Moral Progress Cannot Be Stopped

Patrick Battuello, Horseracings Wrongs

I want to be crystal clear on the change we seek (and perhaps aid in the planning of future “horse racing industry symposiums”). There is no “middle ground” to be had. We are not looking for a mere seat at the table or to “change the face of the sport,” we want the table gone, the “sport” erased. No compromise, no reform – an end to horseracing, pure and simple…

Sensibilities in regard to animals are changing: Ringling has retired its elephants; SeaWorld is phasing-out its orcas; “vegan” is no longer an alien word. Is it so hard, then, to imagine a world where horses are no longer beaten, maimed, and killed for $2 bets? I think not.

horse racingRacing is set to hold the latest in what feels like an endless stream of take-stock-of-our-industry conferences this December in Arizona.

The “Global Symposium on Racing & Gaming” will feature the usual fare – “cultivating customer loyalty,” finding “new wagering products” to help “grow the sport,” improving “medication and substance integrity,” etc. – but one item on the docket stands out as not just atypical for events like this but downright game-changing.

On the final day, comes this:

The Animal Rights Agenda: An Issue That Can No Longer Be Ignored

Animal rights protesters were found in large numbers outside racing’s two most iconic tracks this summer, Saratoga and Del Mar, and they aren’t going away. Is there any middle ground racing can find with these groups? Panelists with years of experience dealing with these types of groups will enlighten the audience of tactics these organizations use, some successful campaigns used against them as well as the animal rights groups successes that have fundamentally changed the way a number of animal industries operate. Now is the time for racing to seriously consider how the actions of these groups may forever change the face of the sport.

Remarkable. Truly remarkable. First, the obvious: We’re winning; the above is proof-positive. By our numbers, which we plan on growing exponentially next summer, through unrelenting exposure, we have compelled them to confront us – to put us on the agenda. (And, not so gently nudged the media: Because our protests practically demanded coverage, for the first time in 150 years the killing at “iconic” Saratoga received more than a mere glossing over.) From here, as any student of the great social-justice movements can tell you, the writing is on the wall. You see, these things don’t just fade away; they get stronger and stronger and stronger, until – change.

Here, though, I want to be crystal clear on the change we seek (and perhaps aid in the planning of future “symposiums”). There is no “middle ground” to be had. We are not looking for a mere seat at the table or to “change the face of the sport”; we want the table gone, the “sport” erased. No compromise, no reform – an end to horseracing, pure and simple. And I can save them even more time. Our “tactics” are neither elaborate nor, for that matter, even plural. In this fight, we wield but one, simple tool: education. Impart knowledge; let compassion and conscience take it from there.

Finally, I almost find it astounding that they would make public their plan to identify “campaigns” to use against us. Insulting, really, as if we’re not sophisticated enough to do anything more than hold placards, incapable of monitoring their activities. Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe the threat we pose, though they concede as real, does not rise to some requisite level of seriousness that would warrant more secrecy. No matter, the upshot remains the same. Attempts to discredit, to smear, to muddle our message, to repackage their century-old lie of a message – horseracing is a sport, the horses “athletes” – will not work, for we are smart; we are organized; but above all, we have the facts – the truth – on our side. And truth, folks, is irrepressible.

Yes, sensibilities in regard to animals are changing: Ringling has retired its elephants; SeaWorld is phasing-out its orcas; “vegan” is no longer an alien word. Is it so hard, then, to imagine a world where horses are no longer beaten, maimed, and killed for $2 bets? I think not. And judging by the above, I believe the racing people can see it, too.

2 Horses Die in Races Before Preakness

“A total of 4,649 thoroughbreds…died in racetrack-related incidents from 2009 to 2015…”

Two racehorses died Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, site of the Preakness Stakes to be held later in the day.

Homeboykris leads Saturday in the race he later won. The horse died on his way back to the barn.

Homeboykris leads Saturday in the race he later won. The horse died on his way back to the barn.

Homeboykris collapsed after the first race of the day while walking back to his barn. The horse, a 9-year-old gelding, won the race at the Maryland track in Baltimore.

Trainer Francis Campitelli was in the stands when his horse went down.

He told The Baltimore Sun, “The boy that takes care of him said they had gone probably 100 yards, and he got wobbly and fell over and he pretty much was dead when he hit the ground.”

Campitelli said they thought the horse was in “really good health” and why he died was still a bit of a mystery.

“They’re thinking at this point it was some sort of heart attack … ruptured aorta or something like that,” he told the Sun. We won’t know until they do a necropsy on him, just to find out exactly what happened.”

