Phenylbutazone — or
"Bute" for short — was introduced into veterinary
medicine in the 1950’s and by 1959 had been approved for use in
racing by the State of Colorado.  Many believe that this was the
beginning of the era of "permissible controlled substances"
in the horse racing industry. Probably one of the most famous cases
of the use of "bute" in horse racing was the
disqualification of Dancer’s Image in the 1968 Kentucky Derby.
Post-race urinalysis revealed trace amounts of Bute but, while at the
time legal at some tracks, Churchill had yet to adopt this rule.
Shortly thereafter it was legalized in most states and was well
established in racing jurisdictions by the mid to late 70’s.
Many claim that Bute,
currently one of the most common drugs used in horse racing, is akin
to aspirin. Classified as therapeutic there are many misconceptions
about this hypothesis, primarily from the standpoint that it allows
injured horses to continue training and running. Anti-inflammatory
drugs do not cure musculoskeletal problems although they do provide
control of inflammation which helps to decrease further damage while
controlling the discomfort to the horse during painful episodes.
seemed a miracle drug when the stuff began entering the bloodstreams
of racehorses in the 1960s. I was collecting the post-race urine that
concentrated the metabolites of that drug during the ’60s, and as a
teenager I became acutely aware of drugs and racehorses.
a soothing anti-inflammatory effect bute brought to racehorses in
those simpler days when its use first became widespread. The
alleviation of certain lamenesses was dramatic. 'Really sweet stuff,'
I remember Wright Haggerty’s Kentucky groom telling me on the
Shelby, Montana, backside in 1965 as he pestelled up tiny white
100-milligram dog pills he had received from my father, the attending
and regulatory veterinarian (thus my job as urine catcher)." 
Phenylbutazone is used to
treat a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains and
strains, muscular overuse (including both muscular damage and
strain/damage of the tendons attaching muscles to bone), tendonitis,
acute joint injury/strain/sprain, and arthritic conditions. It is
also often used to control the fever associated with viral or
bacterial infections but its use under these circumstances may mask
the severity of the problem.  No doubt that short-term relief
is of merit but continued administration can lead to severe and
problematic consequences for the horse.
The question then arises
as to the performance-enhancing ability of this so-called innocuous
"aspirin-like" medication. There is no doubt to this end
effect. Although Bute may not make a horse run faster, nonetheless it
enables mobility via its anti-inflammatory effect. A horse that feels
no pain will run as it would without the underlying physiological
problems associated with their legs, feet or joints.
structures however are prone to further injury when worked to the
same extent as their healthy counterparts.
The other problem that’s
lies within is the mindset that if the horse doesn’t respond as
expected simply increase the dosage. It has been proven time and
again that the proper management of lameness in the horse is rest.
Unfortunately for the horse, the owners and trainers are not willing
to wait these long periods of time as with every passing day they
lose more money.
racehorses the clock is ticking, fast. If drugs can save time with
racehorses, they are used for just that. And that is the case these
days. The industry has transcended bute. The monthly veterinary bills
at Belmont and Aqueduct often exceed the monthly training fee. Ask
any owner." 
Unmistakably the use of
Phenylbutazone and other common NSAID's such as flunixin or
ketoprofen allows the horse to continue training or return to
training in a shorter period of time. However, with these drugs
masking the degree of lameness that continues to exist, there is the
consideration of the contribution to both catastrophic and
This is especially true in
the case of "stacking" NSAID's — a common practice which
is routinely used and appears frequently in the record of violations.
Combining different NSAID's is an illegal practice due to this
masking effect on lameness which can, in effect, eliminate pain. It
is callous and irresponsible to believe these medications do not
contribute to further detriment to the horse.
As with the
corticosteroids, Bute can also increase the propensity toward
gastro-intestinal ulceration when administered on a continuing basis.
Gastric ulcers are common in horses, with prevalence estimated from
53 to 93%, depending on populations surveyed and type of athletic
activity. The gastric ulcers in horses are caused by many factors
including, anatomy of the stomach, diet, restricted feed intake,
exercise, stress (stall or transport), and the use of non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory agents.  In racehorses the incidence tends to
the upper limit as a result of the implacable combination of
strenuous exercise, stress and NSAID's.
This tendency of increased
gastric ulceration however is neatly managed by yet more drugs. Enter
the proton pump inhibitors (e.g. Ranitidine (Zantac), Omeprazole)
which suppress the production of gastric acids – "Nexium"
for horses. It seems then that the Class 5 medications such as these
serve as a category of drugs that manage the effects of the other
more potent ones — plainly a domino effect and a never-ending cycle
of drug abuse that ultimately shortens not only the racing careers of
these guileless creatures but also their life expectancy.
In 2008, the U.S. House
Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection examined the
state of horse racing. During a hearing, Susan M. Stover, DVM, PhD,
Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Professor,
JD Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, School of
Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, testified:
injuries are the greatest cause of racehorse death and attrition"
. . . . "From 1990 to 2006, an increasing trend was observed for
injury rates. The proportion of Thoroughbred horses with a fatal
musculoskeletal injury during racing and training has risen from
approximately 3 horses to 5 horses per 1000 Thoroughbred race starts.
The proportion of Thoroughbred racehorses with a fatal
musculoskeletal injury has risen from 17 horses to 24 horses per 1000
Thoroughbred horses that started a race. Musculoskeletal injuries
resulted in 19-33% of racehorses leaving training within a 3 month or
less period in the United States." 
Dr. Stover explained "many
catastrophic, fatal musculoskeletal injuries" result from
pre-existing, less severe injuries that occur from "repetitive,
overuse". In other words, horses continue to train and race
despite injuries or damage which may be untreated or do not heal
sufficiently. The result is further injury and damage, many times
catastrophic or fatal. 
These comments together
with the fact that the average number of starts per year for a
racehorse has gone from over 11 to about 6 in 40 years beg the
question as to how much of a role medication has played on the
shortened careers and lives of the Thoroughbred. On the contrary
Seabiscuit raced almost 40 times as a 2-year-old yet some still
remain in denial.
Ken McPeek suggested the Thoroughbred breeding industry is in part
responsible for the decrease in the number of starts per horse. He
said the economics of the business have made horses more valuable;
therefore, they don't race as much, and are often are retired early,
mostly for breeding purposes.
are every bit as sound today," McPeek said. "You can't
blame medication for the problem. I think there is a correlation
between (number of starts) and (the breeding industry), but how
significant it is, I'm not sure." 
Repeated and long-term use
of medications leads to tolerance; over time larger and larger doses
are required to produce the same effect. Alternatively the
effectiveness of the drug begins to ebb if the dosage remains the
Building a tolerance for a
drug exacerbates both drug abuse and dependency. Increased
breakdowns, fewer starts and prolific drug use — there must be a
connection. No time like the present has it been more important to
put an end to this abuse and debauchery.
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