Update: Victory! Just days after we asked it to implement stricter rules to protect horses from jockeys carrying electro-shock devices, Churchill Downs announced, “All jockeys will be subjected to magnetic wand scans prior to the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and other random races.” These scans will detect buzzers that may be hidden in jockeys’ clothing and should have a chilling effect on anyone even thinking about shocking a horse to make him or her run faster.
Originally posted on April 25, 2014:
With the Kentucky Derby—horse racing’s biggest event of the year—just over a week away, PETA has sent a letter to Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission asking them to implement a zero-tolerance policy against shock devices by rigorously searching all race participants, including their clothing and equipment.
Even though electric shock devices—also called “buzzers,” “batteries,” and “machines” in racing parlance—are illegal, they’re often smuggled onto racetracks in a variety of ways. A PETA undercover investigator recorded a top jockey and trainer bragging about the many ways that they and others bypassed checks, including hiding a buzzer in underwear and in a horse’s blinder. Veteran jockey Roman Chapa reportedly once even hid the device in his mouth.
Said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, “We used to go behind the gate at Ruidoso [Downs], and it was just like it was a full-blown orchestra—zzz, zzz, zzz. Everybody had one.”
PETA is especially concerned about protecting horses in the derby because three jockeys with an alleged history of using buzzers are likely to participate in the race: Ricardo Santana, whom trainer Scott Blasi referred to as a “machine jockey” for his frequent use of “machines”; Calvin Borel, whom a whistleblower alleges frequently hides buzzers in his clothing; and Gary Stevens, whom PETA’s investigator caught on tape bragging about using buzzers. If a horse needs “a little help. … You gotta plug him in,” Stevens says he was told early in his career.
What You Can Do
To borrow from the old cowboy expression, the Kentucky Derby is more hat than horse. While spectators show off their fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, horses are literally running for their lives. Because the horses aren’t fully protected, even from electro-shocks, please don’t support the Kentucky Derby in any way, including by watching it on TV or placing an offtrack bet.