>Pramedya, a 4-year-old filly, fractured a cannon bone in her leg while running on grass in the fourth race and was euthanized on the track. Jockey Daniel Centeno broke his collarbone in the fall.

The horses will have necropsies performed at New Bolton Center Hospital in southeastern Pennsylvania, Pimlico spokesman David Joseph said.<

Mike Hopkins, executive director of Maryland Racing Commission, said those tests usually take seven to 10 days.

“It really is unfortunate,” he told CNN. “We at the Maryland Racing Commission take safety and integrity very seriously and we conducted thorough examinations and inspections before every race, as well as after every race. We have several veterinarians on-staff and on-site, and we inspect them in the barns, in the paddock, and at the starting gate.”

Pramedya is owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who owned Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby who pulled up lame during the Preakness. He underwent eight months of veternary care but was euthanized in in January 2007. Pramedya had won two of her first four career starts, including one race this year.

Homeboykris had run 62 races before Saturday, winning 13 and finishing in the top three 28 times. He finished 16th in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.

A closer look at racing deaths

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on the horses’ owners “to release veterinary records & complete list of medications that horses were administered before #Preakness races.”

A 2012 New York Times look into horse racing found that 24 horses die each week in the United States on average. The Times wrote that after Eight Belles was euthanized on the track after the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Congress got the horse racing industry to increase safety for horses and riders. One of the measures was a policy banning many anabolic steroids.

A total of 4,649 thoroughbreds — a rate of 1.87 for every 1,000 starts — died in racetrack-related incidents from 2009 to 2015, according to the Equine Injury Database compiled by The Jockey Club. In 2015, the fatality rate was the lowest (1.62) of the seven years for which data was available,

“These improving fatality rates are clear evidence that we can move the needle and that the efforts of so many are truly bearing fruit,” Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director in Kentucky, said in March.

The Jockey Club, the registry for thoroughbred horses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, said the data include horses that had injuries that caused death within 72 hours of a race. The data doesn’t include quarter horses or standardbred horses.

Last week, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety & Intergrity Alliance announced that it had reaccredited Pimlico Race Course.

“We are proud to once again earn the highest of marks in safety and integrity in the alliance’s accreditation,” Maryland Jockey Club President Sal Sinatra said.

Four Horses Dead in First Two Days of UK Grand National Race


Four horses have died so far at this year’s Aintree meeting

Horse Curious Carlos, who didn’t die, falls in the middle of a race at Aintree (Picture: Reuters)

The animals suffered horrific deaths. Two of them – Gullinbursti and Minella Reception – somersaulted and landed on their necks on April 8, the second day of the three-day meeting.

Gullinbursti, a 10-year-old horse who had missed last season due to a tendon injury, was competing in the fiercely contested Topham Chase.

Minella Reception fell at the notorious Becher’s Brook. He was put put down because of the severity of his injuries.

On the event’s first day, Clonbanan Lad and Marasonnien were killed in the Fox Hunters’ Chase.

These tragic fatalities make this the deadliest Grand National in the last three years. Since 2000, 42 horses have died at Aintree.

Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, told ‘It remains a perversely evil thing, a wicked thing to make horses do.

‘Whether or not horses die during these events, they still crash to the ground, they somersault.

‘There’s nothing remotely natural about this event. There’s a field full of people, full of noise, and there’s more whipping done at these big meetings. So you’ve got the noise, the hype… all of this anxiety is transferred to the horses.

‘There’s a law against causing animals unnecessary suffering – the Animal Welfare Act. This event causes animals unnecessary suffering.’

And an RSPCA spokesman told that they were ‘deeply saddened’ by the fatalities.

‘The death of any horse is always one too many,’ he said. ‘We, along with World Horse Welfare, will look very closely at the race footage and at what happened to see if the deaths could have been avoided or if any lessons can be learned to prevent future injuries and deaths.

‘We will share our findings with the British Horseracing Authority and if we have any recommendations, together we will do all we can to ensure that they are followed by the racing industry.’

John Baker, who runs Aintree racecourse, told ‘We’d like to express our sympathies to the connections of the horses.

‘You can’t remove all risk from any sport but we acted on evidence to make significant changes here at Aintree, including to the cores of every fence on the Grand National Course, and we’ve seen hundreds of horses compete safely since over the last few years.

‘From 90,000 runners each year British Racing has an equine loss rate of less than 0.2%. This is down by a third over the last 15 years and we must keep working to see that continue to decrease.’

