Eight Belles — racing 10 years on

Horse in profile silhouetted against a night sky. Unattributed Google search image.


The Kentucky Derby this Saturday marks the tenth anniversary of the catastrophic breakdown of Eight Belles. Racing with the boys, she crossed the wire 4 ¾ lengths behind Big Brown, finishing second – the first filly since 1999 to run in the Derby — only to collapse with two shattered ankles and be euthanized on the track.

Memories of Barbaro’s anguishing ordeal, fresh in the minds of racing fans and the death of another horse on Kentucky Oaks day, cast a pall over North America’s most celebrated racing event and raised questions about the safety of horse racing.

Immediately the racing industry responded with the notion that more uniform regulations regarding equine health standards and drug use should be a top priority.

Ten long years and what has improved? Nothing.

Year after year, the industry holds conference after conference claiming that they are moving towards improved safety standards. Sadly, the efforts of the few that do care and want change, are lost to the greed of the rest.

These innocent souls are sacrificed to casino profits, allowance races, graded and graded stakes races and when they fail, relegated to claiming races and the slaughterhouse. It is estimated that 20% of slaughtered horses in North America are thoroughbreds — some picked up by the meat man at the track and sold by unscrupulous trainers and owners after a bad race, without a hope of finding a home. Disposed as garbage. Just throw-away items.

In fact, it seems the opposite to what the racing industry claims has happened.

The transparency, if there ever was any, is gone.

The doping continues, the trainers and veterinarians are one step ahead of the newest drug testing, the records available about trainer infractions are incomplete where serious penalties are hidden from the public, statistics only report deaths if a horse dies during a race, and horses, despite what the industry claims, continue to die in record numbers, all hidden from the public’s view.

All of this is a cover up, blatant lies, to attempt to convince everyone that the industry is above board.

Horse racing is a cruel, predatory business. You bet, they die.


Eight Belles

“She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles.” Blaming the breeders and investors, sports writer Sally Jenkins claimed,”thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it.”

Thoroughbred Racehorses

“Our horses are sick. Our thoroughbreds are thoroughly inbred. They are locomotives sitting atop toothpicks. They are fragile and friable, designed to run but not to recover from running. And each time they break down or wear out, we chalk it up to an individual horse’s shortcomings, rather than the decades-long decline of the entire breeding industry”.  — Barry Petchesky (Deadspin)

Insightful Perspective

“What he liked about horse racing was the minimal investment and the high returns. He didn’t mind horses at all; they were easy on the eyes and exciting to watch.”

“The horse industry in general was a zero-waste proposition: this was one animal you could take from birth, exploit all its qualities – speed, strength, tractability – through breeding, racing, eventing, caléche or companion service, and then profit from its flesh when it had outlived its usefulness.”

From the Book, GROUND MANNERS, A NOVEL, by Cynthia D’Errico »

Related Reading

More by Jane Allin including the groundbreaking The Chemical Horse »

Racehorse Memorial Wall Worldwide, began 2005 »

Horse Racing Wrongs, began 2014 »

©The Horse Fund

Frog juice drug resurfaces at Louisiana racetracks; vet charged

Waxy tree monkey. Getty images.

BATON ROUGE, LA — Do you remember the Louisiana trainers that were busted for giving racehorses the illegal drug Dermorphin? Well, they’ve been at it again. Only this time the racetrack vet is taking the fall and has reportedly been charged along with a healthcare company.

ABC via the Associated Press reports:

A Louisiana veterinarian has been charged with engaging in a scheme to influence the outcome of horse races by illegally treating the animals with a synthetic version of a drug known as “frog juice.”

The federal indictment accuses the veterinarian, Kyle James Hebert, of providing trainers with syringes of dermorphin to inject the painkiller in at least four horses that competed at Louisiana racetracks. The indictment returned Thursday by a grand jury in the Western District of Louisiana says Hebert told trainers that the mislabeled drug would make the horses “focus” and run faster.

Dermorphin, an opioid roughly 30 times more potent than morphine, is naturally secreted by tree frogs native to South America. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any drug containing dermorphin for use in humans or animals.

Hebert’s company, Southern Equine Sports Medicine, operated veterinary clinics in Lake Charles and Sunset. The indictment charges him and an Omaha, Nebraska-based company, Kohll’s Pharmacy & Healthcare Inc., with conspiracy.

