Horse Racing Exposed: Drugs, Deception, and Death

Update: As a result of our undercover investigation, Ahmed Zayat, the owner of Nerho (the horse in our video whose feet were so sore it hurt him even to stand and who died on the day of the Kentucky Derby last year), has pulled all his horses from Asmussen’s training facility.

Originally posted on March 24, 2014: 

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.

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.

thyrozine-powder

  • 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.

FINAL_2013-04-23_1_Freeze firing marks on Macho Macho_IMG_0065 (2)

  • 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.

Many of Steve Asmussen’s employees were exploited and worked long hours, for which it appears that no overtime was paid. Many were undocumented and were reportedly issued fake Social Security Cards by Asmussen’s team, and because of their status some slept in barns.

You Can Help Stop This!

We’re working for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act—a federal bill that would put the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency—the same agency that investigated Lance Armstrong—in charge of the drug enforcement in horse racing.

You can help by contacting your U.S. representative and senators at 202-224-3121 or at House.gov and Senate.gov and asking them to support the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2012. And of course, never go to or bet on horse races.