Everyone who knows us knows we are no fans of Thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert. He is a cheater, a liar and a doper.
I had written a dear colleague a day or so ago stating it is my opinion that when all is said and done, Baffert’s Triple Crown Winner, Justify, would go down in history with an asterisk by his name, marking that the horse had won during the Chemical Age, and his victory would count for little. The next day she wrote back saying, did you see this . . . . ?
“On June 9, 2018, a colt named Justify thundered home to the full-throated cheers of a capacity crowd to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes and claim horse racing’s Triple Crown, one of the most storied achievements in sports.
“It was the perfect ending to an improbable journey for a talented horse, his eclectic ownership group, and his Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert.
“Only a few people, however, knew the secret that Baffert carried with him into the winner’s circle that day: Justify had failed a drug test weeks before the first race in the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. That meant Justify should not have run in the Derby, if the sport’s rules were followed.”
“. . . . if the sport’s rules were followed.” But they don’t follow the rules, do they? And in the case of Justify’s doping prior to the Derby, documents reviewed by The New York Times show they did not enforce the rules in the case of Baffert and his horse.
“Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the results. Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system.
“Only a handful of racing officials and people connected to Justify knew about the failed drug test, which occurred April 7, 2018, after Justify won the Santa Anita Derby. He tested positive for the drug scopolamine, a banned substance that veterinarians say can enhance performance, especially in the amount that was found in the horse.
“Justify was undefeated at the time, but he still needed to finish first or second in the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, on May 5. While the colt won at Santa Anita, the failed drug test would mean disqualification and forfeiture of both the prize money and the entry into the Kentucky Derby that came with the victory.”
“None of that happened, though.
“Test results, emails and internal memorandums in the Justify case show how California regulators waited nearly three weeks, until the Kentucky Derby was only nine days away, to notify Baffert that his Derby favorite had failed a doping test.”
The rest of the article talks about the actions the California Horse Racing Board took, or perhaps I should say didn’t take. Interestingly, “The chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, Chuck Winner, owns an interest in horses trained by Baffert. Two other board members employ trainers and jockeys they regulate.” It is an incestuous business.
Insofar as the drug itself, “Scopolamine cases have resulted in disqualifications, purse reimbursements, fines and suspensions over the decades.” Not it seems, however, if it is used by Bob Baffert.
Justify was “retired” almost immediately following the Triple Crown and shipped off to stud. What about Justify’s Triple Crown? Bring on the asterisk.
In the meantime. . . .
Horse racing is gambled on. Horse doping is race fixing. How this so called “sport” is still running is criminal in every sense of the word in my view and should be banned from being gambled on, which would sink the industry. More on that in another post.
It has been called “The Deadliest Horse Race in the World”.
Each year in mid summer, a small town in Eastern Washington State, called Omak, proudly promotes an event named “The World Famous Suicide Race,” considered the marquee event at the four-day Omak Stampede rodeo.
Omak straddles the border of the Colville Reservation, home of almost every racer, horse owner, and trainer.
Town officials claim this event (created as a draw for the town’s annual rodeo) is a celebration of history and tradition. In reality, it’s murder on horses. The race seriously injures and kills horses.
Over a span of four days and nights, riders repeatedly run their horses off Suicide Hill with a 120-foot galloping start. At breakneck speed, the horses then meet the Okanogan River. Entry into the river is narrow, causing bottlenecks and horrendous multiple-horse spills. Horse and rider then face a treacherous and often panicked swim about the length of a football field to reach the other side. The final grueling sprint is a 500-foot uphill climb to the finish line.
Always the second weekend in August, each race awards five points to the first-place finisher, four to the second, and so on; the overall winner clinches the King of the Hill title on Sunday.
FIRST LEG — DOWNHILL DEATH DROP
Anyone who has ever watched a Western movie will have noticed that when a horse is asked by his rider to carry him down a steep decline, even in hot pursuit, how carefully the horse proceeds, measuring every step.
After a galloping start in the Omak Suicide Race, horses are whipped to make them “charge” down “Suicide Hill” an almost complete vertical drop of approximately 225 feet at a 62 degree angle, much like a steep staircase.
