If you did not hear of a horse named Jungle Savage last year, it is probably because he did not show enough in his 11 races in 1970 to become widely known. But a couple of weeks ago at Santa Anita the 5-year-old came from last place to win the $30,000 Palos Verdes Handicap, and last Saturday, in the $50,000 San Carlos Handicap, he again came on with a rush to finish a strong second to the winner, Ack Ack, whose time equaled the record for the race.
"Remarkable," a horseplayer might have thought as he scanned the colt's past performances. But the secret of his surprising 1971 success, according to his trainer, Johnny Longden, is simple. Jungle Savage takes Butazolidin.
Owned by Frank McMahon, whose Majestic Prince won the 1969 Kentucky Derby, Jungle Savage is one of nearly 350 horses at Santa Anita currently being treated with Butazolidin (or phenylbutazone, to give it its chemical name), the most controversial drug in horse racing history. Dancer's Image, who won the Kentucky Derby the year before Majestic Prince, was declared ineligible to receive the Derby winner's purse after a Churchill Downs chemist said Butazolidin had been found in the colt's urine—a decision later overruled, although the matter is still in the courts. Butazolidin, which can be administered orally or by injection, is still considered an illegal medication in all but three of the states that have thoroughbred racing if it is detected in a horse on the day it races. (Many states okay Bute for a horse in training, as long as the drug is out of the animal's system by the time it races.) The horse can be disqualified and lose its purse money, and its trainer can be fined or suspended or both. But not in Nebraska, Colorado or, since Dec. 26, California. These states say it is a valid medication that can be used anytime, if certain rules are followed.
According to the California Horse Racing Board, Butazolidin is a "non-hormonal, anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory agent with analgesic effects." It is not a dope, in the sinister, fixed-race sense. It is neither a stimulant nor a depressant. It is a kind of super-aspirin that is used, in human beings as well as in horses, to ease pain of an arthritis nature. Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, according to trainers and veterinarians, give a horse a chance to run up to its best capabilities.
"If you had seen Jungle Savage a month ago," said Johnny Longden one chill morning last week during a workout at Santa Anita, "you wouldn't believe this is the same horse. He used to be so stiff in the morning when he came out of his stall you'd feel sorry for him. Now that we're allowed to use Butazolidin on him, he's starting to reach the potential we always had hoped he would. I think legalizing Butazolidin is one of the most important steps racing has taken in the last decade."
Longden, of course, is speaking for California, which is conducting a major experiment designed to prove that Butazolidin is a welcome and valuable aid to racing. Yet trainers, and racing commissions, are not sure what Bute really does. Some trainers suspect, or dream, that it will turn a Swayback Kid into a Dancer's Image, so they feed the drug to the healthiest horse in the barn and hope it will speed him up. Racing commissions generally do not feel that the drug has any such magic properties, but they wonder if it might not have a pronounced and uneven effect on a horse's performance from race to race. What California is doing is keeping a record of all horses receiving Butazolidin. (Despite Longden's candid admission, the list is currently classified information.) An analysis of running form, with and without Bute, will be made, and after a month of the season has gone by the results will be made public. Hopefully, a practical understanding of the effects of Butazolidin on a horse's performance will be achieved.
"We realize full well," says Leonard Foote, chief investigator for the California Horse Racing Board, "that the other states are watching us. We are keeping as close to this as possible and are open and aboveboard about it. Because enough experimental data had never been gathered on Butazolidin, we spent 2½ years finding out about it and testing it. Many people were selling Butazolidin by making wild claims for it, and racing commissions heard about these claims and were disturbed by them. But the American Association of Equine Practitioners [veterinarians] went on record as far back as 1963 in favor of its use, and has never altered its position."
Both Foote and Dr. Alan Edmondson, a veterinarian representing the California board, claim there have been no great reversals in form—Jungle Savage backers might disagree—and they indicate that some trainers have finally found out that no amount of Bute can make a bad horse good. Even so, the amount of Butazolidin permitted in a horse running at Santa Anita is limited; it must not exceed 50 micrograms per milliliter. A higher amount would not disqualify the horse, but the trainer would incur a fine or suspension or both.
Despite California's optimism about its decision to legalize the drug, serious questions remain. Jim Maloney, a trainer who has been very successful the past three seasons, says he will not use Bute in any of the 16 horses he currently has stabled at Santa Anita. "I race in other states as well as California," he says. "When I ship to New York I won't be able to use Butazolidin even if I use it here. I'm not saying I would never use it or that using it is wrong. But to me, it wouldn't be right to use it one place and not another."
What Maloney is saying, in effect, is that he does not approve of anything that might have a pronounced effect on a horse's racing form from state to state. Others echo his concern. A horse taking Bute, like Jungle Savage, can be shipped from a state that allows the drug (California) to one that does not (New York). If he is shipped and has a bad race at a short price, will the bettors blame Bute, or the lack of it? And will they be justified? How many bets have horseplayers in non-Bute states lost because of too great a reliance on fast workouts that were achieved in training when the horse was being dosed with Bute? What kind of chance is a prospective owner taking when he bids on a yearling whose sire or dam established winning credentials with the help of Bute? Will tracks and racing forms have to indicate when a horse is on or off Bute the way they do now with blinkers or mud caulks?
The questions mount. The California tests may bring some answers. Or may raise more questions. Meanwhile, watch Jungle Savage. He sure feels fit these days.