By Kathy Guillermo
Two years after Eight Belles’ fatal breakdown during the Kentucky Derby, many of us still remember the heartbreak of seeing that beautiful filly lying in the dirt at Churchill Downs, her ankles shattered beyond repair.
The thoroughbred racing industry would have us believe that Eight Belles’ tragic death was a “freak accident,” but it wasn’t. Every single day, three horses, on average, suffer catastrophic injuries while racing and must be euthanized. This is no rare event. It’s business as usual.
At least 2,000 horses have died on U.S. tracks since the Eight Belles tragedy. And every month, 1,000 racehorses who don’t “measure up” are sent to other countries to be slaughtered for human consumption.
People who care about horses for horses’ sake must steer clear of the Triple Crown races if they don’t want to contribute to this staggering death toll.
In the weeks following Eight Belles’ death, there was much talk about reforming the horse-racing industry. And after being prodded by PETA, the racing industry did make some improvements, including banning steroids from the states in which Triple Crown races are run.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Racing insiders tell PETA that the misuse of legal drugs is still the biggest cause of breakdown and death, and the industry has yet to address this issue in any meaningful way.
Horse trainers have told us that in the days leading up to a race, strong anti-inflammatories, painkillers and muscle relaxants are legally injected into injured, sore horses to make them run when they should be recovering. Some horses are injected with drugs up to 30 times in the week before a race, and it’s all legal.
Then there are stories about the unusual substances, such as cobra venom, that are injected into horses in order to mask pain. There is no drug test for cobra venom. Many horses also undergo what industry insiders call “milkshaking”—forcing a large quantity of sodium bicarbonate and sugar into a horse’s stomach through a tube. This procedure is said to make them run faster during a race.
Drugging animals to make them do what they never would under natural conditions is abuse and must be stopped. It’s not enough to sound upset and make empty promises about reform.
PETA had planned to unveil a billboard in Louisville asking people not to attend, watch or bet on the Kentucky Derby while horses are dying on the tracks. Not surprisingly, every single local billboard company refused to post it. But the public deserves to know that the problems with horse racing didn’t end with Eight Belles. Horses are still being run to their deaths on racetracks. Most of them just never make the news.
So here’s my advice to racing fans who want to help push this industry to rein in its worst abuses. Don’t go. Don’t bet. And don’t watch.