Studies carried out regarding equine vision show that because of the position of the horse’s eyes, which are set wide apart on either side of the head, there is blind spot directly in front of the forehead. Researchers believe that this “blind field” is the width of the horse.
This means when a horse is catapulted down a sharp decline such as “Suicide Hill” he cannot judge where to land his feet and will not realize where the ground is until it comes rushing up beneath him. Horses are also known to lose their footing and somersault head over heel down the hill.
Since he cannot see the horses ahead of him he may crash into them. Others trip over or collide with falling horses.
The numerous any injuries that occur in pile ups on Suicide Hill are the leading cause of death in the Omak Suicide Race. These include a broken leg, fractured knee, fractured pelvis, broken shoulder, and heart attacks from overexertion. It is also a mentally terrifying experience for the horse.
The above are not only expected in the Omak Suicide Race, but also heralded as part of the excitement.
SECOND LEG — THE SWIM
At the bottom of the downhill death dash, the horses who have survived the first leg are immediately faced with the rocky Okanogan River and a frenzied swim across it.
Horses who have already sustained injuries, panic or get caught up in the reins, and drown. Some horses land in the rocky waters sideways having lost their balance and direction, and in an attempt to right themselves so they can swim, wrench their necks and backs, sustaining further trauma.
Horses are not natural swimmers and tend to panic temporarily when they cannot immediately feel the ground beneath them.
When horses swim they will employ a trotting motion and “a breathing pattern characterized by brief inspiration and prolonged expiration.” The difficulty in breathing when swimming is probably due to the pressure applied to the chest and abdomen of the horse by the water and the fact that the horse does not have the rhythm of body and abdominal movements that serve to help the breathing process” when he is on land.
“[It] should be noted that swimming also results in relatively high blood pressures compared with galloping and that some horses have experienced nose bleeding after bout(s) of swimming. As such, swimming is not recommended for horses with respiratory disease and it is also contraindicated in horses with back injuries.”
Because there is no support from the ground and there is little or no resistance from the water, the amount of energy required to move forward in the water is significantly greater than that required to move forward on land. It takes approximately four complete swimming strokes to cover the same distance as one galloping stride on land. Based on this approximately 500 yards is about equal to a one mile gallop.
As stated before, notwithstanding the physical dangers, the experience is mentally harrowing for the horse.
THIRD AND FINAL LEG — THE UPHILL SPRINT
Already terrified, exhausted and possibly injured, the horses face the third and final leg of the Omak Suicide Race which is a punishing and backbreaking uphill sprint.
When a horse’s gait quickens to a gallop, his breathing is linked to the rhythm of his hoof beats. During high-intensity exercise, this rhythmic breathing lowers oxygen intake, producing a buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration, causing fatigue and cramping, much like when a human athlete gets a “stitch.”
To bring the body back to normal, CO2 moves to the bloodstream and is expelled from the lungs. Lactic acid is neutralized in various organs, including muscles. With continuous overexertion, the recovery process is disturbed. In this situation, acid buildup, called acidosis, further reduces oxygen flow to the muscles, creating long-lasting fatigue — and [permanent] muscle damage.
The Omak Suicide Race takes place in four heats over four days.
Like humans, horses are imprinted with every experience they have encountered since birth. They are highly sensitive, instinctual animals, and much like us, think about not only what they have been through but also about what they may be about to endure.
Horses have sharper and broader hearing ranges than humans. Loud noises are painful to a horse’s ears. Their sense of smell is also acute. Horses sense or “smell” the fear in other horses, which further perpetuates their own.
Their sensitivity to sound and smells is why they become hard to handle when they are subjected to surroundings and activities they are unaccustomed to and receiving conflicting messages from their senses. The tumult of such an occasion as the Omak Suicide Race must be an assault on their senses that is debilitating and petrifying.
MARKETING GIMMICK OR TRADITION?
First run in 1935, the Suicide Race was the brainchild of Claire Pentz, publicity chairman for the Stampede, after failing to attract big crowds with boxing, trained zebras and stock car racing.
Stampede organizers currently contend that the Suicide Race has roots in Native American tradition and claim it is a customary rite-of-passage, but as you just read, an Anglo conceived the race as a publicity stunt.
