Tag Archives: drugging up race horses

Racing industry should release NFL-styled injury report for Kentucky Derby

By Kathy Guillermo

As the Kentucky Derby approaches, Las Vegas gambling venues and the racing industry should take a lesson from the National Football League.

Horse racing, the only “sport” that comes with whippings and a daily death toll, is spiraling into oblivion. Most people in America have never been to a track and will never go. Derby day brings the only hour in the year when the general public becomes fleetingly aware of Thoroughbred racing.

The reason is simple. Most people don’t want to see horses breaking their legs after they’ve been whipped to make them run around a track. Statistics from the Nevada sports books illustrate this. In 1998, when Real Quiet nearly won the Triple Crown, more than $736 million was bet.

The following years brought high-profile tragedies with the breakdowns and deaths of Barbaro and Eight Belles as well as a series of exposés, including PETA’s video of trainer Steve Asmussen’s misuse of medication, revealing racing’s abuse of horses.

By 2014, when California Chrome followed in Real Quiet’s footsteps and nearly captured the Triple Crown, the total amount wagered had plummeted to $344 million.

The racing industry and sports books like those at Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio, where bettors can place wagers on races shown on video screens, have the power to make a difference. As the NFL does before Sunday games, sports books should release injury reports on all horses running in the Derby.

Despite being federally regulated through the Interstate Horse Racing Act, these gambling venues fail to disclose information that would affect bettors’ decisions, and the racing industry is complicit in this secrecy. Unlike the NFL, racing has no policy requiring disclosure of such critical information.

This lack of transparency has an unfair impact on bettors, as only select industry insiders know the horses’ physical problems, while the general betting public is kept in the dark.

More importantly, injury reports could protect horses. Although racing leaders would have you believe otherwise, they know exactly why most horses fracture legs on the track. Research funded by the industry shows that 90 percent of horses who break down had pre-existing injuries. It’s common knowledge now that medications can be used to mask injuries and keep injured horses running when they should be recuperating.

Lame horses don’t look lame. They race, they break down and they spend their last minutes of life behind a hastily erected screen on the track. That way, bettors don’t see them dying in the dirt.

The release of records detailing all conditions and medications in the month leading up to the Derby would reveal which horses should not be running at Churchill Downs on May 6. It should begin with the Derby and after that be required for every race in all jurisdictions.

Currently, owners and trainers chasing a big purse or trying to offload horses in a claiming race will risk the animals’ safety. But if medication and injury records were more transparent, there would be no hiding the Thoroughbreds with sore knees and feet who’ve been shot up with painkillers, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications and performance-enhancing drugs, like thyroid hormone.

Trainers would be exposed if they tried to run a sore or injured horse who was still feeling the effects of multiple medications. Track management could make sure these horses were recuperating and not racing. The release of all these records would also aid racetrack veterinarians in conducting their pre-race examinations. They would know in advance what problem areas to focus on and could scratch high-risk horses.

Right now, owners, trainers and veterinarians who are complicit in the deaths of more than 1,000 horses on tracks every year are getting away with dangerous, irresponsible behavior. Transparency is the first step in ending this abuse.


Vote! For our next president … and for humane living conditions for farm animals (Question 3). There are 4 ballot questions in all – today Maher takes a closer look at Question 1. pic: R.T.

By Steven R. Maher

With all the hullabaloo about the Presidential election, and the clamor about charter schools (Question 2), humane conditions for farm animals (Question 3), and marijuana legalization (Question 4) little attention has been paid to Question 1, which would allow the Stating Gaming Commission to license one additional slot machine parlor.

That’s unfortunate, because there’s apparently a story behind the ballot question:

The opponents of the proposal stated on their website: “Question 1 is a flagrant abuse of the ballot question process. It was filed by one developer, for one site, for one purpose: his own financial benefit. The drafters of the Massachusetts Constitution designed our ballot question process to give the people a voice on statewide issues, not as an end-run around the legislative process for wealthy developers and corporate interests.”

Written to narrow down

A closer look at the proposed referendum seems to indicate that it was drafted to narrow down the location of the slot machines parlor to one site:

• The location has to be “at least four acres in size”;

• It has to be “adjacent to and within 1,500 feet of a race track, including the track’s additional facilities, such as the track, grounds, paddocks, barns, auditorium, Amphitheatre, and bleachers”

• It has to be “where a horse racing meeting may physically be held”;

• The site has to be “where a horse racing meeting shall have been hosted”; and

• The site cannot be “separated from the race track by a highway or railway.”

All these references to horse racing suggests that the beneficiaries of the ballot question would be the owners of the Suffolk Downs racetrack.

Opponents of Question 1 deny this. “Suffolk Downs itself would have no ownership interest in the proposed casino, and would receive no direct benefit from it. While a percentage of any Massachusetts casino’s profits are legally required to go toward the statewide Horse Racing Fund, this fund alone may not be enough to save New England horse racing,” says the Vote No website.

