Asmussen Might Win the Derby—but His Horse Won’t

Published by Michelle Kretzer.

When a human athlete is caught using performance-enhancing drugs, it’s curtains for him or her. But Steve Asmussen has two horses running in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, despite the fact that a PETA investigation showed that drugs are the ace up his sleeve.

If one of the horses trained by Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner or Creator, wins the Kentucky Derby, we won’t be impressed. We gained insight into Asmussen’s methods when we investigated his stable. We documented the trainer’s near daily use of sedatives, anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, and even the thyroid drug thyroxine to boost horses’ metabolism artificially, even though there was no evidence that the horses had thyroid disease. Thyroxine was scooped into the feed of every horse, like it was a vitamin and not a powerful hormone. Why all the drugs? It’s easier to medicate horses to keep them running instead of allowing them time to recuperate from injuries. And apparently anything that makes a horse go faster is worth a try.

Following our investigation, the New York State Gaming Commission fined Asmussen $10,000 for giving thyroxine to at least 45 horses within 48 hours of a race, in violation of regulations. The commission also introduced sweeping new regulations that will, according to Commission Executive Director Robert Williams, “combat the entrenched drug culture in horse racing.”

But there is NO evidence that Asmussen has changed his ways. Just days after PETA submitted its complaints to the authorities, the Asmussen-trained Thoroughbred Finesse collapsed after a race and died of a “cardiac event.” Asmussen later admitted to HBO’s Real Sports Bernard Goldberg that Finesse had been given thyroxine and other substances, including clenbuterol and Lasix.

Asmussen may not have changed his ways in Kentucky, but he’ll have to when he races in New York State, where the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, is run. The proposed regulations in New York that resulted from evidence we gathered in his barn will mandate the following:

  • 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 and not on enhancing performance
  • 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

What You Can Do

Ask your representatives in Congress to support the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which would increase the oversight of drug use and increase the penalties for violations.

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“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind