For PETA’s sake

CORRECTION: The timeline on Nehro’s death is incorrect in the post. He died at five, not at three, but had been plagued by foot trouble his entire life. The fact remains that he was a victim of the system, and my comments on his treatment and subsequent death remain valid.

The racing industry across the pond in America is once again reeling from a black eye the size of a bowling ball, this time inflicted by PETA, the animal-rights group. And the response so far is the same as it always has been when a public-relations disaster strikes: Find a fall guy, distance yourself from the problem, circle the wagons and for god’s sake get those damn journalists off the premisis!

PETA sent an operative with a hidden camera into the employ of super-trainer Steve Asmussen, and the results of four months of spying are pretty damning indeed. The videos released so far show various lamentations over lame horses and various ways to medicate them into some semblance of soundness for racing. Here’s the primary problem: Pretty much everything shown so far is perfectly legal in U.S. racing. And because the source of these revelations is PETA, which has a reputation as being extreme and biased, the horse racing industry is likely to put an ice pack on that black eye and wait for things to be getter rather than trying to reform itself so a similar whacking doesn’t happen again.

Horse racing in the United States is drowning in a cesspool of medication. So much is legal and standard practice that it is nearly impossible to find the cheating that pushes the envelop even further. Racing is a victim of the American medication culture. It seems Americans have an extremely low threshold for pain and an extreme ignorance of the side effects of the drugs they take to make themselves – and their horses – feel better. Here’s a quick lesson: Pain is nature’s STOP sign. Quickly medicating a problem to ease the pain and then continuing to do whatever caused the problem in the first place can only be a recipe for disaster. Injuries need time to heal, and in horse racing, time is money.

In one exerpt of PETA’s video, Asmussen’s assistant trainer Scott Blasi is swearing a blue streak over the state of the feet of a horse called Nehro, who was a favorite for the Kentucky Derby. From what I could understand between the repeated use of the word “fuck,” the horse’s feet were in a terrible state. (By the way, “fuck” is also one of my favorite words, as anyone who knows me can tell you. I do believe, however, that it should be used in a grammatically correct sentence that includes at least two three-syllable words.) Blasi was fighting against time to get this horse to the Derby. I can understand the pressure he was under. But he and his team made every wrong decision for this horse, and he ended up dead of colic not long after. A major cause of colic is stress, and the stress of having to deal with constant pain in his feet probably pushed this horse over the edge – that and the litany of drugs he was given to ease the pain.

Blasi took the fall; he was fired yesterday. Asmussen has closed ranks, and Kentucky Derby press passes exclude access to his barn. The various alphabet-soup organizations that run American racing have all issued statements saying they’ll look into the allegations and abuse will not be tolerated. Everyone will keep their heads down until, like the scandals before them, this one blows over. But this issue hinges on the very definition of abuse. Many involved in U.S. racing think we’re abusing horses over here in Europe because we do NOT allow them to be medicated to ease the pain on race day. I’ve also heard the argument that when somebody pays $1 million for a yearling, it better turn into a racehorse, even if it needs a little “help” along the way. It’s impossible to argue with anybody who thinks like this, because it’s like trying to reason with a toddler.

I’ve been trying to support efforts to reform U.S. horse racing for years, but I’m starting to lose hope. As an American who grew up watching the Triple Crown races, it is so sad to see the sport drive itself into a brick wall, then back up and do it again, and again. Eventually, there will be nothing left to crash. And that would be a shame.


21 Replies to “For PETA’s sake”

  1. Hi Gina

    As always your 100% spot on – but please: don’t give up the fight – all has been a skirmish between pickets so far. It is now time to fight the battle. And the battle has only just started to begin. I hold out hope that this will prove to be the beginning of the end: an end to the feckless and cowardly oversight of the U.S. Jockey Club and all other official organizations and authorities. You know my agenda: a national horse racing commission in the United States. I believe that it is the answer.

    Thank you, Sean

  2. It is good to hear the International view on “our” big issue over here. PETA is an organization with a bad “rep” over here and has had for some time. Saying that, I am so happy that someone stepped up to the plate to expose this horror which is probably going on in another barn, in another city as I write this. My hope is that finally, the people who can do something about this in American racing will get off their hind ends and throw out the trash. There is no magic pill that fixes all of our issues. We need to be less greedy.

  3. Do you recall the polo fiasco a couple years ago, when 23 polo ponies died right before a game from poisoning? Again, the drug laws are so lax in polo in the US that the team vet was able to dose them fatally (and accidentally) and no one was prosecuted. Word on the street is that the team owner paid a drugstore to admit to mixing the dosage wrong, while the vet was hastily flown out of the country until things calmed down. But the upshot of that story was – – nothing happened. Nada. Zilch. Can you imagine if half the horses in a race dropped dead in front of the crowd? Well, that’s what happened in Palm Beach. And Nothing Was Ever Done. Why? Because the polo captains in the US have managed to squelch any kind of reform offered by the polo federation (which has as much clout as wet tissue paper) when it comes to doping. Hopefully the US racing industry will wake up, but I doubt it. When the state pays subsidies, then it has more clout, I think. Since everything is privately owned and run in the US, I can’t see anything changing. There is simply no lever to change. People will always scream about mistreating animals – but more will still be willing to bet and support the system.

  4. Let’s not dilute the message by dismissing the messenger. PETA exposed the cruelty in Asmussen’s barn, not racing regulators. Let’s not ignore the fact that the misuse of drugs is pervasive in American racing, has been for decades, and no one has taken effective action.

    State officials, racing veterinarians, trainers, owners and the organizations that represent them are all complicit and are all apologists for an industry proven incapable of self-regulation.

