In a brief but interesting recollection that concerns how trainers once approached the use of medications for their horses, Joe Clancy reproduces in The Saratoga Special the following interchange between the great trainer Frank Whiteley in the words of contemporary trainer Barclay Tagg as they watched multiple Horse of the Year Forego having his forelegs hosed at Whiteley’s barn:
“I did something I never did in my life, Barclay.”
“What’s that, Frank?”
“Gave that old (so-and-so) a shot of Bute.”
Tagg spent a year working for Whiteley, watched him for decades. The Hall of Famer didn’t have much use for needles, veterinarians, anything other than pure horsemanship.
“Before the race? Frank, you can’t do that.”
“Hell no,” Whiteley retorted. “After the race. I wanted to make him comfortable. I felt sorry for him.”
From the story and the time (late-middle 1970s), we know that Whiteley did not use medication on his horses. It was illegal for racing, but for the benefit of Forego (who was a very large gelding and notorious for his creaky joints), Whiteley used the medication legally — as a post-race pain reliever.
In this story, as in most of those Whiteley told, he used three lines and five sentences. A true conservative, Whiteley didn’t waste words or money.
Bute, as a medication for use with racing Thoroughbreds, has two proper uses. One is Whiteley’s, as a treatment to a horse who is sore after a race. The other was told me years ago by Wayne Lukas. He said that the best use of Bute in training was for those horses who overexerted themselves and became body sore. Without it, he said, the horse was more likely to injure itself by crabby movements to avoid using its sore muscles. By eliminating the inflammation and soreness of the affected spots, Lukas said, the horse would stride properly and work its muscles properly to eliminate soreness.
As we owners, breeders, observers, and fans of the Thoroughbred and racing discuss medication and its use with our horses, it would be enlightening to hear more about the subject from those who are with the horses daily. They can tell us a great deal about the realities of training and of maintaining Thoroughbreds as competitive athletes.