We did it! After years of pressure, the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act passed and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been tasked with the anti-doping duties outlined in it. This is huge progress for horses. Read about the new law and our exposé that sent shockwaves through the horse racing industry here.
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.
As reported in The New York Times, for the first time ever, PETA has captured cruel standard industry practices on camera during an undercover investigation of leading thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen. Watch now:
PETA’s investigator worked for Asmussen, who has won more races in the last decade than any other U.S. trainer, at two of the most famous racetracks in America: Churchill Downs in Louisville (home of the Kentucky Derby) and the Saratoga Race Course in New York.
Racehorses are given an aggressive, daily regimen of pain-masking drugs and treatments. These drugs don’t appear to be used for genuinely therapeutic purposes—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 have been labeled “chemical horses,” and their feet, bones, and bodies are progressively destroyed as a result. Our investigator documented some of the most commonly overused drugs and “treatments”:
- Although it’s approved only as a prescription medication for horses with hypothyroidism, the drug thyroxine was being administered to many, if not all, horses in Asmussen’s New York stable, without any apparent testing or evidence of any thyroid condition. This drug was recklessly administered apparently just to speed up metabolism—not for any therapeutic purpose.
- Lasix—a controversial drug banned in Europe on race days—was injected into “basically all” of Asmussen’s horses who were being raced or timed in New York. A powerful drug meant to prevent pulmonary bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, Lasix is a diuretic that can serve as a masking agent for other drugs and also dehydrates horses to make them lose weight and run faster. One of New York State’s top horse-racing veterinarians admitted on camera to PETA’s investigator that Lasix is a performance-enhancing medication.
- Horses’ legs showed multiple scars from being burned with liquid nitrogen―a process called freeze-firing―and burned with other irritating “blistering” chemicals, purportedly to stimulate blood flow to their sore legs.
- Horses were also given muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other potent pharmaceuticals to be used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness, and inflammation, at times even when the animals had no apparent symptoms.
“We witnessed a horse so sore it hurt him even to stand, thyroid medication dumped into horses’ daily feed, and horses who had been blistered with chemical paint in a bizarre attempt to stimulate healing. Even at this top level of racing, the syringe is the top training aid, and if the horses get out alive, they’re broken.”
Pushed Beyond Their Limits
An average of 24 horses suffer fatal breakdowns at tracks across the country every week, due in part, according to a 2012 New York Times investigation, to the misuse of drugs that keep injured horses running, and 10,000 broken-down thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter every year.
Some horses were reportedly electro-shocked with concealed buzzers. Trainer Blasi jokingly called his top jockey a “machine rider”―a nickname for riders who shock horses. And Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas laughed as he described how, at New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs racetrack, it was like “a full-blown orchestra. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Everybody had one.”
Valediction, a horse whose knee had been injected repeatedly, was claimed by another owner after a race, and one of Asmussen’s trainers, Scott Blasi, exclaimed that he was so happy, apparently to be rid of the horse, that he “could do a f****** cartwheel.” Valediction reportedly had fractured a bone and could not walk to his new owner’s barn, and he had to have emergency surgery. Blasi and the new owner’s trainer joked that the horse was a “rat”—what they call a horse who doesn’t win any money.
Held Together With Superglue
Nehro was a magnificent horse. He came in second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, but what race enthusiasts and reporters never knew was that just a few years later, Nehro was racing and/or training on chronically painful hooves with holes in them. One of the hooves was, at one point, held together with superglue. Nehro’s assistant trainer, Scott Blasi, told PETA’s investigator, “I know the f***** hurts”―yet Nehro was kept on the track and forced to participate in workouts. Just two years after that Derby finish, Nehro developed colic and went mad from pain. He was euthanized at Churchill Downs on the day of the 2013 Kentucky Derby.