Back in December, the Daily Racing Form ran an article entitled “Symposium attendees hear strategies on avoiding dog racing’s fate.” It began thus: “One of the topics being discussed among racing officials over the past two days outside the conference rooms at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming is whether the recent popular vote in Florida to ban dog racing could happen to horse racing in one or more states soon. And many of those racing officials are now acknowledging openly that they are increasingly anxious that it could.”
Two years ago, this same symposium hosted a panel on how best to combat protesters at racetracks – a direct result of our success at Saratoga that summer. At the time, I wrote how sensibilities toward animal exploitation, especially regarding “entertainment,” are changing, and I mentioned Ringling elephants being “retired,” SeaWorld ending its captive-breeding of orcas, and the word “vegan” no longer sounding so alien. Since, more progress:
May 2017 – Ringling Bros. closes shop for good, ending 146 years of animal abuse
Aug 2017 – Illinois becomes first state to ban the use of elephants for entertainment
Oct 2017 – New York becomes the second
Mar 2019 – The city of Los Angeles stands ready to ban rodeos
And, as mentioned in the quote above, the November referendum vote in Florida that will end greyhound racing in that state by the end of next year. (Florida, a state that cannot seem to definitively agree on anything, passed this by over 2-1.) This one cannot be overstated. Florida is home to 11 of the final 17 dogtracks in the nation. When this ban is fully effected (some tracks have already closed, ahead of the deadline), greyhound racing in America will be in its death throes. Truly historic, and for that we owe the lion’s share of gratitude to Grey2K, a group we’ve long admired.
In addition: The National Aquarium will release all its remaining dolphins to a sanctuary by 2020; SeaWorld is still in decline; animal “actors” are ever-increasingly being replaced by CGI; and veganism grows annually – one study has the number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan increasing some 600% between 2014 and 2017.
Economically, Floridians had grown weary of propping up the moribund dogracing industry with subsidies. And this, though maybe not to the exact same extent, is the horseracing story. Most of U.S. horseracing – including almost all of the harness variety – receives corporate welfare; I’m fully confident that once the public understands this, like Florida with dogracing, the tide will turn. In other words, that “increasing anxiety” within racing circles is well-founded.
But above all, this is a moral matter, and as the above clearly illustrates, those winds, as they are wont to do, are blowing in but one direction. How can horseracing “avoid dogracing’s fate”? Short answer: It can’t; it won’t. But it’s not enough to simply say that, to passively wait for the demographics to do their thing (horseracing is a middle-aged man’s “sport”; the younger generations, on the whole, eschew it), for horses are suffering and dying now; they need our action now.
In the spring of 1865, with Lee’s army and the Confederacy hanging by a thread, President Lincoln was not content to just wait it out. In a famous telegram to General Grant, he wrote: “Gen. Sheridan says ‘If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.’ Let the thing be pressed.”
Let the thing be pressed.