As Dead Horses Pile Up, It’s Damage Control Time at Del Mar

Last summer – and the summer before that – a spate of deaths had the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (and California, in general) scrambling. Dead horses are always bad for business, but most especially at such a celebrated, high-profile meet like Del Mar. So, in an effort to quell public upset, the powers that be assured these rashes were just anomalies – flukes. No need to panic, they say, for California fatalities – as reported, of course, by the CHRB – have been declining since 2007, conveniently omitting the fact that other relevant numbers are down as well – race dates, races, starts, even actual tracks. Their approach: distract, deceive, and keep fingers crossed.

With the current meet barely two weeks old, it’s dejavu all over again: As I wrote Wednesday, Del Mar ’16 is responsible for at least nine dead – with over five weeks to go. Looks like it’s going to be another fluky summer.

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Fact is, dead racehorses have always been, but because “reporting” on them is a relatively recent thing – 2008 or so, when a very public pair of shattered legs kind of forced their hand – no one knows for sure how many horses died in, say, 1965. So in addition to the misleading way they present statistics, there simply exists no serious, unbiased, long-term database by which to draw reasonable comparisons. (The Jockey Club’s is a joke: the dead are anonymous; the data is voluntarily submitted. Ours remains the only site committed to truly exposing the carnage. But even at that, I concede that we do not – because we cannot: deaths at private training centers, owners’ farms – approximate a complete reckoning.)

Other times, officials respond to these clusters like buzzed dartplayers at a corner pub – keep flinging and see what sticks. First, identify a plausible culprit – claiming rules, track surfaces, weather – then vow to rectify. But nothing ever really changes. Sure, the deaths may ebb and flow, but I see that as (mostly) simple randomness. The inescapable truth is this: The killing is built in, inherent to what they do. In other words, expect more dead horses at Del Mar (and Saratoga and everywhere in between). There’s nothing they can do to stop it. And what’s more, they know.

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  1. Thank you for collating this data. I hope you will continue to do so. But with regard to your comment that nothing can be done to prevent the carnage, I have to disagree. Research I have published in peer-reviewed veterinary journals indicates that a cause of catastrophic injury and sudden death is bit-induced suffocation. Click on’ Articles’ at my website to get a sense of the evidence. For a summary, use this link …

    • With all due respect, Mr. Cook, removing bits from the racehorses ‘ mouths will not prevent the breaking of bones or tearing of tendons. Even if they trained and raced fully bridle-less, that will do nothing to protect them from the abuses they endure day in and day out.

      (That being said, I agree that bitless is the way to go for any horse being ridden.)

      • Absolutely correct, Joy.

        I most certainly do not want to offend Mr Cook, but I’m staggered that he’s of the view that a change in bit usage can prevent the carnage.

      • Well Dr Cook does sell bit less bridles, I bet he has done some research, and his business would Boom if all went without bits. I do have two horses though that I use his bit less bridles they do seem happier. The rest aren’t quite as easy to handle in a sticky situation without that thing in their mouth.

    • We made a mistake in submitting. We have found Dr. Cooks bridle very humane and effective on our horses. It is actually better to teach a horse to stop properly and is easier on the horse.We did not mean to place our website on yours.We appreciate your exposing the truths of racing to the unknowing public. Is it possible to e-mail to you directly Patrick?

      • The point is, Joan and Fred, there is NOTHING humane about this industry, and to suggest a bit is the answer to the industry is insane.
        “it is actually better to teach a horse to stop properly..”
        What needs to stop is this cruelty circus, and death camp.
        What also needs to stop is people breeding like you two.
        I don’t care how “good” you do it as you often claim on this blog.
        There are way too many unwanted horses for anybody to breed.
        That includes breeding any animals. There are tons looking for homes now so why breed?

