The following is our latest installment of “Shedrow Secrets” – first-hand accounts from the heroes who work tirelessly to save Racing’s broken bodies.
by Joy Aten
Over the course of his racing career, the stunning grey Darned Worthy had at least three strikes against him in the “owner department.” Yet two of those three owners would’ve been considered a couple of racing’s “good folks” by racehorse advocates who are supporters of the industry. So how could it be that Darned Worthy found himself running out of time?…and with an owner – his third and final – who boasted he would rather send his spent and injured racehorses to slaughter than give them to a rescue? How did Darned Worthy spiral to racing’s abyss? Why did his “good” owners allow him to get there, and where were they when he needed them?
A 2003 Florida-bred gelding, Darned Worthy was bred, owned and raced by Marilyn McMaster. The big grey beauty had 16 starts for McMaster, running at Tampa Bay and Calder to Keeneland and Churchill Downs. He ran his final race for her at Mountaineer in June of 2007…Darned Worthy was injured with bone chips in his knee. A few months after that race, McMaster contacted CANTER-MI, wanting to donate her injured gelding to the program as her veterinarian advised he should no longer race. McMaster was a “good” owner – she was donating her injured racehorse instead of continuing to race him or sending him off to slaughter. (Yet CANTER would then be responsible for Darned Worthy’s vetting and probable surgery, rehab, and the cost of his daily care until he could be found a suitable home.) “Good folk”?
Shortly before Darned Worthy was scheduled to come into CANTER, an investigative piece on the abuses in horse racing was aired on Channel 7 out of Detroit. The report – “One Race Too Many” – was filmed at Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon, Michigan and I carried the hidden camera that filmed a trainer admitting he ran injured horses. Many Michigan-based racing owners and trainers saw the televised report and were angry that the cruelties of their “sport” were exposed. Marilyn McMaster was one such owner.
She immediately contacted CANTER’s founder via e-mail and the following are her words: “In my opinion, CANTER ambushed and selected the worst to create shock value which I find despictable (sic). Whether you are still involved in the organization or not, tell them to do not ever expect future support from me. I was willing to give them a beautiful, gray TB gelding who, when we discovered a chip, retired him from racing. If we don’t find another home for him, we will put him down rather than give him to CANTER.” In her anger at having her industry exposed, she spitefully took it out on her injured horse. “Good folk”?
August, 2008. Darned Worthy is entered for a new owner and trainer – Emerald Creek Racing and Jennifer Davis – at Pinnacle Race Course in Michigan. I send an e-mail to Commissioner Christine White, inform her of Darned Worthy’s injury and the vet’s recommendation he no longer race, and request the gelding receive a morning pre-race examination and another thorough inspection in the paddock. I do not receive a reply from White. Several days later, I call Emerald Creek Racing (using my maiden name) to inquire about purchasing Darned Worthy…my “story” is I watch racing at Pinnacle and love the greys…but no, this owner LOVES the gelding and is going to run him some more.
Darned Worthy labors in 5 races for Emerald Creek Racing, once with only 6 days between races and another time with just 8 days in between. In his 5th and last race for them, on October 12, 2008, Darned Worthy is “pulled up” and “vanned off.” Another e-mail is sent to the racing commissioner and again, she doesn’t respond. But this time I didn’t need to call Emerald Creek Racing about purchasing their gelding…they called me…and now they were willing to part with him…for “4 or 5 thousand.” I tried to strike a deal for less, but when it was obvious to them I couldn’t pay several thousand dollars, Darned Worthy suddenly became their “favorite,” was “such a nice guy,” and would be retired to their farm. They valued their bank account more than their “favorite” horse. “Good folks”?
June 16, 2009. Trainer Reid Gross runs Darned Worthy at Pinnacle Race Course and the gallant gelding finishes 3rd. Eleven days later Gross races him again. And again, a 3rd place finish. We know the 6-year-old’s days are numbered…Reid Gross’ used-up racehorses disappear… “I would rather send them to slaughter than give them to a rescue.” So when we see Darned Worthy is entered again, this time at River Downs, we feel we cannot wait a minute longer. But we need another story and a racetrack employee willing to act as a buyer…we come up with both. Gross accepts $1500 but warns our buyer “you won’t be able to jump him – he’s got a bum knee.” We had hoped he would take the $1500 and scratch Darned Worthy from the race, but he was determined to run him once more. While we hold our collective breath, the hard-trying gelding runs his last race on July 10, 2009. “Good folk”?…of course not. But he never pretended to be.
We picked up Darned Worthy on July 16. Within days, he received a full lameness evaluation, which included x-rays. Here, that veterinarian’s findings and recommendations: “Significant arthritic changes. Horse approved for light use only. No jumping, endurance, racing, or extended use – the knee would break down.” We then had Dr. John Stick, equine orthopedic surgeon, view the radiographs as well…his advice: “I agree with the future assessment. Flat work only and will need some meds to keep sound.” Darned Worthy was only six-years-old. Not even in his prime. All three of his racing owners made certain he would never be fully sound. Racing’s “good folks”?…not a single one.
(Darned Worthy was adopted by Dawn Mancina within days of his rescue. As one of her beloved equine family members, he spends his days enjoying life in the company of his own herd. He’s done striking out and is finally with really good folks. Darned Worthy has – at last – a family.)