Tag Archives: horses die racing

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.

Horse deaths at race tracks should be as rare as Triple Crown Winners

By Kathy Guillermo

Seeing the video of the fourth race on Belmont Stakes day, when a horse named Helwan broke his leg and was euthanized, reminded me of the very first time I saw a horse break down during a race. It was many years ago, and I thought it would be the only time. I thought that a death on the track was as rare as a Triple Crown winner.

What seemed to me then to be shocking and unusual is actually so routine today that numbers are reported in a detached way, as though they were simply statistics from less deadly sports—more than three horses a day die on tracks, which is 24 a week and 1,000 a year. These stats don’t convey the horror of the loud crack of a bone and the horse crashing to the ground while running at top speed.

But what’s even more astounding is that the racing industry could stop many of these deaths right now if it wanted to. Some good people in racing, some members of Congress, outside experts and PETA have been saying it for years: Get rid of the medication. Stop drugging horses to keep them running when they should be resting. Eliminate the use of the debilitating diuretic Lasix on race day.

The drugs are leading to the breakdowns, and all medications should be prohibited in the week before a race. If a horse actually requires medication, that horse should not be racing.

Instead, not a day passes without the death of a Thoroughbred or Standardbred or Quarter Horse somewhere on a U.S. track. On June 14, Danzig Moon, who finished fifth in this year’s Kentucky Derby and ran in the Preakness, broke a hind leg and was euthanized at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. On June 15, when only six Thoroughbred tracks in the U.S. were open, four horses broke down.

Drug use is pervasive even at the top levels. Veterinary records released by New York State reveal that all eight horses who ran in the Belmont Stakes were given the powerful painkiller and anti-inflammatory medication phenylbutazone on June 4, just two days before the race. Is it coincidental that every horse was suffering from “inflammation”?

The French horse Helwan, who died on the day that American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, had a winning career in Europe and had never raced on Lasix. But racing for the first time in the U.S., where nearly every horse is given this drug, Helwan was given Lasix, which can cause dehydration and the loss of a hundred pounds in a single day.

It is inexplicable that racing without drugs should panic so many trainers and owners. It is inexcusable that the racing industry doesn’t stop its ceaseless bickering and clean up this mess immediately. Some members of Congress agree. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania have introduced a bill that would repeal the Interstate Horseracing Act, which allows betting across state lines, by phone and on the Internet. Ninety percent of the $11 billion wagered annually on horses comes from this form of betting, and without it, the racing industry would collapse.

Pitts, along with Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California and Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, has also reintroduced legislation to end drugging in racing and ban violators. Both these bills would improve the chances for horses’ survival, and clearly, federal oversight is essential. The racing industry won’t do this itself. That much is clear.