The race wasn’t the only thing “created” by white man; the very invention of a Colville Tribes unit is recent.
The races that used to occur among Native tribes of the area were longer-distance, cross-country races on horses bred to thrive on the hard, rocky, desert terrain of Eastern Washington. This is not comparable to flinging a long-legged thoroughbred or quarter horse down a 62-degree slope in the dark of night.
A native rite-of-passage traditionally refers to a ritual or ceremony indicating the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Historically, Suicide Race rider’s ages range from 18 to well into the 30’s. Many have ridden in the race year after year seeking cash and popularity, not cultural fulfillment.
Animals 24-7 report that at least two horses died in the 2018 Omak Suicide race, bringing the known toll since 1983 to 25, “with many more suspected but undocumented”, and no record existing of injuries and deaths from the first “Suicide Race” in 1935 through 1982.
IT JUST WON’T STOP
PeTA has run letter-writing campaigns. HSUS has documented it but unable to accomplish anything past that. That was dangerous enough.
In 1993, the Northwest’s PAWS, or Progressive Animal Welfare Society, tried a more robust tactic, filing a lawsuit that alleged organizers harm horses for profit, but a Superior Court judge threw out the case. In 1996, a PAWS member sued the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office and the rodeo for roughing him up when he videotaped a horse being euthanized; the suit settled for $64,500.
From 2005 to 2009 The Horse Fund ran a campaign to end the Omak Suicide Race, initially focusing on its sponsors. When they went away, Omak got more. Our investigators were harassed, hotel rooms broken into and trashed. Mrs. Farrell received numerous death threats, all which were reported. Not a single law enforcement agency took it seriously — or took any action.
That was then. This is now. Social media has revolutionized advocacy. There have also been changes (for the better) in the law. We are prepared to take this on once again. And we will win — for the horses.
WHAT ABOUT TRADITION?
No caring society subjects another living being to such blatant cruelty and death in the name of culture or entertainment.
There comes a time when we as a people must move forward, and leave behind those acts and events unacceptable in a civilized society, regardless of how steeped in tradition. In this case the tradition so-called is manufactured tradition and means nothing to anyone at all.
Horses forced to take part in the Omak Stampede’s Suicide Race suffer enormous physical pain and suffering by way of broken bones, irreparable tendon damage from falls and collisions, and long-term muscle damage from overexertion. “Suicide horses” die from broken necks, strokes, heart attacks and gruesomely by drowning.
These horses do not participate willingly. It is not their intention to suffer. It is not their intention to die.
Gene doping seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. Including ours.
I decided to do a quick search, and I came across the following abstract from May 30, 2017:
“EQUINE PERFORMANCE AND THE FUTURE OF DOPING IN HORSERACING
“A horse’s success on the racetrack is determined by genetics, training and nutrition, and their translation into physical traits such as speed, endurance and muscle strength. Advances in genetic technologies are slowly explaining the roles of specific genes in equine performance, and offering new insights into the development of novel therapies for diseases and musculoskeletal injuries that cause early retirement of many racehorses.
“Gene therapy approaches may also soon provide new means to artificially enhance the physical performance of racehorses. Gene doping, the misuse of gene therapies for performance enhancement, is predicted to be the next phase of doping faced by horseracing.
“The risk of gene doping to human sports has been recognised for almost 15 years, and the introduction of the first gene doping detection tests for doping control in human athletes is imminent. Gene doping is also a threat to horseracing, but there are currently no methods to detect it.
“Efficient and accurate detection methods need to be developed to deter those looking to use gene doping in horses and to maintain the integrity of the sport. Methods developed for human athletes could offer an avenue for detection in racehorses. Development of an equine equivalent test will first require identification of equine genes that will likely be targeted by gene doping attempts.
“This review focuses on genes that have been linked to athletic performance in horses and, therefore, could be targeted for genetic manipulation.”
The risk of gene doping to human sports has been recognised for almost 15 years, and the introduction of the first gene doping detection tests for doping control in human athletes is imminent. Gene doping is also a threat to horseracing, but there are currently no methods to detect it.
