetian Way with and without butazolidin and other similar cases convinced the Kentucky State Racing Commission that drugs were unfair to the horse and to the public.

Feels No Pain

Unlike stimulants or tranquilizers, butazolidin does not change the energy level of the horse, but rather makes the animal extremely insensitive to any pain. Though a thoroughbred weighs close to 1000 pounds and runs faster than thirty- five miles-an-hour, he has lower legs that are thinner than your ankles. Most thoroughbreds have sore legs. With butazolidin or some other pain-killer a horse cannot feel anything in his leg. Unable to feel that his unsound leg is about to break, he will run until his leg gives way and he falls. Every-time a horse goes lame and tumbles during the running of a race a courageous animal has to be destroyed and the jockey risks being trampled to death. Pain-killing drugs do not make all horses run faster, but they do make all sore horses run faster.

Honest Sport

Do not get the impression that all race horses have just been fed the medicine cabinet. Horse racing is a well- supervised and largely honest sport, but it does have it share of crooks. The betting public likes to imagine much more crimes than actually exist for the betting public is in error two- thirds of the time. It needs a scapegoat for its handicapping errors.