“The question of a casino near Suffolk Downs has already been asked and answered three times, and there is no reason to revisit it now,” continues the website statement. “The first proposal was withdrawn due to serious questions raised by allegations of criminal ties and inappropriate conduct on the part of Caesars Entertainment. The second was voted down by East Boston residents, and the third was denied by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission even after the Commission changed its own rules to give Suffolk Downs a second chance.”

Pros and cons

According to the website of “The Horse Racing Jobs and Education Committee” the slots parlor will have the following benefits to the Commonwealth (www.Massachusettsquestion1.net)

• “Over $80 Million Dollars in new Revenue to the State per year”;

• “$12 Million Dollars to support Horse Racing in Massachusetts”;

• “1000’s of new jobs both Direct and Indirect for Massachusetts citizens”;

• “$5 million dollars in guaranteed new revenue to the Host City.”

The website of the “Committee for Responsible and Sustainable Economic Development”, MaCasinos.net urges a NO vote for the following reasons

•”Legalized casino gambling in the Commonwealth is too new and unproven to expand at this time”;

• “Only one slot parlor has opened in Massachusetts, and it is significantly underperforming”;

• “Five casinos are expected to open in Massachusetts by 2019. The Wall Street Journal warns that New England already has more casinos than the market wants or needs”;

• “Proponents of the ‘Act Relative to Gaming’ have traveled across the globe to exploit the Commonwealth and send a message to other casino developers – they can come to Massachusetts and do the same”;

• Urges a no vote “to postpone the question of gambling expansion until a review of the costs and benefits of existing Massachusetts gaming establishments is completed.”
Economic benefits

What are the economic benefits of passing Question 1?

Both sides dispute that state taxpayers, on the whole, will benefit or not benefit from passing the question.

In a “Statement of Fiscal Consequences” mailed out to state voters, the Secretary of State’s office stated: “The fiscal consequences of this proposed measure for state and municipal government finances could range from 0 dollars to an unknown positive amount.

“Under the Expanded Gaming Act, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has the discretion to determine whether a gaming license should be issued and when that determination would be made.

“If the Gaming Commission did award the proposed license, a new analysis of the casino market would be needed to determine the amount of revenue from this license, based on proposed size and operations, and the potential impact of competition from other gaming establishments in Massachusetts and surrounding areas.”

How horse racing rewards drug abusers

By Kathy Guillermo
In most sports, medication abuse is taken seriously. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have been denied induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame repeatedly. Lance Armstrong was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France victories and has been banned for life from sanctioned cycling events.
But in horse racing, the abusers are elected to the Hall of Fame.
On the eve of the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen was chosen for induction into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. The racing reporters and writers who voted him in essentially condoned the behavior of a trainer who, in the words of Bernard Goldberg of HBO Real Sports, has “two reputations. I think one reputation is, one of the very, very top trainers of all time. The other reputation is, here’s a guy who’ll cut corners, who’ll give his horses drugs to get ’em out on the track, because they’re not making any money unless they are out on the track.”
With this vote, racing writers scoffed at meaningful reform to spare horses from dying on the track and harmed the sport they claim to love. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Last November, the New York State Gaming Commission released its report on evidence submitted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) following our 2013 investigation of Asmussen. The Commission found that he had given horses the hormone thyroxine without medical necessity and fined him $10,000 for administering it to at least 45 horses within 48 hours of a race. More importantly, based on the evidence that PETA submitted showing the near-daily use of sedatives, painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs, the commission introduced, in its own words, “sweeping new regulations.” According to Commission Executive Director Robert Williams, the evidence from Asmussen’s barn “prompted the Commission to put forth substantial changes to further combat the entrenched drug culture in horse racing.”
The proposed rules mandate that no drug be given to a horse except as an actual medical therapy, that all metabolism-modifying drugs be tightly controlled, that veterinarians renew prescriptions based only on their medical judgment, that the unnecessary use of any substance that abnormally affects a horse be prohibited, and that trainers keep a log of all dispensed medicines administered by the stable.
Unfortunately, this came too late for Finesse. Just days after PETA submitted its complaints to authorities, the Asmussen-trained Thoroughbred collapsed after a race and died of a “cardiac event.” Asmussen later admitted to HBO’s Goldberg that Finesse had been given thyroxine as well as clenbuterol and Lasix.
Asmussen is certainly not the only trainer with a history of drug violations. Yet when PETA released a video of the Asmussen investigation in 2014, many in racing wrote movingly of the need to reform medication rules for the benefit of the horses and the survival of racing. The link between overmedication and breakdowns on the track was acknowledged. Many vowed to fight for reform. The Jockey Club promised to introduce medication reform legislation and indeed, in 2015, worked with members of Congress to do so.
Yet for many in racing, including the columnists and writers whose job it is to cover the facts, it’s back to the same old deadly business as usual.
Asmussen is training one of the Derby favorites this year, Gun Runner, and his win and earnings totals cannot be disputed, but how did he earn this? Being recognized as one of the elite of racing should entail much more than simply racking up a high volume of wins. Achieving meaningful change in horse racing would be easier if the men and women who write about it acknowledged that the overuse of medication leads to breakdown and death and must be stopped.