” . . . no methods to detect it”. Is this where American horse racing is heading? Perhaps they are already there. That abstract is from more than two years ago.
In the meantime, until we learn more, what does this mean concerning the Horse Racing Integrity Act — H.R.1754 — which The Horse Fund is currently neutral on? Is this on the bill’s radar, or purposely left off?
As we mentioned in a previous post, H.R. 1754 gave us a fox and henhouse vibe, so we turned it over to a couple of experts to review, one in horse racing and one in legislation.
In the meantime, for kicks, I also did a quick dictionary search for “gene doping”. By definition gene doping is:
the transfer of genes or genetically modified cells into an individual as a potential method for illicitly enhancing athletic performance
That’s clear enough. But you know how a dictionary gives you a sample use of the word? Look at the sample they gave:
“rules against gene doping might be difficult to enforce”
I bet! And won’t horse racing just love that.
“a form of drug abuse in sport in which genetic material is injected into muscle to enhance performance or stimulate muscle growth”
What won’t these people do?
WHAT A CIRCUS
I have noticed a few articles lately comparing the demise after 146 years of “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, to the future demise of horse racing. Millions believed that Ringling’s show would “go on” no matter how many animal rights activists worked against it.
The bad news for American horse racing is the cruelty and death associated with it has caught the public’s imagination plus the animal rights’ activists. They hate both what they are seeing, and what they are hearing. And they don’t seem to be going away.
How long will it take to reach tipping point? I don’t know. But what about American horse racing? How concerned are they?
Typically, they are making a few noises here and there, because they have to. However, it’s pretty much business as usual. You see. They are so blinkered with arrogance, they can’t see the elephant in the room.
“(3) equines raised in the United States are frequently treated with drugs, including phenybutazone, acepromazine, boldenone undecylenate, omeprazole, ketoprofen, xyalzine, hyaluronic acid, nitrofurazone, polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, clenbuterol, tolazoline, and ponazuril, which are not approved for use in horses intended for human consumption and equine parts are therefore unsafe within the meaning of section 512 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act;”
After looking at the drugs cited, I began to wonder how many of them are commonly used in horse racing since racehorses are given a laundry list of drugs while training and racing. Here are the drugs mentioned in H.R. 961 in order of reference. The ones with checkmarks are used in racehorses. You will be seeing a lot of checkmarks.
• phenybutazone (analygesic, painkiller) ✓
• acepromazine (tranquilizer, phenothiazine derivative, decreases dopamine levels and depresses some portions of the reticular activating system) ✓
“In horses, the drug depresses the central nervous system and slows the respiratory rate; it is also a partial heart block,” Paulick Report, February 12, 2019
• hyaluronic acid (used to treat equine inflammation; helps delay onset of osteoarthritis in racehorses) ✓
• nitrofurazone (antibiotic treatment for surface bacterial infections of wounds, burns, and cutaneous ulcers for use on large animals such as horses; has been linked to cancer in humans) ✓
“Backstreet Bully was unloaded from a trailer after dawn and led by his halter into an abattoir in rural Quebec. Once owned and raced by Magna’s Frank Stronach, the chestnut thoroughbred was to be slaughtered then packaged for human food.”
• polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, marketed as Adequan (used for the intramuscular treatment of non-infectious degenerative and/or traumatic joint dysfunction and associated lameness of the carpal and hock joints in horses) ✓
• clenbuterol (a bronchodilator that is helpful for horses with heaves, an inflammatory condition that causes the airways to constrict) ✓
Banned in Quarter Horse racing in 2017; last year, the CHRB determined that “It can still be used for health reasons. However, it cannot be administered so close to a race that it can be detected in samples. [Arthur]* said the normal clearance time is three weeks to a month. See “CHRB Moves To Ban Presence Of Clenbuterol On Race Day”, Paulick Report, Oct. 26, 2018
• tolazoline (A vasodilator that apparently has direct actions on blood vessels and also increases cardiac output) ✓
• ponazuril (used for the treatment of equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), a debilitating neurological disease) — all horses
* * * * *
Meat derived from horses treated with any of the drugs mentioned bars them from entering the human food chain. It is immoral and unethical to continue slaughtering American horses for human consumption, including the racehorse.