Maylan Studart has been racing on the New York Racing Association circuit since 2008.
A female Brazilian racing prodigy, Studart competes in the major New York market against some of the nation's greatest jockeys, such as Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano.
On horses since the age of four, a devout animal lover, a skilled show jumper and now a professional jockey with eight years of experience, Studart is a fearless advocate who steps up to the plate for just causes that she believes in.
Some of them include NYC Clean Energy, New Yorkers Against Fracking, and HorseAbility where she is a volunteer. Studart is also a five-year veteran of the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Muscle Team, representing NYRA.
This time, however, it gets extra personal as Studart takes the "microphone" and weighs in on the PETA investigation and how it could impact the future of her very own sport—horse racing.
Question: How do you feel after seeing the PETA video?
Studart: Shocked. Upset. Saddened that some of the best horses in the country might have possibly been mistreated and abused. There's no concrete proof of this on the video, but after the New York Gaming Commission resolves its investigation, we will know the truth.
Question: Do you think owners, trainers and jockeys should take a stand in this matter?
Studart: Absolutely. This undercover investigation is the greatest opportunity that the horse racing industry has had since the Triple Crown of Seattle Slew. It is an opportunity to improve our sport, for our own credibility amongst each other, and especially our fans—for who, without them, horse racing would cease to exist.
We as horsemen should take our own initiatives to have our own investigation into every trainer in our training facilities, to make sure there isn't any suspicious activities such as the ones mentioned in the video, like possible illicit drug administration and harboring of illegal aliens.
We should also ask the gaming commission to make violation penalties much stricter, with much longer suspensions and higher fines. That way, we are protecting each other, the jockeys and horses, while making our sport more credible and resistant to cheating. Every sport has its Lance Armstrong's, but we must be much more proactive than we are now by leveling the playing field. Then, we can all better compete without fear that some are not playing by the rules.
Question: Are you admitting that horsemen cheat?
Studart: Absolutely not. I am acknowledging that there are people who try to cheat, but I can say from experience that we are all just trying to make an honest living while riding in one of the most policed states in the country.
Someone who would deliberately cheat is a fool, because they would most likely get caught. New York is a model for the entire sport, by having the strictest rules and regulations in the country.
An example of that is when the Kentucky Derby winner two years ago (I'll Have Another) wore nose-strips during his races. When he came to run in the Belmont Stakes, he was not allowed to run with the breathing strips because it is seen as performance enhancing here. Eventually, the horse scratched out of the race and never completed the Triple Crown circuit.
This is not to say that we can not do more. As seen on the PETA video, there is much more we can do by taking our own initiatives and measures to protect our horses, our jockeys and the betting public.
Question: What is your takeaway from this entire situation since the PETA video?
Studart: I think that horse racing, its owners, trainers and jockeys should take this major opportunity to clean up its act. No one will deny that mistreatment and abuse of animals is illegal. Instead of taking an opposing stance to PETA's because of its sensationalist claims in the past, we should embrace the idea that we can be better. We can be a better sport, a more fun sport and more honest.
I love my sport—horse racing is my life. I have been a professional jockey for eight years and have ridden with the best jockeys in the world. I don't want horse racing to die because we are too busy defending higher ups and people with money, rather than defending the honest—our loyal fans and our beautiful horses. I want to see my sport rise above this crisis with its soul clean. We can do it, but only if we stand up, speak and take action.
Question: Has the pending results of PETA's investigation of Steve Asmussen's barn changed your enthusiasm with the sport of horse racing?
Studart: Yes it has slightly. I feel very sad to know that one of the greatest trainers I've known could have been doing those things in the video for so long. It makes me sad and jaded. I hope the factual truth comes out for the sake of our bettors and colleagues. I want cheaters to be weeded out, leveling the playing field for my sport, so we can all compete equally.
Question: Have you noticed a fallout among racing fans since the NY Times article broke on March 19, or do the majority see the investigation as simply another trainer catching heat, such as trainer Rick Dutrow, and they are strictly focused on racing as usual?
Studart: I have not "noticed" a fallout, but I am not directly involved with bettors and fans. My job is riding horses the best I can while evolving my relationship with the trainers. However, I am sure there has been a fallout. As a horse-loving person, I felt angry at that video, seeing what was happening right below our noses.
If I, from within the sport, felt like that, I can only imagine how people ignorant to horse racing felt when they were bombarded with those pictures, even though half of the video spread misinformation, sensationalism and fear.
Question: Is it possible for Asmussen and Blasi to rebound from the allegations, or are their primary roles moving forward to be made examples of for what not to do?
Studart: Possible for them to rebound? It will all depend solely on the results of the investigation by the gaming commission and if there is actually concrete proof of the allegations. In America, one is innocent until proven guilty, and we must wait for the due process to take its course. Only then can their futures be discussed.
Question: How can PETA's investigation turn out to actually be a shot in the arm for the sport of horse racing while increasing its popularity and fan base?
Studart: PETA's investigation can help our industry immensely, if we embrace the idea of eliminating this culture of cheating and overused medications.
Let's not hide behind the curtain and pretend everything is alright, because we all know we can do better. We can have stricter medication rules, stricter racing day rules, and more veterinarian oversight. Also, by taking the helm with the initiative of creating a national body of racing oversight and homogenizing the racing rules and regulations for every racetrack in the country.
Let's do an overhaul of our industry and show our tenuously loyal fans that we mean business and we will rise up to the occasion and do better. That includes protecting more of our horses, our jockeys and our bettors and great fans. We are a great sport. It should not be based on greed and a bad bunch, but on most of us who sacrifice our lives and live and breathe for these horses. We should be an open door institution and welcome change and cameras.
Question: What would you do to improve the life of the race horses and jockeys?
Studart: The most important thing to do immediately is hire top veterinarians in the country through the NY Gaming Commission. Next, have them "raid" or randomly search every horse in every barn, every stall, and catalog them—taking blood and urine samples from them all to test for illicit drugs.
A random search and cease would be an excellent way to see who is following the rules and who is not. That gives us a starting point, providing a better picture of what is going on behind the scenes that officials in the offices do not know about. This would immensely help our horses, and especially us, the jockeys who ride them, by making us feel safer that we are on a healthy horse.
The "raid" would also prevent animal abuse within our quarters. The vet would make the decision if a horse is underweight, malnourished or abused. By taking that information gathered, with the results of the physical tests, to the Gaming Commission, they could give an offending trainer the appropriate harsh penalty for mistreating the horses under their care.