The horse that lost 100 races, but won a family’s heart

By Maureen Callahan as published in the New York Post

Life Lessons from Racing’s Most Lovable Loser

He was descended from the greatest racehorses of all time, but he was not quite born to run.

Now-retired Zippy Chippy descended from champions -- but finished with a professional record of 0 for 100. Photo: Courtesy of Emily Schoeneman

Now-retired Zippy Chippy descended from champions — but finished with a professional record of 0 for 100. Photo: Courtesy of Emily Schoeneman

Zippy Chippy was born on April 20, 1991, in upstate New York. He was the great-great-grandson of Bold Ruler, who fathered Secretariat, and his family tree included Triple Crown Winner War Admiral, Man o’ War, Northern Dancer and Native Dancer, who alone sired 295 winning horses with a combined generated income of $183 million.

Zippy would go on to set his own records in his own way — by losing. His idiosyncratic story is told in William Thomas’ new biography “The Legend of Zippy Chippy” (McClelland & Stewart).

“Not everybody can be a winner,” Zippy’s trainer would say. “He wanna run. He’s always ready to go. But he don’t always go too good.”

From his earliest days, Zippy was his own horse. He never really took to harnesses or saddles. Told to run in one direction, Zippy went the other. He stuck his tongue out at strangers and loped while other horses galloped. He terrorized trainers yet charmed children.

Zippy’s first race, on Sept. 13, 1994, at Belmont Park on Long Island, set the tone. He was 3 years old, running at 15-1 odds against nine horses. He came in eighth.

“None of the horses that finished ahead of him had Zippy’s precious pedigree,” Thomas writes. “Disheartening was the fact that he got beat by D’Moment, a loser by 47 lengths in his first four races. Retired after only six races, ­D’Moment won just one race in his career — this one.”

After three more losses at Belmont, Zippy was moved to the ­Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. He ran and lost four races, and in January of 1995 was demoted to the minor leagues and driven back ­upstate to Farmington.

There, Zippy was passed among owners and wound up in the hands of Felix Monserrate, a 52-year-old trainer who traded his 1988 Ford truck for the horse. Felix knew Zippy was a nonstarter — at ­0-for-20, his losses were unprecedented for a thoroughbred. But Monserrate didn’t like the way Zippy’s previous owner treated him.

“That guy,” Felix said, “he push him around and say bad things about him. So, yeah. He got the truck and I got a friend.”

Felix, who moved to the United States from Puerto Rico at 20 to pursue his career, was unusual among trainers. “Better not to love a horse” is the motto of those who sell, trade, euthanize. Felix, like Zippy, was different: He loved.

“After waving goodbye to his groom and his van, Felix went into the barn as the new and proud owner of Zippy Chippy, a horse that had nowhere to go but up,” Thomas writes. “By way of offering his opinion of the trade, the horse immediately bit him. Just like that.”

Felix thought that Zippy’s performance and behavior were the result of poor training, but he underestimated the horse, who by turns was stubborn, playful and lazy.

If he didn’t feel like training, which was often, Zippy would just ignore the trainer. He’d trash his stall for fun and snatch anything a trainer or handler was holding, chew it up, then give it back. He had the most unusual diet of cupcakes, ice cream, popcorn and pizza, but his favorite snack combo was Doritos and beer, a treat he’d often share with Felix.

All the while, Felix kept entering Zippy in races, and a few second-place showings kept Felix’s hopes alive: a horse with this pedigree was bound for greatness. He just needed someone like Felix to unlock it.

“My horse, he comes second twice in a row!” Felix said.

But Zippy had a complicated relationship with racing and training, and the happier Felix got, the more Zippy loved to terrorize him.

Felix already had a scar on his back from Zippy’s inaugural bite. A few months later, Felix and Zippy were standing in front of the horse’s stall, and when Felix turned around, Zippy grabbed his shirt by the mouth and dangled the trainer in midair. As Felix flailed and yelled, his fellow track workers laughed and laughed.

Finally, Zippy put Felix down. “He’s a strong horse,” Felix said. “He can hold you for a long time.”

Other incidents weren’t as funny. There was the day Zippy cornered Felix in his stall for an hour. He held a Monserrate relative hostage for nearly four hours. Felix’s partner, Emily, called Zippy “a miserable thing who wants everything done for him when he wants it, makes faces, bites, kicks, and is not very intelligent.”

Zippy came to hate training so much that he trashed the exercise barn, kicking out part of the track’s fence and smashing the electric box. If handlers found themselves late with Zippy’s food, they’d skip delivery rather than risk his wrath. Some would only feed him with a rake.

