Upset Lingers Over Proposed Bute Regulation

Horsemen are calling for more research into bute's affect on racehorses.

The largest horsemen’s group in the country continues to call for the racing industry to perform thorough research before it continues with its plan to lower the testing threshold for phenylbutazone, a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that relieves pain.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rules Committee approved the lower threshold Sept. 17. The RCI board of directors, which meets in early October, must now approve the change.

The proposal would lower the testing threshold from five micrograms per milliliter of plasma or serum to two. Administration of the drug isn’t permitted within 24 hours of a race.

Recommendations to make the change came from the RCI Regulatory Veterinarians Committee, RCI Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee, Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee, Jockeys’ Guild, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and American Association of Equine Practitioners.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, with about 30,000 members in North America; Thoroughbred Owners of California; and California Thoroughbred Trainers oppose the change.

Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling, who chairs the National HBPA Medication Committee, said Sept. 22 the RMTC, of which he is a member, has long had a policy of requiring a “preponderance of scientific research” before it recommends changes in medication rules. He contends not enough work has been done on phenylbutzone, commonly called bute.

“We’re supposed to be looking for scientific evidence,” Stirling said. “Where is it? This was a rush to judgment. Maybe this (issue) needs to go back so a little more research can be done.”

The National HBPA held a three-hour forum on bute during its summer convention in Minnesota. Stirling said information shared during the forum was largely dismissed.

“It’s hard to believe nobody thought we had a point,” Stirling said. “If we’re going to jump every time The Jockey Club tells us to, we’re going to have a lot of problems.”

The National HBPA has a seat on the board of directors of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and has asked the organization for assistance on the issue. The NTRA doesn’t make medication policy but it seeks to gain consensus on various industry matters, including the proposed National Racing Compact.

“If this is a demonstration of how the compact is going to work, I’m frightened to death,” Stirling said in reference to the action on the bute regulation. “If this is an indication of the fair hearing the compact is going to get, I’m not optimistic.”

In a statement issued Sept. 17, RCI president Ed Martin defended the proposed lowering of the bute testing threshold. “It is unfortunate and troubling that some now question the thoroughness of that review. The RMTC process is necessary to ensure that the omnipresent scientific debate is structured so regulators, horsemen, owners, and fans can understand and rely on recommendations that reflect the preponderant scientific view, if not a consensus, of the best advisers we have at our disposal.”

Martin also said opponents didn’t present an argument for keeping the threshold at five micrograms. Stirling disputes that contention and claims misinformation is being circulated.

Stirling said a major concern is that many veteran racehorses will end up with positive tests, the penalty for which will be loss of purse.

“No thought was given to the cheaper horses that train on bute,” Stirling said. “A significant number will be over (the proposed two-microgram limit).”

Martin and others claim bute can mask injuries during pre-race inspections, and the lower threshold is necessary to protect horses and jockeys.