JC / Railbird

Steve Asmussen

All That and a Dose of Thyroxine

Arthur Hancock III:

… “therapeutics” given to horses that don’t need them are abusive.

Let’s put aside Lasix, the subject of Hancock’s phrase above, and talk about thyroxine, the synthetic thyroid hormone supplement trainer Bob Baffert admitted dosing his entire stable with during a period in which seven horses under his watch died suddenly. Trainer Steve Asmussen did the same, a practice that became public knowledge following a PETA expose. Both were cleared of doing anything illegal or improper in investigations that largely dismissed indiscriminate thyroxine use as acceptable, rule-abiding care.

“I haven’t found a barn that uses it on all their horses,” said California equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur of the Baffert barn regimen, yet: “[The thyroxine] was legally dispensed and reported as labeled. It was within their right to do so. There is no violation of any rules.”

“The KHRC also did not uncover evidence of a rule violation with respect to thyroid hormone supplementation,” determined Kentucky re: Asmussen (PDF).

It’s a measure of how thoroughly the discussion about dispensing therapeutic drugs like carrots has been shut down following both investigations that I feel it’s in bad taste to bring the issue up right now, when Baffert is going for the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in a bit more than a week. I mean, even the Paulick Report — the publication that most aggressively chased the Baffert sudden death story — is running a piece lauding the trainer’s “horse sense” and speculating that he might be “the chosen one” to win racing’s most elusive prize. Ed Zieralski worried that “a lynching party” would pursue Baffert in 2013 if he made it to the Kentucky Derby that year (he didn’t) — he doesn’t have to be concerned about that this year, when even an inquiry about a case of colic in a Baffert Derby contender “wasn’t a question that could be asked,” in the words of Daily Racing Form correspondent Marcus Hersh.

Baffert told reporters at Churchill Downs earlier this week that dealing with the media in New York before the Belmont Stakes would be a challenge:

“To me, that’s the hardest part. You have to deal with everybody. This is easy — today with you guys. But when we get up there, everybody is going to want to push the race and all that.”

And all that. I hope it’s all that. I hope some reporter breaches etiquette.

Commodities

From Glenye Cain Oakford’s interview with owner George Strawbridge:

“Then, you have the PETA video … maybe that was a turning point. I’m not saying it is, but it could be, because it takes the question out of the realm of just cheating. Maybe the majority of people don’t care about the cheating because maybe they just see it as racing insiders cheating each other, but when PETA shows up with this video, that expands the equation to cruelty to animals, which I think most people do care about. If you love horses, you don’t call them rats and treat them like commodities.”

And you don’t “feed” them unnecessary drugs. More on that point, and the HBO Real Sports segment that aired earlier this week, from Tom Noonan:

The more disturbing reality, however, is that horses are given too many drugs, even if they are “legal.” They are often given, as HBO stated, to make a horse run faster or to mask a painful condition, and not because it is necessary to treat a diagnosed medical issue. One segment of the PETA video that was replayed by HBO was of a vet describing Lasix as a performance-enhancing drug. Almost every horse racing in this country is racing with Lasix. Thyroxine is being “fed” to horses not because it is necessary, but because it is viewed as a performance enhancer.

Odds and Ends

Tim Layden tries to ask trainer Steve Asmussen about the PETA allegations: “I just don’t think this is the time or the place to address it. I think the preparation of these horses for a once in a lifetime opportunity is the focus. And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on right now.” Lots of questions, but unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think anyone’s asked this — are Oaks and Derby contenders Untapable and Taptiture getting thyroxine (a drug mentioned as a widely used supplement in Asmussen’s barn in the PETA video) and if so, why?

Steve Davidowitz writes that the Kentucky Derby isn’t just the fastest or the greatest two minutes in sports: “it also is the most dangerous.” Cover your eyes when they break from the gate!

Gary Stevens will ride Will Take Charge in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on Friday. “We’re looking at the big picture,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas told Dave Grening. “The Breeders’ Cup is at Santa Anita and Gary knows every grain of sand there. Nothing against Luis, but I thought Gary would be a natural fit.” Stevens and Mucho Macho Man beat Luis Saez and Will Take Charge by a nose in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Sounds like the jockey switch means the “Man” will need a new rider for this year.

The Indefensible

Andrew Beyer:

It is wrong to characterize Asmussen as a bad apple. It is unfair to single him out for stigmatization. And it was thoroughly disingenuous for Phipps to say, “His presence and participation [in the Kentucky Oaks and Derby] would indicate that it’s just ‘business as usual’ in the thoroughbred industry.”

Through the industry, the indiscriminate use of drugs is business as usual.

Yes. And so long as it is, racing will be a target for groups like PETA.

Or Congress.

The Target

Trainer Rusty Arnold defends Steve Asmussen:

The two medications alluded to in the video (Lasix and thyroid powder) are both legal to have and legal to use. So, what crime has Steve committed?

None, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? The indiscriminate dosing of horses with unnecessary drugs has become routine. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

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