So on the rainy November morning that Felix’s 8-year-old daughter, Marisa, went missing, his heart was in his throat. She had grown up with horses all her life, and was oddly enamored of Zippy Chippy. Felix ran to the stall.

It was deathly quiet. Felix’s view was blocked by Zippy’s rump. Below, he could only see Marisa’s little feet. No one was moving. Felix was terrified; if he spooked the horse, he could easily kill Marisa with a kick or a thrash.

And then . . . he heard laughter. Marisa was standing in front of Zippy Chippy, wagging her finger and telling him he’d been “a very bad boy,” over and over.

The horse loved it. He nuzzled her face and started gently walking around her. “And that — that was it,” Felix said. “I never seen that horse the same anymore.”

It’s not like Zippy’s demeanor changed — he could still be cranky and mean, and his job performance wasn’t getting better. But for Felix and his family, the horse was a keeper.

“He wasn’t going anywhere,” Marisa said. “My daddy would never get rid of that horse.”…(CONTINUED)

Unpublicized Death of Young Horse at Belmont Tarnishes Triple Crown Luster

By Sarah V Schweig as published on
Forward by R.T. Fitch ~ Pres/Co-founder of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“Okay, my fin is up and ready for a fight.

Yesterday (click here) we wadded back into the turbid, bloody waters of the horse racing crowd and comments from a select few align perfectly with the bulk of pro-horse slaughter deviants complete with insults, threats and foul language.

Fortunately, for both us and the horses, Karma has been pretty effective in removing several of the wanna-be leaders of the perversion but the remaining few who revel in the illusion of consuming the bodies of companion animals continue to do the only thing they know how to do when confronted with truth, science and sound facts; they lash out in a most horrific and primitive way.

So today we will share more truth, facts and common sense so as to further increase their frustration and to make former twisted leader(s) roll over in their/his/her tortured grave(s).  Success, fueled by truth and honesty, is always the very sweetest revenge.” ~ R.T.

Bradley Weisbord ‏@BradWeisbord Jun 6 Bradley Weisbord ‏@BradWeisbord Jun 6 RIP Helwan. These horses and jockeys put their lives on the line for us. Thanks for giving us everything you had 💔

“He was making a perfect run,” said jockey Jose L. Ortiz about Helwan, the horse he was riding on Saturday at the Belmont Stakes race. “He made two jumps and then switched [his] lead [leg] and broke down. There’s nothing else to say about it.”

But some people think there is a lot more to say about Helwan — a 4-year-old colt from France making his first run in the United States — who was euthanized after he broke his left cannon bone during the race.

Helwan, who was owned by Al Shaqab Racing and trained by Chad Brown, participated in eight races during his life, and won three.

People are divided about what Helwan’s death means. Commenters on social media argued about whether the horse could have lived a good life after suffering from a broken bone — sadly, it can be very difficult to rehabilitate horses with bone injuries. Others questioned the ethics of the horse racing industry altogether: “When horse racing goes well, it’s a beautiful art. But when a broken bone has to lead to death, it makes me wonder why we even consider it sport & not animal cruelty,” wrote Stephanie Lariccia on an article posted to Facebook. “Stop racing horses! Then this wouldn’t happen,” wrote Maureen Clifford Reid on the same post.

“Man and animal alike love to do what they were created to. Racehorses love to run,” Vivian Grant Farrell of The Horse Fund told The Dodo. “But some even go so far as to believe that race horses love to compete. Perhaps, but not in the way a human being does. In the instance of horse racing, too often humans project insatiable appetites for money and glory onto the performance of these magnificent animals.”

Newsday ‏@Newsday Jun 6 Newsday ‏@Newsday Jun 6 A 4-year-old colt was put down at Belmont Park after an injury #BelmontStakes

Farrell added that horses are commonly given drugs to mask pre-existing injuries so that they can “run through the pain.” This compromises their safety, Farrell said.

An article in The Atlantic last year highlights the controversies, even within the industry. “The rampant use of drugs on horses [along] with claims of animal cruelty,” Andrew Cohen wrote, “has been understated even among reform-minded racing insiders.”

