I have long maintained that drugs in racing is given far too much attention. Yes, the (obviously) nonconsensual drugging and doping of racehorses is a wrong, but it’s only one of many – and not even close to being the worst. For the apologists, it represents an out: All we need do is clean up the meds, like baseball did with steroids, and all will be right with the world. For some advocates, it’s a clear case of missing the forest for the trees. Still, occasionally a drug rap is so big it merits all that attention.

By now, most of you have heard that Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, this year’s Derby “winner,” has tested positive for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone. Even if the split comes back negative and this does not become only the second drug DQ in Derby history, watching the industry squirm and its biggest, most successful trainer go apoplectic will have been satisfaction enough. Mr. Baffert to Sports Illustrated:

“We did not give it to him. The vet, no one, has ever treated him with it. This is a gut punch for something I didn’t do. It’s disturbing. … I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but there’s something not right. I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel like I was wronged. We’re going to do our own investigation.

“I do not feel safe to train. It’s getting worse and to me, you know going forward, how do I enjoy training? How do I move forward, knowing something like this could happen? It’s complete injustice but I’m going to fight it tooth and nail. I owe it to the horse, to the owner and our industry. … These contamination levels—I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I know not everyone is out to get me—but there’s definitely something going on. Why is it happening to me?”

Why indeed, Bob. Why indeed.

The “Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act” is a 2019 federal bill that would ban both the slaughtering of horses on U.S. soil (currently there are no active slaughterhouses, but that’s only because USDA inspections of those facilities has been defunded) and the export of American horses for the purpose of slaughter.

U.S. Horseracing, as we well know, is in a fight for its very existence. You would think, then, that all the major players would have enthusiastically lined up to back legislation that addresses the blackest of marks on their industry – the wholesale slaughter of their erstwhile “athletes.” But you would be wrong. For some – most conspicuously, The Jockey Club – support is still missing; for others, like the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA), it’s only now coming – after two years.

In a press release last week, the PHBA wrote:

Continuing to demonstrate its commitment to the health and welfare of thoroughbreds, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association today announced its endorsement of the Safeguard American Food Exports Act.

The release continued:

PHBA Board member Hank Nothhaft said … the fact that many unwanted thoroughbred broodmares are found in slaughter pens proved to be a call to action. “There was unanimous support from the PHBA Board to mitigate the slaughter of broodmares,” said Nothhaft. “Older broodmares, especially, are not attractive candidates for equestrian activities, and thus they are not as easy to rehome as younger horses. This has really pushed us from sitting on the bench towards getting into the fray.”

Imagine that. Only now, two years after the bill’s introduction, only now, after decades of carnage (which all have been aware of) are the PA breeders “demonstrat[ing] [their] commitment to the health and welfare of thoroughbreds, [no longer] sitting on the bench, getting into the fray.” It is cynical; it is disgusting; it is horseracing.

Last week, I posted a video of 13-year-old Hes too Icy for Me taking a bad fall at Turf. Apparently, he’s alive, but amid public outrage Arizona may soon consider lowering the maximum age at which a horse can be raced (currently, it’s 13). Anyhow, I came across this quote in BloodHorse from Turf GM Vince Francia: “I like to say I have, as a general manager, time in the day to go through the entries and check everything, but I don’t. My concern since this meet began in January is singular—getting us through this meet with this virus. Talk about losing sleep at night.”

Who has “time in the day” to keep track of abused horses? Not this GM. He’s too busy “losing sleep” – not over animal cruelty, mind you, but whether the cash will keep flowing. Ah, honesty.

The “Essex Handicap” at Oaklawn yesterday was worth a cool $500,000, with the difference between 1st and 2nd $200,000. With that in mind, take a look at the beating jockey Ramon Vazquez administered to his mount, Rated R Superstar, down the stretch (Rated R is the 3 horse):

Folks, if this isn’t animal cruelty then what, pray tell, is?

Just a couple days after this picture made the rounds, another example of industry callousness surfaces. The following video is of Irish jockey Rob James mounting a 5-year-old mare who had just collapsed and died while training in 2016:

For his part, James said this to The Irish Field:

“I have become aware of a video circulating of me on social media. I would just like to apologise for my actions which were wholly inappropriate and disrespectful to a lovely five-year-old mare, who unfortunately suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while at exercise earlier that morning, April 30th, 2016.

“To try defending my stupidity at the time would add further insult and hurt to the many loyal people that have supported me during my career. I have caused embarrassment to my employers, my family and most importantly the sport I love. I am heartbroken by the damage I have caused and will do my best to try and make amends to those hurt by my conduct.”

My take: It’s not the specific act here – the horse is already dead; it’s the attitude. The laughing. The indifference. The casual disregard. That’s what enrages. But make no mistake, this is horseracing. For further proof, I refer back to this 2013 undercover video of (Hall of Famer) Steve Asmussen’s barn (at Churchill and Saratoga, no less):

And the transcript:

Trainer Scott Blasi, Asmussen’s top lieutenant:

“Fuck these horses. These motherfuckers. They’ll fucking break your fucking heart every fucking day, these cocksuckers. There’s always something wrong with ’em.”

“You ought to see these limping motherfuckers. I see this son [of] a bitch out here [Saratoga] jogging every day.”

“You could not believe how many [horses] they hurt and kill before they ever even get to the racetrack.”

Farrier working on 5-year-old Nehro, one of Asmussen’s charges:

“That’s all missing! His foot is a little bitty nub. [H]e lost Z-bars on both feet multiple times until he had bloody holes in the bottom of his feet. He doesn’t even have a pulse in this one, and he’s barely got one in the [other]. Stick your thumb in there. Right there in that frog. [I]t’s been like that for three months…it rotted.” Blasi: “Listen…I know the fucker hurts.” Farrier: “Let me show you this hole. This is treacherous. We’ve tried superglue in that hole.”

Blasi, to Nehro:

“Quit being such an asshole…aggravating son of a bitch.” A few days after this exchange, Nehro died of colic. Blasi: “I have seen a lot of shit. That is the most violent fucking death I have ever seen.”

Blasi on “shockwave therapy,” which is used to deaden pain:

“It fucking hurts like hell. I can’t believe them fucking sons a bitches can take it.”

Blasi on electric shockers, which are used to “motivate” horses to run faster:

“I’d tell [jockey Ricardo Santana Jr], ‘You got the maquina [shocker]?’ ‘Boss, I got the maquina.'”

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens:

“So, long story short, I win the race…and I reach over to pull this off, and I, I shock the shit out of myself [audible laughing around the table].”

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas:

“Well, we used to go behind the gate at Ruidoso. And it was just like it was a full-blown orchestra. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Everybody had one [shockers]. Everybody had one.”

Blasi, after losing an underperformer – a “rat” – to a claim:

“I could just do a fucking cartwheel right now.”

As I wrote at the time, and certainly remains true today:

From calling them “rats,” to laughing at electric shockers, to casually discussing a horse’s deformed foot, to casually discussing that same horse’s excruciating death, some prominent racing people at some prominent American tracks betray what the racing-horse represents to them – a means to an end. Respect for intelligent, feeling beings with intrinsic worth? Please. In fact, Asmussen says the sole reason Blasi was fired is because he disrespected an owner. (Blasi was, of course, rehired shortly thereafter.) So to me, it matters not a whit what the investigation concludes (no charges were ever brought against either Asmussen or Blasi); horseracing’s true colors have, yet again, been put on full display for all to see.