Hebert is licensed to practice veterinary medicine at racetracks by the Louisiana State Racing Commission. In 2012, the commission sanctioned nine trainers whose horses tested positive for dermorphin. Read more »

When the story on doping racehorses with “frog juice” originally broke in June 2012, more than 40 horses from four states had tentatively tested positive for the Dermorphin. More cases appeared as testing was tweaked to enhance detection.

The horse racing industry refused to take any sort of real action against it leaving it up to individual racecourse jurisdictions to deal with it.

Then the Dermorphin problem appears to have gone underground — until now.

Drugging racehorses is as old as horse racing itself when it comes to American trainers. Over the years, laboratories have detected everything from cocaine to viagra to heroin.

Jane Allin writes in Part 2: Historical Perspectives — The Chemical Horse:

“Perhaps the greatest significance to the racehorse doping trend in the United States is the story of American trainer Jack Keene, who traveled overseas in quest of reaping the rewards of junked-up racehorses.”

But Keene was caught and banned. So he returned home.

“Unable to race horses in Europe, and now banned from racing horses in Russia, Keene soon returned home to Kentucky and his family farm — Keeneland — where he laid out the track that bears his name, and helped build Lexington into the influential Thoroughbred racehorse breeding and sales center it is today”.

Pacific Magazine, reporting on the history of doping in horse racing writes:

Barry Irwin, a prominent owner in today’s racing game, said in an interview that he will never forget something Harthill once told him: “Even though a horse is five or seven times larger than humans, the amount of dope needed to have an effect is so small. An amount on the tip of a match would be enough to flick up a horse’s nose to get a spectacular result.”

Spectacular result. That about says it all doesn’t it?



Paulick Report

Louisiana Appeals Court upholds 2012 Dermorphin penalties; Dec. 10, 2014

Tuesday’s Horse

• Quarter Horse trainer Bassett banned 10 years for frog juice; Sept 24, 2012

• Louisiana Racing Commission to meet late Sept on dermorphin cases; Sept 12, 2012

• New Mexico: Tests confirm dermorphin positives; Aug 31, 2012

• Dermorphin use now suspected in Nebraska racehorse; Aug 20, 2012

• Horse given exotic painkiller breaks down at New Mexico racetrack; Aug 18, 2012

New York Times

• Turning to frogs for illegal aid horse racing; Jun 19, 2012


Delta Downs stewards make first ruling stemming from dermorphin outbreak; Jun 19, 2012




Tricks of the Trade: How EPO is used for blood-doping a horse

Cross-posted from The Paulick Report »


Profile of racehorses leaving the gate. Google image.

Erythropoietin is a hormone produced naturally by the kidney that helps regulate the production of red blood cells. Epogen is a drug developed by scientists in the 1980s to treat human diseases like anemia, where red blood cell counts are insufficiently low.

Epogen, or EPO for short, quickly found its way into human sports as the blood-doping drug of choice. The drug, which rose to prominence alongside anabolic steroids in the 1990s, rendered many Olympics results suspicious and carried now-disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to unprecedented success in the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005 (though he has been stripped of those titles for cheating).

Increasing red blood cells has been a goal in horse racing, too, through conventional treatments like vitamin and mineral supplements as well as illegal methods similar to human sports.

Epogen has been brought illegally into horse racing but no one knows how widespread its use has been. There is anecdotal information suggesting the winners of some of horse racing’s biggest events, dating back to the early 1990s, may have been treated regularly with EPO.

In human sports, a number of athletes paid the ultimate price for cheating. Published reports document the sudden deaths of dozens of young, otherwise healthy athletes who were suspected of blood-doping with EPO in the late 1980s and ‘90s. The drug increases blood viscosity and can lead to myocarditis, stroke, or heart attack.

How is EPO used in horses?

Continue reading at The Paulick Report to find out »

The Breeders’ Cup: From the track at Keeneland to a committee in Kentucky on the use of Lasix


Use of Lasix

Kentucky committee consider rules allowing Lasix free races
Cross-posted from the Daily Racing Form

A racehorse steps onto the track during training. Image by Clarence Alford.
Image by Clarence Alford.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is scheduled to consider a rule next week that would allow tracks to write races that prohibit the use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide within 24 hours of post time, according to material distributed by Kentucky horsemen’s groups.

The rule, which will be considered during a Rules Committee meeting scheduled for Monday, is nearly identical to an amendment brought before the committee last August. The committee voted 4-1 to table the proposal at that time, and it was not resurrected after that vote.

