A picture is said to be worth 1,000 words, but an undercover video released this week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) about the abuse of racehorses by one of the industry’s top trainers may be worth many times that.
PETA, which often goes to such extremes in denouncing animal abuse that its credibility is suspect, has been harping about the treatment of racehorses for years. Generally, those complaints have fallen on deaf ears. But now it has seeming evidence: a video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TJVA2lwW4A], made in part last year at Saratoga Race Course by a PETA employee, with conversations and images that are fairly shocking.
They focus on the operations of Steve Assmussen, one of the industry’s elite trainers and, until this week, a likely winner on this year’s Racing Hall of Fame ballot; his profane assistant trainer, Scott Blasi; various attending veterinarians and a jockey. And what they reveal is an alarming, win-at-any-cost attitude about the sport in which the animal’s well-being — indeed, its very life — barely seems to matter.
The horsemen openly acknowledge giving the horses drugs to make them run faster, to make them run despite pain; using electronic shock-wave therapy, despite knowing that it “hurts like hell”; making a jockey use a high-powered electrified crop; running a horse with a foot in “horrible” shape, etc. At one point, Blasi, who does most of the talking, admits, “You could not believe how many [horses] they hurt and kill before they ever even get to the racetrack.”
Racing and gaming officials in both New York and Kentucky — footage was also shot at famed Churchill Downs — expressed proper outrage at the video’s contents, and promised to conduct separate investigations. That’s good news, as long as they follow up in the weeks and months ahead and don’t do a whitewash. It’s going to be hard for the people in this video to explain away their words and apparent actions, but they certainly should be given a chance.
More important is what the video portends for the racing industry as a whole: If these attitudes and practices are pervasive, there may be no fixing it.