Trainer Steve Asmussen at the Rail, Belmont Park, 2011. Image source: Flickr.

Asmussen, the torture of racehorses and agonizing death of Nehro

Thoroughbred trainers Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi have been accused of cruelty to racehorses following an undercover investigation conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). No surprise there.

I believe that more investigations of this type would unearth equally sinister horrors committed by American Thoroughbred horse trainers and their staff.

The shocking abuses exposed in the Peta video excerpt (see below) sickened me to the point that I had to stop watching.

Among the racehorses involved was Nehro.

In his New York Times article Joe Drape tells us:

On the tapes, Blasi was a profane narrator to the murky goings-on at American racetracks and was often heard bemoaning the lame horses in his barn.

On April 17, 2013, only four days after Nehro finished fifth in an Arkansas race, Blasi and his blacksmith, along with other members of the Asmussen staff, discussed the horse’s tender feet and their efforts to keep them on the racetrack. In the video, the blacksmith pointed to Nehro’s right leg and said that it did not have a pulse and that one barely registered in his left.[1]

Drape reveals more:

The horse was clearly uncomfortable as they poked at what they described as “a hole right through that sore right there.”

“His foot is a little bitty nub,” said the blacksmith, who was identified as “Dave” in the investigation.

On the recording, Blasi acknowledged how much Nehro hurt. Still, the horse continued to train. On the morning of last year’s Kentucky Derby, Nehro got sick on the backside of Churchill Downs. Asmussen later said that the horse died from colic in a van on the way to the hospital. [2]

Owner Ahmed Zayat kisses his favorite horse Nehro. Photo: ESPN.
Owner Ahmed Zayat kisses his favorite horse Nehro. Photo: ESPN.

Blood-Horse Staff reported this about the death of Nehro in May of 2013:

Nehro, Zayat Stables’ runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), died of colic May 4 while en route to a clinic.

In training with Steve Asmussen at Churchill Downs, the 5-year-old horse fell ill the morning of May 4. According to the trainer, his condition “spiraled badly.”

“I can’t put into words how much respect I have for Nehro,” Asmussen said. ” He was loved by everyone around the barn. What a cool horse. Quality animal. Just a horrible, horrible deal.”

“I am deeply saddened,” owner Ahmed Zayat said. “Nehro was my favorite horse, whom I had a deep bond with. Everyone who came into contact with this horse loved him. He cannot be replaced, and I’m devastated.”


Along with his second by a three-quarters of a length to Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby, Nehro finished a close runner-up in the grade I Arkansas Derby, grade II Louisiana Derby, and grade III Pimlico Special Stakes.[3]

From the above you can trace the slow decline of Nehro. Now we know why. It makes one wonder what excuses the Asmussen camp made to Zayat about Nehro’s performances.

Eric Mitchell of the Blood-Horse writes:

Ahmed Zayat, the owner of Nehro—a bay colt [who] died of colic in 2013 after Blasi had admitted to gluing [his] hooves in the video—and 16 other horses in Asmussen’s care, is upset, telling Bossert: “I feel like I was duped. I never knew anything like this was going on.” [4]

Not to be over critical of Mr Zayat who clearly loved Nehro, but isn’t it the responsibility of owners to know what is going on with their horses.

Owners are often overlooked or excluded when trainers and occasionally veterinarians are charged with doping, abusing and causing the death of racehorses. For example, do owners ever take even a cursory look at their training bills and wonder why they are so high in the drug column, or ask about the types of treatments being given?

Zayat is on the alert now. According to an article for the Blood-Horse by Ron Mitchell and Ron LaMarra:

Prominent owner Zayat Stables has directed the scratching of all of the stable’s horses entered for this weekend’s races under the name of trainer Steve Asmussen. [5]

Rachel Alexandra after winning the Lady's Secret in 103 degree heat at Monmouth. She would race one more time. Photo: Flickr.
Rachel Alexandra after winning the Lady’s Secret in 103 degree heat at Monmouth. She would race one more time. Photo by Elaine K on Flickr.

Asmussen also trained Rachel Alexandra. This is an example of how Asmussen handled this beloved and exemplary mare. On July 24, 2010:

Rachel Alexandra did her job. She showed up Saturday, battled the oppressive heat, won the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth Park and even put a few extra fans in the seats. Despite temperatures that reached 103 degrees on the Jersey Shore, 12,859 turned out for the chance to see one of racing’s most popular horses.

Rachel Alexandra did not deliver the sort of dazzling performance many have come to expect. Nearly a year after she defeated males to win the Haskell Invitational here by six lengths, Rachel Alexandra needed some urging from jockey Calvin Borel to get past the recent allowance winner Queen Martha in the stretch to win the Lady’s Secret by three lengths.

They blamed the racecourse for not cancelling the race because they had lots of tee-shirts promised to paying fans. Incidentally, not far away Philadelphia Park and Delaware Park cancelled their programs because of the heat. [6]

The Lady’s Secret turned out to be Rachel Alexandra’s penultimate race. Her final race was at Saratoga on August 29, 2010 where she finished second in the Personal Ensign Stakes. Rachel was retired the following month on September 28, 2010. She was sent to the shed in 2011 to begin her career as a broodmare.

We rail against the trainers who sore Tennessee Walking Horses, torturing their forelegs and feet in order to accentuate their gait for competition. Witnesses say you can hear them crying and moaning, and some beaten to get them to their feet.

At long last, what goes on in a Thoroughbred racing training barn is now being exposed. But forget about horse racing looking into the Asmussen/Blasi allegations. Look how they handle doping and cheating. Asmussen and Blasi should be arrested, just like any other animal abuser. It makes you want to spew up.

There is something sinfully wrong in any culture that tolerates this type of brutish treatment of innocent animals for the purposes of entertainment or to win prizes and money.

Well, horse racing has taken a baby step in the right direction.

The New York Daily News reports that racing’s Hall of Fame has removed Steve Asumussen from the ballot since the Peta cruelty allegations were reported.

While they are at it, they ought to investigate some of the dopestrong trainers they have already enshrined there. No doubt they would find equally despicable behaviors among them. Do we really need to make a list of them? Here’s a hint. Start in California.


[2] Same as at 1.

14 thoughts on “Asmussen, the torture of racehorses and agonizing death of Nehro”

  1. Concuerdo totalmente con la investigación de cómo estrenan a un caballo, de lo que realmente pasa en los establos, lucran y exprimen a los caballos de carreras desde los 2 años corriendo incluso hasta caer muertos y si resultan excelentes corredores son usados y abusados como sementales. ¿Por qué no se hace autopsia de los caballos ? ¿ No resulta sospechoso la cantidad de caballos “muertos por cólicos” ¿y los dueños no hacen nada? Es un asco todo, solía ver carreras de caballos; ahora ya no. Y no soy la única.


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