    The federal Horse Racing Integrity Act, pending in the US Congress, offers the last best hope for effective pre-race medication and illegal drug control. If enacted, it would create uniform rules and penalties and place enforcement under the independent United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA).

  5. Let me start out by saying that I am vegan (20 years) and against animal cruelty of all kinds. I dislike PETA. They are an organization that kills animals on a daily basis and then cries fowl when someone else does the same thing. The money they receive in donations goes to snoop on others, edit videos to suit their agenda… not to save lives. With that said, let’s reexamine the video. After 8 months (not 4) there is only 9 minutes of edited video. Everyone on the backside that knows Scott, knows his mouth is a cesspool and he is the biggest boaster ever to come down the pike. There was absolutely no abuse on the video. No horse was beat, kicked, starved, etc…D. Wayne Lukas has not run horses at Ruidoso for years! Gary Stevens said, he was shocked when he went to pick up a buzzer. He never stated when or where it happened. Nehro not having a pulse in his feet was a GOOD thing! A normal digital pulse may be faint or even non-palpable. The more inflammation there is in the hoof; the stronger the pulse. Kerin Beth Rosen the PETA informant is from a background of riding hunters and jumpers and her sister is a vet, Dr. Erica Rosen, DVM. So when Keri is talking about the injections, scoping and everyday care the horses receive as abuse, she has done the exact same thing as a horse owner. If she didn’t have her horses checked out by a vet, then she is guilty of abuse. She is spitting in the face of her sister. She sold her soul for this story. She was living with, sleeping with, and working with Scott on a daily basis for 8 months. She “made friends” with other workers, wives, girlfriends of jockeys, trainers and owners. Where is the video of the good times at the track? The video of the compassion, the love, the tenderness for the horses or the many get togethers at the lake, the shopping trips, spa days, lunches, dinners? It’s on the editing room floor. We can all argue over medication rules, (I myself would like a no medication rule.) we can and should be disgusted by Scott and his foul mouth. A investigation should and will be launched to look at the illegal workers and fake SS#’s. You cannot be so gullible as to believe that for the short 9 minutes of EDITED video that you can come to a fair and balanced decision as to the everyday workings of the backside. If you mute the video, what do you have….nothing. Now, if you mute the video of a slaughter house you will still cringe at what you see. In conclusion, racing needs a overhaul of it’s regulations, people shouldn’t use foul language, PETA should be put out of business, Keri should pay a price for deceiving so many people and remember…..People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    1. Thanks for adding some sound thinking to the mix. Ohmygosh the horse doesn’t have a digital pulse most people would misinterpret and think the horse was on the verge of death when, like you mentioned, lack of a digital pulse is a good thing. Hehe how stupid!

    2. Jo,
      Your comments show you certainly have a firm understanding of the facts underlying Kerrin’s actions and the potential fallout. I represent Scott and Steve and would like to have the opportunity to talk with you.

  6. I think you’re missing my point, Jo, although no one says you have to agree with it. What is truly sad about the PETA video is not that there may be illegal treatment happening – I agree that there probably wasn’t. And I certainly don’t care about profanity – I’m a specialist in the art myself. The problem is the very definition of abuse. To me, medicating away pain so a horse can continue training, patching ruined feet so a horse can continue to race, giving lasix and thyroid medication as a prophylactic, that’s sad, and it is abuse. There is a lack of respect for humans and horses in the PETA video, and while I don’t condone a lot of what that group does, they picked a scab here that has a world of pus behind it and desperately needs to be exposed.

  7. Gina,

    Long time no speak – I thought I’d see what you said about this. I’m sure that the powers that be will take the line that “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chips paper”.

    The veterinary industry has taken over the racing world – ostensibly under the cover of better care – and intervention is big business. Unfortunately much of it turns an irritating drama into a full blown life and death crisis. Unfortunately there is so much self congratulation about the wonders of “good medication” that “bad medication” slips under the radar [ often I suspect patently aided by the administration of a “good med. like Lasix!]
    I quite agree with you on the use of the Anglo Saxon vernacular – properly used it is a great asset.

    Take care, Bill O’G

  8. Although I find the content of the Peta Video disturbing, do not forget that the FBI names PETA as the #1 Domestic terrorist group in America. PETA has connections to domestic terrorism groups known as “Animal Liberation Front” and “Earth Liberation Front.” These idiots have an agenda and are no different than Al-Qaeda.

  9. It could be said; just sticking a jockey on the back of a racehorse and forcing it to run flat out round a racetrack was cruel. But like myself; no one involved in racing really wants to talk about that issue.

  10. Americans embrace “therapeutic” medication for horses because it seems right and normal to treat horses like people. Americans take “therapeutic” drugs in mind boggling amounts and varieties. Drugs are advertised on TV constantly. Example: if you have arthritic pain in your knee you get steroid injections. Steroids given regularly damage the cartilage so next you get a knee replacement. A horse, of course, can’t get a knee replacement.

    Yes, many Americans think the rest of the world abuses race horses because they “withold” Lasix. An American study demonstrated that horses given Lasix with the excess weight lost due to Lasix added back did not exhibit enhanced performance. It’s the weight loss, stupid! Heard of that study? I thought not. (I can post a reference if you’re interested.) Thyroid hormone … alright, I’ll stop.

    PETA is an enemy of US racing but short term thinking and legal therapeutic medication is a worse enemy of US racing.

    1. “An American study demonstrated that horses given Lasix with the excess weight lost due to Lasix added back did not exhibit enhanced performance. It’s the weight loss, stupid! Heard of that study? I thought not. (I can post a reference if you’re interested.)”

      Yes Brigitte, please post the reference! Otherwise I’m going to believe you’re just running your lip!

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