Tag Archives: 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.

Horse racing’s daily double: drugs and death

By Kathy Guillermo

It’s time for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to step in and clean up the thoroughbred racing industry’s addiction to drugs.

As The New York Times has just reported, over a period of four months, a PETA investigator worked for well-known trainer Steve Asmussen, trainer of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, at two of the most famous racetracks in America: Churchill Downs in Kentucky and the Saratoga Race Course in New York. PETA’s investigation exposed many serious problems but none more harmful than the routine, pervasive and improper use of prescription drugs during training, a regimen that has begun the downward spiral to the slaughterhouse for thousands of horses.

Fragile young horses—raced before their bones have fully matured and unable to handle the pounding and stress—suffer routinely from injuries, lameness, exhaustion and what is euphemistically called “soreness.” Owners don’t want to waste time waiting until foals are physically capable. They want to get the cash flow started.

PETA’s investigator saw veterinarians and stable hands, apparently on Asmussen’s orders, give horses an aggressive daily regimen of pain-masking and performance-enhancing drugs and treatments. These drugs often aren’t used for genuinely therapeutic purposes. Instead, they’re used to keep horses going when their legs and lungs are screaming, “Stop!” Horses in the racing industry are so routinely doped up that they’ve been called “chemical horses,” and their feet, bones and bodies are progressively destroyed as a result.

It’s little wonder that an average of 24 horses suffer catastrophic (fatal) breakdowns every week at racetracks across America.

One of Asmussen’s drugs of choice was thyroxine. Although it’s approved only as a prescription medication for horses with hypothyroidism, the drug was being administered to every horse in his barns, apparently without testing or evidence of any thyroid condition. This drug seems to have been recklessly administered just to speed up metabolism.

Thyroxine was also detected in the systems of several horses who had mysteriously died in the barns of another major trainer, Bob Baffert. The necropsy report on Baffert’s horses stated, “The drug, thyroxine, was so routinely prescribed in the Baffert barn that it was dispensed for one of the horses a week after he had died.”

Horses in Asmussen’s Saratoga stables were also given Lasix, which dehydrates the animals and makes them lighter and faster. Lasix is legal to use in New York for the right purpose—to prevent bleeding in the lungs—but not to shave a few seconds off a horse’s running time. This controversial drug is banned on race day in Europe.

PETA’s investigator also witnessed the drugging of horses day after day with muscle relaxants, sedatives and other potent pharmaceuticals used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness and inflammation—seemingly without regard for the long-term effects on the horses’ welfare.

Trainers will do just about anything to gain an advantage. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens joked about jockeys who used concealed battery-powered shocking devices on horses. The prized horse Nehro, who came in second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, was forced to race on painful, chronically damaged feet, and his hooves were in such bad shape that one of them was held together at one point with super glue. PETA’s investigator also found that many undocumented laborers were hired and forced to work long hours for little pay in difficult, dangerous jobs.

PETA has filed 10 legal complaints at both the federal and state level, and we’re working for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, a federal bill that would put the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (the same agency that investigated Lance Armstrong) in charge of drug enforcement in horse racing. Everyone reading this can also make a difference by refusing to patronize or bet on horse races.

Racing young horses at reckless speeds needs to stop

By Kathy Guillermo

If you thought your 9-year-old son had the makings of a great football player, would you force him, under threat of whipping, to conduct extreme physical drills designed for the top college prospects just to impress NFL scouts? Fortunately, that wouldn’t come until some 10 years and a hundred pounds later.

Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t so lucky. Before they are ever entered in a race, juvenile horses, some of whom are not even 2 years old, are being forced to sprint at top speeds on fragile, undeveloped bones and joints for an eighth of a mile—sometimes to their deaths. This is an ugly first step into an industry that exploits animals as commodities and then throws them out like trash when their bodies are worn out and broken.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went undercover to document what happens at the “under tack shows” that thoroughbred auction companies put on before the annual auctions. The sprints are meant to impress potential buyers, and young horses are made to run at speeds faster than they ever would in an actual race.

PETA’s video footage shows terrified horses panicking and running into guard rails. Some suffer career-ending injuries or catastrophic breakdowns in which their still-developing bones snap like twigs.

One of the horses captured on video suffered a compound fracture of her cannon bone while being pushed hard to sprint at breakneck speed at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Auction in Timonium, Maryland, on May 19. Fragments of bone can be seen exploding from her foot.

Because the auction failed to cancel the event despite unsafe weather and track conditions, PETA has asked the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office to bring cruelty-to-animals charges against the auction.