To argue that many trainers are not cruel to their racehorses still ignores the fact the industry’s very foundation is built on using animals for profit. The argument does not answer the questions that come from people concerned about horse racing as a whole: whether the highly competitive horse racing industry, as it currently exists, is good for horses at all…(CONTINUED)

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to comment on The DoDo

Congrats, American Pharoah! Now End Horse Racing

By as published on BloombergView
Forward by R.T. Fitch ~ Pres/Co-Founder of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“Last week’s win of the Belmont Stakes (Steaks) by American Pharoah left me with a feeling of emptiness and a sour taste in my mouth that I simply could not shake.  The massive amount of press about the “World’s Greatest Athlete” winning the Triple Crown was both stunning and disappointing.  Horse racing and those who make money whipping young horses down a dirt track was portrayed as the “Sport of Kings” while not one word was whispered about the horrific fate that befalls the bulk of the horses that are unfortunate enough to be involved in this cruel and abusive “industry”.  And then out of the darkness arose a beam of light bringing with it clarity and sanity via the well chosen words of Kavitha A. Davidson.  Her article on the subject, below, clears away the media hype and centers the spotlight back on the dying and smelly practice of horse racing.  I formally tip my hat to Ms. Davidson for the breath of fresh air she brings back into the world of American Equine Welfare Awareness and highly recommend the reading of her thoughtful writing.  With two rescued off the track TBs in the backyard, we want to thank her for her compassion and concern.” ~ R.T.

American-PharoahNow that American Pharoah has captured the first Triple Crown in decades, many are wondering what that means for the future of horse racing, and of the colt himself. The New York Times’s Joe Drape believes the feat will give horse racing “a badly needed shot in the arm,” with no indication of whether the hypodermic metaphor is meant to be ironic. American Pharoah’s trainer, Bob Baffert, said he wants the horse to race as long as possible, though he did give a nod to the idea of letting the three-year-old quit while he’s ahead.

Here’s  my wish: That American Pharoah goes out on a high note, and with him, the entire sport of horse racing.

Frankly, it’s a wonder that horse racing has lasted this long. Idealists would point to the sport’s long history in this country and to the unique place horses occupy in the American consciousness. But save for a few big races each year that are ultimately more cultural events and excuses to drink than marquee athletic showcases, the sport has been on a steady decline. And despite its blue-blood reputation, the “sport of kings” is really just the sport of vice, kept afloat by a system of gambling and doping that amounts to institutionalized animal abuse.

The main controversy today is over an anti-bleeding drug known as Lasix. In the U.S., it’s often administered on the day of the race, along with up to 26 other permitted substances; race-day medications are banned in almost every other country. Several top trainers have banded together to push for a plan to ban race-day medications in the U.S., citing the negative effects on the health of the animal and the reputation of the sport. Those resistant to change, including the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, claim that injecting drugs is actually good for a horse’s health.

This argument about what’s “best” for the horses blatantly overlooks the sport’s role in endangering their health in the first place. Lasix is used to treat bleeding in the lungs, a condition called exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage. EIPH is for the most part found only in racing animals, camels and greyhounds as well as horses. There are two theories of what causes EIPH in horses — that is, the mechanism by which hemorrhaging occurs — but as the disease’s name would suggest, it’s undoubtedly related to abnormally strenuous physical activity. You can debate the benefits of Lasix all you want, but it’s clear the best thing for a horse’s health would be to keep him off the track.

Horse racing is inherently cruel, and the problems start, literally, from birth: As the Indianapolis Star’s Gregg Doyel notes, we should expect nothing less than physical breakdown from an animal bred to sustain an abnormally muscular carriage on skinnier-than-usually legs. What you don’t see behind the veil of seersucker and mint juleps are the thousands of horses that collapse under the weight of their science-project bodies. This weekend at Belmont, all eyes on American Pharoah meant nobody was paying attention to Helwan, the four-year-old French colt who had to be euthanized on the track after breaking his left-front cannon bone. It was Helwan’s first time racing on Lasix.

Helwan’s breakdown is by no means an outlier. In 2008, a national audience watched in horror as Eight Belles collapsed immediately after crossing the finish line at the Kentucky Derby with two broken ankles and had to be immediately euthanized. In 2006, then-undefeated Barbaro suffered a similar injury at the Preakness and was eventually put down as well.

In 2012, the New York Times conducted a thorough investigation of the dangers of racing and the unchecked doping that furthers the risks, revealing that, “24 horses die each week at racetracks across America.” From 2009 to 2012, 6,600 horses suffered injuries or breakdowns. In that same period, 3,600 horses died at state-regulated tracks. ..(CONTINUED)

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to comment at BloombergView

NY Aqueduct Horse Deaths Cited in Call for Federal Regulations

Story by Mike Clifford of Public News Service

“These animals do end up at slaughter, they are pumped full of drugs, it is unhealthy for people and it should be banned.”

