This summer, Saratoga Race Course marks its 150th anniversary. Proudly billing itself the oldest sporting venue in the country, the august track, and indeed the entire region, is waxing nostalgic and celebrating the racing elite who trod (trotted) over those hallowed grounds. It is, in fact, a well-crafted illusion of the grandest order, for in no other “sport” are the athletes condemned to a life as chattel, mere things to be used, abused, and trashed whenever and however an owner decides. Sure, there are worse things we do to animals but never for a more frivolous reason than the gambling at horseracing’s core.
So while experimentation or fur is perhaps more cruel, horseracing – from separating foals and moms, to racing young adolescents, to whipping, to doping, to buying and selling, to patching with nuts and bolts, to horrible falls, to deaths on the playing field, to running them till their bodies have nothing left to give, to auctions, to slaughter – is cruel nonetheless.
Last year, 16 Thoroughbreds died at Saratoga Race Course; from 2009-2012, 51 perished in the pursuit of purse money. Countless more, of course, were injured, and how many of the briefly feted ended up being shot, shackled, hoisted, slashed, exsanguinated, and butchered over the past 15 decades, we’ll never know. What matters, though, is not an exact reckoning of the suffering and death, but rather that it happens at all. This is 2013, gamble to your heart’s content on inanimate slots and scratchoffs; leave the horses out of it. They’ve sacrificed enough.