The rule “authorizes licensed racing associations to require adherence to the International Medication Protocol,” which the rule later defines as prohibiting the administration of furosemide within 24 hours of a race. It is currently legal in all U.S. racing jurisdictions to administer furosemide, also known as Lasix, four hours prior to a race.

Furosemide, Lasix, Salix bottles. Google image.
Google image.

On Thursday morning, the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which has adamantly opposed any prohibition on the race-day use of furosemide in the past, distributed petitions via e-mail to its members in opposition to the new rule. The e-mail states that “it is suspected that this is a precursor to running the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Lasix-free.”

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup event is scheduled for Oct. 30-31 at Keeneland in Lexington. Members of Keeneland’s board of directors have supported efforts to prohibit the race-day use of Lasix in the past.

Craig Fravel, the president of the Breeders’ Cup, said in an e-mailed statement that “the subject of medication at the 2015 Breeders’ Cup has not been discussed by the Breeders’ Cup board,” and added that “we are supportive of Keeneland’s position on the proposed regulation.”

The Breeders’ Cup ran the 2012 and 2013 events with a ban on race-day Lasix in its races for 2-year-olds, but a plan to expand the rule to all of the organization’s races was scrapped between the 2012 and 2013 events, and the ban on Lasix use in the 2-year-old races was rolled back shortly thereafter. Read full report »

Racing Surface at Keeneland

As mentioned, Keeneland will host the 2015 Breeders’ Cup.

For years Keeneland’s polytrack surface was one the safest tracks for horses to race on (by U.S. standards).

Keeneland reverted to dirt in order to attract the Breeders’ Cup.

Wise Dan wins the Ben Ali, 2012.  Keeneland / Coady Photography.
Wise Dan wins the Ben Ali, 2012. Keeneland / Coady Photography.

Top money winning trainers say they prefer dirt because it “runs faster”.

Many bettors here and in the national simulcast market proclaimed their dislike for handicapping Polytrack races. Aah, poor things sitting on their stools in the dark peering at big screens risking their cash while the horses are out running on dangerous tracks risking life and limb.

Wise Dan, the two-time reigning Horse of the Year has trained over the Keeneland Polytrack his entire career.

“I really don’t understand why they’re doing it,” said Charlie LoPresti, the trainer of Wise Dan. “We know the track is safe; all reports have been that breakdowns are fewer. It’s kept a two-time Horse of the Year sound, I know that.”


The problems contributing to the continuing deterioration of the U.S. horse racing industry is a maze of complex, inter-related and overlapping symptoms for which there appears to be no cure. There is certainly no one quick fix.

What American racing halfheartedly offers up as a fix from time to time usually has an agenda attached to it and not really a serious attempt at change at all. All you have to do is take a look at the timing.

In this case the agenda is the Breeders’ Cup. There is a lot of prestige and money at stake. Ego and money, the great motivators.

The tragic victims in all of this of course are the vast number of horses that racing breeds, abuses, mutilates and destroys along the way.

Think of Pine Island, George Washington, Barbaro and Eight Belles. Each of their public breakdowns and deaths were heralded as the one that would finally make horse racing mend its way. But they haven’t. They still haven’t.


1. The name Salix / Lasix are used interchangeably for furosemide. Furosemide is a loop diuretic used in the treatment of congestive heart failure and edema. U.S. horse racing states it is used to prevent exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (or bleeding in the airways following exertion).

Along with other diuretics, furosemide is included on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned drug list due to its alleged use as a masking agent for other drugs.

In virtually every major racing jurisdiction outside the U.S. furosemide has either never been allowed or banned outright, not just on raceday. This has neither endangered the health and safety of racehorses nor hampered competition. The use of Lasix should be banned. Period.


“So Salix leaches calcium from the bones and bute aids and abets the outcome. Great combination if you are Gumby’s sidekick Pokey, the talking red horse with rubber legs.” — JANE ALLIN (Quote from 2. below)

1. Drugs and Horse Racing — Shades of Grey and Triangle of Deceit; by Jane Allin; The Horse Fund

2. Forgotten Side of the Salix Debate: The Calcium Connection Part 1, Part 2; by Jane Allin; The Horse Fund

3. The Chemical Horse, Part 8: The Unclassifieds — Lasix and Milkshakes; by Jane Allin; The Horse Fund

4. “The Ugly Truth About Horse Racing“; by Andrew Cohen; The Atlantic