Advocates for animals say the record number of horse deaths during the Winter Meet at Aqueduct is a sure sign that federal regulations are needed. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Advocates for animals say the record number of horse deaths during the Winter Meet at Aqueduct is a sure sign that federal regulations are needed. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

NEW YORK – It has been a deadly season for racehorses at Aqueduct and animal advocates say the time has come for federal regulations.

A dozen horses have died at Aqueduct since the current Winter Meet started in December. Brian Shapiro, the New York state director of the Humane Society of the United States, says the New York State Racing Authority has failed when it comes to protecting the health and safety of racehorses.

“It really is horrible,” says Shapiro. “These animals are being pumped full of drugs. Casino gambling is fueling this, and it points to, once again, the lack of the state authority to be able to regulate itself.”

The New York State Racing Authority announced emergency measures following the three most recent horse deaths this month. In a written statement it said it was exceeding recommendations made by a 2012 task force on racetrack health and safety.

Shapiro disputes that, saying it has not followed through on all of the suggestions. He says things won’t change until there are uniform federal regulations for horse racing.

Shapiro says the slaughterhouse is where some racehorses end up when they are no longer able to compete. He says unlike other forms of agriculture, there is no way of knowing where the horses are coming from when they go to slaughter and he hopes New York lawmakers will take action.

“It could be a companion animal, it could be a horse from a petting zoo, it could be a racehorse, it’s indiscriminate,” says Shapiro. “These animals do end up at slaughter, they are pumped full of drugs, it is unhealthy for people and it should be banned.”

Shapiro says he expects a measure that failed to garner enough votes last session will be resurrected soon in Albany. He says it would outlaw sending New York horses to Canada for slaughter; and prevent them being slaughtered in New York should a slaughterhouse be opened in this state.

“Drugs and dead horses”: US racing reels after PETA video

SOURCE: by Daniel Ross

As investigations into the sad case of Nehro continue, a whole sport must come to terms with the need for better regulation


Exercise rider Carlos Rosas gallops Kentucky Derby hopeful Nehro at Churchill Downs in May 2011. Photograph: Jeff Haynes/Reuters/Corbis

Though it contained less than 10 minutes of grainy, expletive-laden hidden-camera footage, a video released by Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in March dealt perhaps the most serious blow to the US racing industry in recent years. This was no inconsiderable feat, given how many broadsides the industry has endured over the treatment of its animals.

In 2012 a New York Times exposé, Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys, brought front-page visibility to disturbing trends including the fact that at the time, 24 racehorses suffered fatal breakdowns across America each week, a rate far higher than in most of the rest of the world. The same year, I’ll Have Another’s bid to be the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years was overshadowed by a story surrounding his trainer, Doug O’Neill, who over a period of 14 years had been found guilty of multiple drug violations.

The Peta video, however, was an embarrassment on many levels, not least because of the sorry tale of the horse at the centre of the narrative, Nehro – one of trainer Steve Asmussen’s most accomplished three-year-olds but with feet as fragile as glass. The video documented some of the efforts by a farrier to hold the horse’s crumbling feet together, so he could race as a four- and five-year-old. On the day Orb won the 2013 Kentucky Derby, two years after Asmussen’s horse had finished second in the same race, Nehro fell ill with colic. He later died.

The racing industry was effectively divided by the Peta video. On the one hand, condemnation of Asmussen and Scott Blasi – Asmussen’s assistant and the maker of crude and colourful remarks throughout the video – was swift. The New York State Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New Mexico Racing Commission announced their own investigations. Blasi was fired. Nehro’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, removed his horses from Asmussen’s care. All three investigations are ongoing.

On the flip side, voices within the industry were quick to defend their sport, suggesting the video painted an unfair portrait of a world populated by horse lovers. Others questioned the tactics used by Peta.

Four months on, the clamour raised by the video has quieted. But continuing debate surrounding the use of medications in American racing reveals an industry increasingly unified towards change, if at odds with itself over how to exactly resolve this complex issue.

The latest idea mooted is a proposal to prohibit the use of race-day medication next year in all two-year-old races, with a view of expanding the ban to encompass all horses in 2016. The proposal received the support of 25 prominent trainers, as well as that of Breeders’ Cup officials Bill Farish and Craig Fravel.

While the use of race-day medication has been prohibited in two-year-old races at the Breeders’ Cup for the past two years, the Breeders’ Cup organization lifted the ban for this year’s event.

