Running on Fumes: Reasons not to watch the Kentucky Derby this weekend


By Sammy Caiola

 Native Foods Cafe

The annual Kentucky Derby thoroughbred race is sometimes referred to as “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” for its approximate duration and level of energy. But for the horses on the roster, the two minutes on the track are just a fraction of the hours, months and sometimes years of pain endured in preparation for the brutal race.


This Saturday marks the 140th anniversary of the Kentucky Derby, which takes place each year at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. Novelized by wide-brimmed sun hats and trackside mint juleps, the Derby has long been considered a staple of the southern bourgeois. But Derby viewers, be they gamblers or casual attendees, are not simply watching a race- they’re enabling animal cruelty to a criminal degree.


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Just last month, champion racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen came under fire from media and gaming officials for rule and drug violations and severe mistreatment of his horses. Officials immediately removed Asmussen’s name from the Hall of Fame ballot and are currently conducting an investigation into allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).


This is immediately following the release of PETA's 9- 1/2 minute documentary, "Horse Racing Exposed: Drugs and Death", which they published after a multi-month investigation of Asmussen's training methods at Churchill Downs and in Saratoga. A PETA activist working as a training assistant brought a hidden camera into the stables and recorded Asmussen verbally and physically abusing the horses, including his star horse and derby contender Tapiture, who was "constantly getting injections of all kinds," said the activist.


Studies estimate that three thoroughbreds die every day in North America as a result of overtraining, performance enhancing drugs, neglected injuries or just plain slaughters. Horse's legs and ankles are not designed to support their 1,000 pound bodies at high speeds for long durations, so snapped tendons and hairline fractures are common. Injuries of this kind often go undetected until the horse shows a decline in performance, at which point the damage can be irreparable or very expensive to repair. Rather than pay the price, many trainers find a way to mask the injuries with drugs or, in the worst cases, dispose of decommissioned racers.


Horses have become a priced commodity in American culture, and once they lose their ability to turn a profit, they lose their right to live. And in order to keep them profitable trainers resort to unregulated drugs such as Lasix, which controls bleeding in the lungs, cortiscosteroids for pain and inflammation and, in one case, ecstasy. As John Scheinman of The Washington Post wrote in 2003, “Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,”


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Fortunately, steps are being taken. In a recent Interview with Newsday, PETA vice president Kathy Guillermo urged the need for more stringent drug regulations and improved course conditions. PETA is currently asking the Jockey Club to adopt a fee structure that would provide pillow money to help retire horses in pastures rather than slaughter them.

In reality, ending horse racing is not a possibility due to the thriving culture surrounding the race, particularly in the south. All we can do for now is discourage friends and family from patronizing such a culture, and support organizations like PETA who are attempting to give voice to the voiceless.


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