Voss: ‘I Love Horses’ Only Takes You So Far

I think it’s fair to say that most people in the racing industry were disgusted when they read the federal indictments last March of 27 people, including trainers, veterinarians, and drug makers. The very first person from that group of 27 was sentenced this week to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of drug adulteration and misbranding.

I’ve reported on companies affiliated with Scott Robinson for several years now, and I had reason to suspect the conditions under which he and his co-conspirator Scott Mangini made illegal drugs were poor. Even I was surprised at some of the details in court documents filed around his sentencing, and I don’t think I’ve been so horrified by a legal document since the original indictments.

The pre-sentencing report filed by the prosecution is littered with strong language about Robinson’s involvement in peddling products designed to act as performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) or as substitutes for more expensive prescriptions. Possibly the most upsetting part of the document, which you can read here, was intercepted messages between Robinson and Mangini describing issues Robinson was seeing with products headed off for sale. Robinson describes “blood building peptide has black particles” floating in it, and a bug floating in a bottle which was “crimped,” suggesting it was a bottle of injectable product. Despite these quality concerns, Robinson kept selling the stuff, and presumably, his customers kept injecting it.

In case you wondered, as I did, what happens when you inject a product that’s contaminated with bugs and other solids into a horse’s muscle or vein, safe to say it’s not a pretty picture. Solid particles would travel with an injected substance through a horse’s veins, through the heart’s atrium and ventricles, and via the aorta to the body. The vessels and capillaries it would travel through on its journey get gradually smaller, some as small as six to eight microns. The smallest particles visible to the naked eye are around 40 microns, so anything of that size will likely be stuck somewhere. In humans, the trapping of a solid particle somewhere in the circulatory system is known to cause anaphylactic shock, pulmonary embolisms, heart attacks, vein irritation, and death. If a horse in this situation is very unlucky, tissues would slowly die as they become unable to receive proper blood flow and oxygen. It’s a painful experience for the animal.

According to one testing expert I spoke with, the reaction could be instant or it could take enough time that someone may not connect the horse’s death to the injection it received. That likely means we won’t know how many horses may have been sickened or killed by the products Robinson peddled.

Robinson’s attorneys, of course, did their best to minimize the amount of time he would spend in prison after entering his guilty plea. That’s their job. Prosecutors were pushing for the maximum sentence of 60 months, and defense counsel asked for 0 months. The judge landed on 18 months, which Robinson will begin serving later this year. One of the arguments made in support of Robinson grossed me out even more than his dismissive responses to concerns about the safety of his products – his attorneys suggested the judge should go easy on him, in part, because of how much he loves horses.

The defense pre-sentencing report, which you can read here, summarized character references provided by friends and family of Robinson. More than one discussed Robinson’s disdain for mistreatment of animals, particularly racehorses.

“From my three years of work with Mr. Robinson, I have become aware of his great knowledge of and love for racehorses,” wrote his psychiatrist, Dr. Ronald E. DeMao. “Horses and horse racing have literally ‘been his life.’ It is inconceivable to me that he would ever do anything to intentionally harm a horse. In fact, he has developed products to aid in the physical health and rehabilitation of horses. I have heard him speak in very pejorative terms about others who ‘dope’ or harshly train racehorses.”

Writing of his “genuine concern for the way some horses are treated,” regenerative medicine physician Dr. Michael Heim said: “A story that has always struck me in a powerful way is Scott’s description of a practice in horse racing called bleaching which, to the best of my knowledge, is when a horse is injected intravenously with bleach in order to improve physical performance for a short time but at an obvious cost to the horse’s health. Scott has described to me how he has been able to spot such horses in a deteriorated state, purchase them, and subsequently nurse them back to health. As an animal lover, I find any practice such as bleaching to be detestable and applaud Scott’s efforts to help even a single horse regain health.”

I’m left wondering whether, in his concern for racehorse welfare, Robinson ever reported to a racing commission, law enforcement, or the FDA people he thought were injecting bleach into horses. Or did he think that might be a bit hypocritical?

I don’t find the notion of sentimentality over horses very compelling when it’s coming from someone pleading guilty to the acts described here, or in the federal indictment. “I love horses,” will not save you if you have a hand in hurting them.

The prosecution evidently didn’t find this part of Robinson’s argument compelling, either.

“The claim in one such letter that Robinson “spoke in very pejorative terms about others who ‘dope’ racehorses contradicts the slate of products Robinson offered for sale … Far from decrying ‘dopers,’ Robinson catered to them through his various ventures, and reaped millions of dollars in sales from these businesses.”

But let’s broaden that conclusion, shall we?

When much of the world reacted with outrage to the now-infamous photo of trainer Gordon Elliott grinning astride a dead horse in Ireland, the response from many in the racing industry was to talk about how much they love horses – or in a few cases, how much Elliott loves them. How many times have we seen this response? Horses die at Santa Anita, and well-intentioned people in racing post photos of themselves snuggling foals with the naïve belief that this will absolve whatever sin is in the headlines this month. A series of drug positives from a prominent trainer makes headlines; a racehorse winds up in the kill pen after struggling home last; a jockey is caught with a buzzer – we love our horses, all of us love them, these are just a few bad apples. ‘Feel sorry for us!’ they cry, ‘People think we’re mean, just because animals are dead.’

Anyone in public relations or in professional sports knows that the best defense is a good offense. By the time you’re reacting to another welfare embarrassment, you’ve already lost, and that’s because repeated protestations of love start to sound hollow when there keep being reasons to renew them.

It’s not exactly the same, of course. The sport as a whole is made up of many individuals of different mindsets and levels of feeling for their horses, while the defendant here is one man. But it’s worth remembering: when we speak to the outside world, much like a school of fish, the world sees one body, and it’s going to judge us by what they see us do, not how we say we feel.

The post Voss: ‘I Love Horses’ Only Takes You So Far appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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