Underpinning this wider push for reform, however, is the belief that the issue of medication lies at the core of the sport’s marked decline in popularity.

Dr Rick Arthur, the equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board, told the Guardian: “If you look at the marketing studies that have been done by the [National Thoroughbred Racing Association], for example, they’ve found that there are two things that the public doesn’t like about horseracing: they don’t like drugs, and they don’t like dead horses.

“To them, it’s the same issue. They tie those together.”

‘They’re the boys who brought down Lance Armstrong’

With a view of bringing the US into line with more stringent jurisdictions around the world, a relatively small but nonetheless vocal band of leading industry figures are pushing to significantly curb the use of drugs on horses in training and to eradicate race-day medications altogether. This push is spearheaded by the Water Hay Oats Alliance, which introduced the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act to Congress last year.

Essentially, the act is shaped to permit out-of-competition medication in horses but to ban any drug from being administered on race day. The act also gives the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) the authority to work in concert with the racing industry to set tighter thresholds regarding what drugs can be in a horse’s system on race day – if any.

“What we’ve been pushing for is the United States Congress to pass a federal bill giving the power to regulate race-day medications to Usada,” said Arthur B Hancock III, one of the chief proponents of the act who owns Stone Farm in Kentucky, one of the nation’s foremost breeding operations.

Usada has been brought on board as an integral component of the bill, said Hancock, because of its successful track record in fighting drug cheats in other sports.

“[Usada] are the people that brought down Lance Armstrong. The cycling industry couldn’t manage to do it themselves because of all the good old boy connections, so to speak, that exist in their sport,” said Hancock, pointing to what he believes is a similar network of cronyism in US horseracing circles. “But Travis Tygart, who’s the CEO of Usada, is an extremely capable leader. And he and Usada were able to straighten the whole thing out.”

At the heart of the race-day medication debate is a drug commonly called Lasix – a diuretic which helps prevent horses rupturing blood vessels in their respiratory systems when under duress. Hancock argues that years of heavy medication usage, such as with Lasix, has weakened the breed to the extent that US-bred thoroughbreds are not only becoming physically less robust but are losing considerable economic value – a consequence he believes has had serious ramifications for the industry as a whole:

Back in the 1950s, for instance, if you owned a racehorse you could expect 45 lifetime starts. Now it’s down to 12. Think of the economic ramifications of that. And I think [drug use] is one of the reasons why we haven’t had a Triple Crown winner for so long.

George Strawbridge, a prominent owner-breeder with horses trained in the UK and the US, agrees with Hancock about the detrimental long-term affects of heavy drug use on horses in competition.

“I don’t understand why there’s such a reluctance to change the status quo, which is that the US is becoming a bigger and bigger cesspool of drugs,” he said. “There is basically a rampant drug culture in our country. Over 90% of our trainers want to be able to use drugs. And we have many inadequate testing facilities in this country.”

Drug use is so prevalent, said Strawbridge, because it is the less expensive alternative to more expensive holistic remedies. “Try resting a horse so it recovers from its injury,” he said.

Strawbridge disagrees with those who argue that certain drugs are therapeutic, rather than performance enhancers:

They say Lasix is therapeutic, but Lasix is a performance enhancer. That’s why the Aiden O’Briens and the John Gosdens, when they race in the States, they give them Lasix. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Among those who believe that the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is misguided is Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), an umbrella group covering racing commissioners in North America. Martin’s concerns centre around Usada: that the standards it applies to other sports are not nearly as stringent as the ones already in place in US racing.

“Our standards are tougher,” said Martin. “And the people who think that the Usada standards are better really ought to consider that. We basically found that if we adopted those standards and applied them to horseracing, we would increase drug use.”

Martin compared each group’s list of prohibited substances, pointing out how the number of drugs on the ARCI’s schedule of prohibited substances was more than three-times longer than the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) listing.

“And the one main thing that we are better on is that we don’t give ‘therapeutic use’ exemptions,” he said. “You go to the Usada annual report, and they will tell you how many therapeutic use exemptions they give. You find narcotics, and stimulants and hormones – all of those, we would find a violation for.”


Help increase oversight of horse racing

Please call your Congressional Representatives to support U.S. Senate Bill 973 and H.R. 2012 to increase oversight and penalties for overusing drugs in horse racing.

horse racing

Below, we’re sharing portions of a letter to the Editor by Silvie Pomicter, (Pres., Voice of the Animals, Chinchilla) published  in  

“Every week, 24 horses die on racetracks across the country because of preventable injuries, and every year, 10,000 ‘broken-down’ race horses are sent to slaughter.  Most horses do not retire, but are sadly transported away from the racetrack to end up in slaughterhouses in Canada, Mexico or Japan, where they are turned into dog food and glue.  Their flesh is also exported to countries such as France and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy.

