Racehorse reality: Video

Thoroughbred racehorse Nehro. By Rob Carr, Getty Images.

Before you hit the play button be warned there is a lot of swearing, particularly the F bomb.

The content is shocking, then it is not. Hearing about it is one thing. Seeing it is quite another.

In the meantime, backstretch workers have been portrayed since the coronavirus crisis as a bunch of great guys hunkering down with their families at the track, taking care of the horses until better times, trapped heroes. And who’s to say there aren’t some good among them? But we imagine the good ones don’t last long.

This video is sure to open a lot more eyes than any words of ours, or anyone else’s for that matter. Try to watch it all the way through. We know. It’s hard going.

Graphic Content

What racing is like from the horses point of view. Don’t like it, don’t watch.

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Featured Image

Nehro finished 2nd to Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby, 7 May 2011. Two years later, the 5-year-old horse fell ill the morning of May 4. According to the trainer, his condition “spiraled badly.” Nehro reportedly died of colic on his way to a clinic. Read more »

Related Reading

Asmussen, the torture of racehorses and agonizing death of Nehro, Tuesday’s Horse, 22 March 2014.

Asmussen hires assistant trainer Blassi back, by Joe Drape, New York Times, 20 July 2014.

Cohen: The ugly truth about horse racing

at Churchill Downs Wednesday, May 4, 2011, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Cross-posted from The Atlantic


There are essentially three types of people in horse racing.

There are the crooks who dangerously drug or otherwise abuse their horses, or who countenance such conduct from their agents, and who then dare the industry to come catch them. Then there are the dupes who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest. And there are those masses in the middle—neither naive nor cheaters but rather honorable souls—who know the industry is more crooked than it ought to be but who still don’t do all they can to fix the problem.

The first category, the cheaters, are a small, feral minority still large enough to stain the integrity of the sport for everyone else. The second category, the innocents, also a small group, are more or less hopeless—if they haven’t figured out by now they are being wronged they likely never will. So it is from the third category of horsemen and horsewomen, the far-too-silent majority, the good people who see wrong but won’t give their all to right it, where serious reform must come if the sport is to survive and thrive.

And that’s why exposés about the abuse of racehorses, like the one posted last week by Joe Drape in The New York Times, are so important. They don’t aim to offer salvation to the unholy or to rouse the ignorant from their slumber. They speak directly instead to the many good and honest people in horse racing whose consciences are still in play. And they say to those respectable people, in essence, “You are fooling only yourself if you think the whole world isn’t aware of and repulsed by what nasty business you allow to go on inside your sport.”

. . . . the simple headline of the Times’ piece [Peta accuses two trainers of cruelty] crystallizes the story in a way that resonates with the outside world. Cruelty. No one beyond the world of horse racing cares if industry insiders cheat each other. But plenty of people beyond the world of horse racing cares if the animals at the heart of the sport are treated cruelly. Horse racing simply cannot survive if the general public believes racehorses are abused or neglected. I have no idea if Asmussen and Blasi are guilty of anything and I accuse them here of nothing. My point is that it doesn’t really matter. The whole industry is guilty of letting it get this far. Read full article by Cohen >>

In case you missed the video, here it is again.

Twinspired works out at Churchill Hill Downs in preparation for the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP.

Accused horse trainer Asmussen sacks assistant Blasi; industry responds

Record-smashing Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Rachel Alexandra is led to a waiting van by assistant trainer Scott Blasi. Image: Churchill Downs website.

The word over the weekend concerning Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen is he has sacked his assistant Scott Blasi. Blasi is the inconvenient star of the Peta undercover investigation that leaves he and and Asmussen accused of horse cruelty, among other things. “Among other things” appears to be on most people’s minds however.

Our concern of course is for the horses. Per usual the horses are barely mentioned in the write ups. And typical of American horse racing they are trying to deflect their problems onto PETA.

Here’s a sampling from ESPN citing the Blood-Horse as their source:

The situation erupted March 20 after the New York Times, under the condition it not name the undercover investigator, published a story on the PETA allegations. The woman, who is said to have gotten to know Blasi with the intention of infiltrating the stable at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Race Course for four months in 2013, videotaped barn activity and conversations without the knowledge of Asmussen or Blasi.

“Though PETA reportedly has hours of videotape, it has posted only a nine-plus-minute clip on its website. Called disturbing by many in the racing industry, the video doesn’t show illegal equine drug activity but does indicate potential violations involving the hiring of workers.

No mention of horse cruelty, which was horrible to witness. Not so for American horse racing however.

There’s more about PETA in this blurb:

PETA has stated it isn’t against horse racing, though over the years it has been quick to take advantage of various incidents such as breakdowns to claim racehorses are mistreated and abused.”

Oh, a brief mention of horse cruelty but in this case, but only when they are quoting PETA.[1]

In the meantime, the allegations against Asmussen and Blasi from the PETA investigation are being investigated by horse racing itself. We know how that will turn out. Like it always does. Nothing of any substance is done against the perpetrators and it’s business as usual. So who cares what they find or don’t find, do or don’t do? Well we should and we do.

I don’t think there is a whole they can do to wriggle out of this. If it weren’t for the cruelties carried out against the equine victims in cases like these, I would enjoy watching them squirm while they try.

If you want the lowdown on horse racing’s leaders kneejerk response to all of this is, see the Paulick Report [2]. Just about all the alphabets are represented. Get out your sick bag.


Racing’s biggest mistake was to continually discount the welfare of its horses and worry more about animal rights activists than the animals themselves. Unfortunately for all concerned, except heartless profiteers, racing chose to just do enough to manage public outrage including with lies. When Alex Waldrop swore in front of a massive media contingent that our race horses are Priority #1, following Eight Belles’s death, racing should have translated that lie into a huge red flag and wake-up call and turned it into reality. Instead it continues to prioritize power and money.” [3]

We hope that Peta’s investigation is a sincere move to expose what American racehorses endure and not simply a way to gain attention for themselves. If Peta allows horse racing to investigate this and subsequently do nothing, and no arrests are made, then we will have to assume the latter and not the former.

Must these horses withstand even more exploitation?
[1] http://espn.go.com/horse-racing/story/_/id/10662379/blasi-no-longer-working-asmussen
[2] http://www.paulickreport.com/news/people/industry-reactions-kentucky-new-york-launch-investigations-in-wake-of-peta-complaint/
[3] same as [2]

Featured Image: Record-smashing Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Rachel Alexandra is led to a waiting van by assistant trainer Scott Blasi to begin her journey from Churchill Downs to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course for Saturday’s Preakness. Source, ChurchillDowns.com.

Asmussen, the torture of racehorses and agonizing death of Nehro

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

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.


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/sports/peta-videos-prompt-new-york-and-kentucky-to-investigate-horse-trainers.html
[2] Same as at 1.
[3] http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/78098/nehro-second-in-2011-kentucky-derby-dead#ixzz2wfdtVfKR
[4] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2001305-horse-trainer-steve-asmussen-under-investigation-after-allegations-of-abuse
[5] https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/83936/zayat-scratches-asmussen-trained-horses
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/sports/25racing.html