Prior to the Kentucky Derby, Steve Asmussen sat for an interview with Bob Costas to discuss, of course, “the PETA video.” In it, of course, he staunchly defends his reputation, claiming that neither he nor any of his underlings broke any rules and that the investigation will bear this out. Perhaps. But so what? The story here is and always has been about the attitude, the way racers – Scott Blasi, Rudy Rodriguez, Gary Stevens, D Wayne Lukas, etc. – view their equine “partners.” (My original post here.)
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 – who memorably said, “fuck these horses, these motherfuckers” – was fired is because he disrespected an owner. So to me, it matters not a whit what the investigation concludes; horseracing’s true colors have, yet again, been put on full display for all to see…
3-year-old Finesse collapsed and died of an apparent “cardiac issue” Friday afternoon after finishing second in a race at Oaklawn. Finesse was ridden by Ricardo Santana and trained by Steve Asmussen (below) – yes, that Ricardo Santana and Steve Asmussen.
For four months last year, PETA had an undercover investigator working for highly successful trainer Steve Asmussen – at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Race Course, no less. What follows are some of the investigation’s highlights:
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. …he 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… Stick your thumb in there. Right there in that frog. …No, it’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.”
Track veterinarian James Hunt on Lasix: “It makes them lighter. …it’s a performance enhancer.”
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 during a race: “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. Everybody had one.”
Blasi, after losing an underperformer – a “rat” – to a claim: “I could just do a fucking cartwheel right now.”
To the New York and Kentucky commissions who have begun investigations, spare us the false outrage. This is the racing you know, and have always known; embarrassment does not equate to caring. The truth is, you and your entire industry are every bit as corrupt as Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi. To Nehro and the other victims, we are sorry. But know this, we will not rest until this whole vile house of cards comes crumbling down.
I confess to not being interested in the perils of jockeyhood. It’s not that I don’t care about injured riders, just that what they do is entirely voluntary. Jockeys choose to risk life and limb for a paycheck; the horse, alas, has no such freedom. Equally true, and further debunking the jockey-racehorse-partnership myth, is that dinged up jockeys always garner press, their dead “teammates,” rarely.
And so it is that the Daily Racing Form recently (11/15/13) set out to chronicle 2013’s injured jocks, underscoring the profession’s “unforgiving” nature. The piece was typical DRF marketing fluff: Behold the jockey, our sport’s underappreciated hero. What did catch my attention, however, were the post-article comments from the mostly conditioned, often obtuse horseracing fans. A sampling:
“It really amazes me what jockeys experience on a daily basis. I cannot think of any other occupation – save those of soldiers, policemen and firemen – who risk their lives constantly.”
“Jockeys are such courageous athletes who deserve our respect and admiration for every day (morning, afternoon, and evening) that they get a leg up and risk their lives.”
“They earn the term survivor every day they ride.”
Soldiers. Policemen. Firemen. Jockeys? Courageous and deserving of respect and admiration are descriptions best reserved for people who contribute to the greater public good. Like the soldiers, policemen, and firemen. Jockeys are no more admirable than boxers and racecar drivers, and as whip-wielders, probably less so. Sometimes the racing people need to be called out on their, forgive the euphemism, nonessential matter from the horse’s digestive system.
In its Breeders’ Cup wrap-up (11/3/13), The New York Times used words like “awe-inspiring,” “breathtaking,” “beautiful,” and “thrilling” to describe the action. But, as indicated by the article’s title (“Moving Moments Send Shivers, Both Good and Bad”), there was a smattering of black (or red) in Santa Anita: Points Offthebench (dead), Centralinteligence (vanned off, had surgery), Secret Compass (dead).
The Times notes that Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Secret Compass’ trainer, “was visibly shaken by the death.” But I wonder, was the $200 million lifetime earner similarly affected when he lost seven horses to “Sudden Death Syndrome” – defined by the Los Angeles Times as “when a healthy horse, training or racing, returns to the barn and dies, inexplicably, within an hour” – in a recent 16-month period (Nov 2011 – Mar 2013)? Maybe, maybe not. But with 2-year-old Secret Compass having just won a $250,000 Grade 1 at Santa Anita in September and seemingly well on her way to a lucrative career, the guess here is that this one stung just a bit more.
Baffert, of course, recovered in plenty of time to enjoy two wins totaling $3.5 million later in the Breeders’ Cup day. Funny how money and adulation so quickly heal the wounds.
The trainer, following his BC Sprint victory with Secret Circle, just four hours after losing his other “Secret” to a broken leg…