Trainer Steve Asmussen is one of the most successful thoroughbred trainers in the horse racing industry, with 6,700 career wins and $214 million in purses to his credit. He knows how to get the very best performance out of the horses he trains.
The problem, according to a just-released undercover investigation, is the appalling things his staff reportedly does to ensure those victories. Horses that can barely stand are drugged, shocked and quite literally held together with superglue to make them run and win.
The tricks of the racing trade are cruel. If you love horses, those training techniques will nauseate you. In fact, they’ll make you cross the Kentucky Derby and all other horse races off your “must attend” bucket list forever.
Death and Heartbreak at the Racetrack
Every week, an average of 24 horses die at racetracks around the United States, according to a 2012 New York Times investigation. “These deaths often go unexamined, the bodies shipped to rendering plants and landfills rather than to pathologists who might have discovered why the horses broke down,” the newspaper reported.
In addition, a staggering 10,000 race horses limp off to slaughter each year when they become too incapacitated to run any more. Much as the thoroughbred industry would have us believe they love these horses, the statistics belie that claim. Race horses are money making machines. That’s it. That’s all.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) decided in 2013 to mount its own first-ever investigation from inside the industry. PETA sent an undercover representative to work in Asmussen’s stables in Churchill Downs, Ky., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for four months in the spring and summer of 2013.
Armed with a secret camera, the investigator captured over seven hours of damning footage. PETA shared its video evidence, plus a 258-page report containing notes, medical documentation and input from veterinarians, with the New York Times. Convinced, the newspaper broke the story on Mar. 19, causing an uproar in the horse racing world.
Watch the highlights in PETA’s undercover video here:
“We wanted to know exactly what happens to thoroughbreds in a top racing stable,” Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president for PETA, told the New York Times. “It was devastating to see sore, exhausted, drugged horses every single day. Some were in so much pain it hurt them even to stand, yet they were trained and run anyway.”
“The Syringe is the Top Training Aid”
According to PETA, racehorses “are given an aggressive, daily regimen of pain-masking drugs and treatments.” The practices PETA documented on video include these:
- Administering thyroxine, a prescription-only hypothyroid drug, with the apparent intent to speed up horses’ metabolism.
- Injecting a banned-in-Europe diuretic called Lasix into “basically all” Asmussen’s horses running in New York. Lasix is apparently a performance enhancer that can mask the presence of other drugs and dehydrate horses so they’ll drop weight and run faster.
- Scarring on horses’ legs from the application of liquid nitrogen and other “blistering chemicals” apparently to get blood flowing to sore legs.
- Administering a variety of drugs such as muscle relaxers and sedatives to horses which demonstrated none of the symptoms of the conditions requiring such treatment.
“We witnessed a horse so sore it hurt him even to stand, thyroid medication dumped into horses’ daily feed, and horses who had been blistered with chemical paint in a bizarre attempt to stimulate healing,” says PETA. ”Even at this top level of racing, the syringe is the top training aid, and if the horses get out alive, they’re broken.”
A Hoof Held Together With Superglue, Jockeys Shocking Horses with Buzzers
Consider the life led by Nehro, the second place finisher at the 2011 Kentucky Derby. As seen in PETA’s video, Nehro had significant problems with his feet. It was so bad, his hooves were breaking apart and had to be held together with a combination of filler and glue so he could run. According to the blacksmith in the video, “His foot is a little bitty nub.”
PETA also caught on video a conversation in which Asmussen trainer Scott Blasi referred to one of his jockeys as a “machine rider,” a term which means the jockey illegally uses a concealed buzzer to shock his mount into running faster.
This is the life of a racehorse. We imagine thoroughbreds live well and love to run, but the truth is far darker. Racehorses run and run, continuing to race well past the point when normal pain and injuries should stop them. They’re forced to race until they completely break down and nothing is left.
No one who loves horses would do something so wretched to these magnificent animals.
Remember the cruel and painful “horse soring” practices committed against Tennessee Walking horses that investigators uncovered in 2012? No matter what type of racing is at issue, it can never bear close scrutiny without revealing tales of pain and torment.
For now, Asmussen’s name has been dropped from the Horse Racing Hall of Fame’s voting ballot. PETA has filed complaints against Asmussen and Blasi. The New York Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission are investigating.
There will be an Asmussen-trained horse in the 2014 Kentucky Derby, by the way. One wonders what that horse, Tapiture, has endured on the road to this monumentally popular race. It can’t be good.
The horse racing industry is not all mint juleps, gorgeous clothes and high society. It’s sadness, pain and death for some of the most beautiful creatures on Earth.
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