Horse racing is best described as institutionalized exploitation of baby horses.  Imagine being pushed beyond the point of exhaustion: the bones in your legs straining to hold up the weight of your body, your bleeding lungs incapable of taking in enough air, and you’re forced to keep running despite it all.  This is what life is like for racehorses who are chronically drugged by trainers in order to mask their pain and enhance their performance.

We all know the famous horses that died for the sake of this cruel sport – Ruffian, Barbaro and Eight Bells, who was “unmercilessly whipped” by a sadistic jockey, and died on the track after breaking both front legs in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

Please contact your U.S. representative and senators and ask them to support the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, Senate Bill 973, and H.R. 2012, which would increase oversight and penalties for overusing drugs in horse racing.”


Dying Hollywood Mogul Sam Simon Secretly ‘Rescues’ Racehorse

Article by of NBC Dateline
Forward by R.T. Fitch ~ president/co-founder of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

“People don’t know what they’re watching when they’re watching a horse race”

“It’s ‘Feel Good Sunday’ and also the day after the Kentucky Derby and with two thrown away OTT TBs in our pasture we are sort of sensitive on the issue of horse racing; so what better to share with you, today, than a success story on a rescued race horse.  I am passionate on this subject as two souls that were hours away from the slaughterhouse now enlighten and entertain us in our backyard.  This is a good story for a very good day.  Keep the faith!” ~ R.T.


Valediction, a thoroughbred racehorse, retired in Loudoun County, Va. Sam Simon, producer of ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Cheers,’ and ‘The Drew Carey Show,’ among other series, is giving away his fortune before he dies of cancer. He secretly funded the ‘rescue’ of a racehorse, Valediction, that animal advocates say was on the verge of being raced again despite the risk of serious injury.

A Hollywood producer who’s giving away his fortune before he dies of cancer secretly funded the “rescue” of a racehorse that animal advocates say was on the verge of being raced again despite the risk of “catastrophic” injury.

Sam Simon, producer of “The Simpsons,” “Cheers,” and “The Drew Carey Show,” among other series, says he ponied up the cash for two reasons. “One is an animal is no longer being abused and two, people are finding out what horse racing really is.”

The horse, Valediction, had been trained by two different top trainers who’ve been disciplined by authorities for allegedly over-medicating horses. One of the trainers, Steve Asmussen, has won more than 6,700 races and $200 million in his career and has a horse entered in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Valediction was being prepped to return to the track in February despite an injured leg when Simon — through a front man supplied by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] — stepped in and bought him for $60,000.

On a videotape secretly recorded by PETA, Asmussen’s assistant can be heard talking about injecting horses with medication and how he could get a sore horse past track veterinarians. He can also be heard calling Valediction a “rat,” meaning a horse who doesn’t make money.

Said Simon, who was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in 2012, “When you watch them talk about Valediction as a rat and now you know he’s a in a pasture someplace, it makes you feel good.”

In March, PETA revealed in a New York Times article that an undercover investigator had worked with Asmussen and his assistant Scott Blasi for more than four months in 2013 and shot secret video. After reviewing seven hours of footage and preparing a 285-page report, PETA charged in formal complaints to racing authorities in Kentucky and New York that Asmussen had “forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train.”

Asmussen can allegedly be heard on video discussing how to manufacture paperwork for illegal workers, while Blasi makes apparent reference to an electric buzzer used to shock horses during a race.

Blasi and other staff members also talk about 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro, and how the horse had kept racing despite problems with his hooves, which were held together with filler and glue. “His foot is a little bitty nub,” said a blacksmith on the tape.

The PETA report also alleges that horses were medicated daily with thyroid medication, diuretics and other drugs even when they didn’t need them, and that horses were burned with liquid nitrogen to increase blood flow to sore spots.

As a result of PETA’s undercover taping, racing regulators in Kentucky and New York announced probes of Asmussen. Authorities in both states say their investigations are ongoing. Asmussen fired Blasi, who had worked for him for 18 years, days after the release of the tape, and Nehro’s owner removed all his horses from Asmussen’s care. Asmussen had previously served a six-month suspension in 2006 after a horse he trained tested hundreds of times over the legal limit in Louisiana for an anesthetic…(Click to read much more)

Click (HERE) to read the rest of the story and to view video

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