PETA also videotaped another young horse who suffered a fatal burst aorta when pushed to sprint in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auction in Florida on June 19. The danger of sprinting in severe heat is well known in the racing industry, and some tracks cancel races in such weather. PETA is urging the county attorney to file charges against the company for violating Florida’s anti-cruelty laws.

Recklessly endangering—and even killing—very young, inexperienced horses simply to put on a show for potential buyers is animal abuse, plain and simple. It’s also what happens when animals are viewed as “investment opportunities” rather than individual beings.

PETA has sent thoroughbred auction companies a list of simple, lifesaving recommendations, including preventing horses under 2 years of age from sprinting, eliminating the timing of sprints, mandating that under tack shows be postponed in unsafe weather conditions and banning whips and other devices that force the horses to run at excessive speeds. It’s time for the “sport of kings” to do right by the animals it claims to love.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Plan would spare thousands of horses from slaughter

By Kathy Guillermo

U.S. thoroughbred racing is an industry of numbers. Consider the projected statistics for 2011 alone:

The number of horses running in the Kentucky Derby: no more than 20.

The number of thoroughbred foals born: 24,900.

The number of thoroughbreds who will die on the track: 1,000.

The number of thoroughbreds cast off by the racing industry: 21,000.

The number of thoroughbreds sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico: 10,000.

Crunch those numbers and the conclusion is obvious. There are too many thoroughbreds born, too few retirement options, and way too many violent deaths.

The racing industry should be ashamed of these numbers — and of course every number isn’t a number at all, but a living, breathing being. When horses who have given their all can no longer race because they’re injured or too old, or when they stop turning a profit, most owners and trainers rid themselves of these animals by sending them to a livestock auction. One out of every two thoroughbreds sold at auction ends up in a slaughterhouse.

The Jockey Club, through which all foals must be registered and which is the only horse racing authority in a position to impose a fee that applies to all thoroughbreds in all racing states, responded to this crisis with its Retirement Checkoff program, a voluntary donation that can be made when owners submit required registration papers.

In 2010 this program generated only $43,000 from 30,000 foal registrations—a paltry $1.44 per horse. Even with the Jockey Club’s supplemental donation toward retirement, this absurdly inadequate amount cannot begin to provide for the enormous annual costs of caring for tens of thousands of horses, multiplied by many years of retirement. Recent reports of thoroughbreds being denied adequate food and care in the stables that are supposed to be supported by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation tragically prove this point.

The racing industry needs to deal with this life and death issue. Thoroughbred retirement is a racing industry obligation, not a voluntary donation.

While the best bet for the horses would be an end to breeding, racing, and killing thoroughbreds altogether, at the very least the racing world must provide a decent retirement for the horses it no longer wants.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has come up with a plan — the Thoroughbred 360 Lifecycle Retirement Fund — to jumpstart this effort. This proposal would require a mandatory $360 retirement fee with every foal registration, a $360 fee for every transfer of ownership, and a $360 fee for each stallion and broodmare registration.

This is affordable for thoroughbred owners and would generate more than $20 million toward retirement. It wouldn’t solve all the problems — clearly the fund would have to be used wisely. This would require proper planning and administration. But without a substantial sum, nothing will be done. Thoroughbreds will continue to be trucked across our borders to their deaths by the tens of thousands.

The Jockey Club should implement this plan before this Triple Crown season ends. Trainers and owners have turned their backs on the animals they claim to love for far too long.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

All bets are off: Steer clear of horse racing

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. Continue reading All bets are off: Steer clear of horse racing

Slaughterhouses: Where racehorses go to ‘retire’

By Kathy Guillermo

Every spring in the U.S., as many as 50,000 thoroughbred mares give birth. Perhaps every thoroughbred owner dreams that, this year, a champion will be born. The odds are against it. Only a fraction of all these foals will go on to compete. And only a fraction of this fraction will become as successful as Charismatic and War Emblem.

Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness—the first two legs of the Triple Crown—in 1999. But during the Belmont Stakes, Charismatic’s left front leg broke in two places. Unlike Barbaro and Eight Belles, who were euthanized after their legs shattered during Triple Crown races, Charismatic survived. With four screws permanently holding his bones together, he went on to become a breeding stallion.

Just three years later, in 2002, War Emblem, like Charismatic, won both the Derby and the Preakness, lost in the Belmont and was retired to stud. The same year, both horses were sold to thoroughbred breeders in Japan. This was also the year (although no one knew it at the time) that another Derby winner, Ferdinand—who had also been sold to Japanese buyers—was sent to a slaughterhouse. Continue reading Slaughterhouses: Where racehorses go to ‘retire’