    • Joy, Fred, Joan and Gina – suffocation tires a horse very quickly. Exhaustion leads to falls – falls lead to fractures, dislocations and strained tendons. Suffocation also has its effect by leading to waterlogging of the lung (pulmonary edema) and this in turn causes heart failure and sudden death. Without wishing to sound melodramatic, the mechanism is the same as waterboarding. So, yes, reducing the effect of the bit or removing it altogether, will reduce the incidence of all these disasters. A bit is not the only cause of breakdowns but it is, in my opinion, a major cause. And suffocation is avoidable so let’s work towards enabling racehorses to breathe easy.

      • Mr. Cook…I had actually read your information some time ago and found it not only interesting but credible. I fully agree with the correlation of the bit and the position of the horse’s head causing impedement of air flow – leading to inadequate oxygenation and subsequent exhaustion. But again, the metal in the racehorses’ mouths is but one abuse! I don’t look for the industry to address its countless problems that negatively affect the horses (why would they start now after years and years of abuses?) – the very premise of exploiting an animal – using his body, taking his life – for entertainment/profit purposes is simply wrong. And it must cease.,

      • Mr Cook, I once rode a horse without a bit in his mouth, just a headstall on, I only had to look to left or right and he knew where I wanted to guide him to. A trail ride in the bush. He was in tune with my body and me with his. It was the most happy and memorable ride of my life because he didn’t have to suffer any pain from a bit.

        I strenuously disagree with you when you opine that it’s a major cause of breakdowns.
        That is a ridiculous statement to make.
        Many racehorses are on the bit when galloping at high speed. In my experience, I’ve never come across a horse breaking down due to bit suffocation and I’ve investigated a few hundred racehorse deaths.
        I’m not refuting that there have been some cases but they’d be extremely rare.

  2. I don’t want a bit to take away from this very serious article.
    When I was an Associate Steward 10 years ago racehorses were dying, and they still are.
    Nothing has changed, and no bit will change it either.
    Year in and year out Harper and his croonies go into high gear in order to downplay the incessant carnage of dead racehorses.
    I curse anybody who supports, and participates in this carnage.
    It’s because of you all that the dying of racehorses continue.

    • The fact is Gina, we do not support racing in its present state, as long as wealthy people are willing to race their horses it will always be with or without state monies.Our state is a good example of that.We are small breeders who HAVE to show an attempt to show profit if we are to remain in the country. We have lived in an urban environment as well as suburbs. We NEVER will again. We have seen small beautiful coastal towns DESTROYED by wealthy people who used their houses for just a few weeks a year while no locals could find an affordable place to live. We provide horses to the horse owning public who wish to have horses as part of their families that have not already been destroyed by racing or other so called equine sports such as rodeo.We did not imply that a bit-less bridle would correct all the problems within the equine industry, far from it. Changing tax laws would greatly correct problems especially with the accelerated depreciation schedules that encourage the dumping of horses when no longer deductible against outside income. Our present broodmares when they no longer have foals as they do now in a natural herd environment will remain on our farm until they pass of old age.We do not use lights, hormones or ANY manipulation of the horses to bring new foals into the world. We VERY carefully screen all buyers with great care. We have CHASED off our property meat buyers and strongly discourage the use of our good horses for racing! So far no one has. We e-mail our buyers regularly who send us pictures of their happy experiences with their new horse.That is what this life is all about, bringing joy to young families with their young children with their good tempered horse as a part of their family.

      • With all due respect Joan and Fred – I don’t support breeding of any animal.
        There are far too many animals on this planet needing good homes.
        There are far too many sitting in cages for way too long.
        There are far too many horses going to slaughter.
        So I don’t care how good you are I will never support breeding.
        I actually take it one step farther – I don’t support breeding of human beings either.
        We have 7 billion people on this planet, and counting.
        There are too many children starving and/or deprived and that’s not in 3rd world countries only.
        That’s right here in the United States of America.
        Sadly, animals and children are the 2 most vulnerable segments of our society.
        While the horse racing industry gets billions in tax breaks and casino money – children are starving or being deprived at a chance in life.
        So I don’t support breeding of any kind, and it’s time for people to fact the facts instead of calling me a lunatic.

  3. I simply want to acknowledge all of you who commented in support of the HORSES – and not in defense of the industry that cripples, kills and discards them. I read each and every comment and was uplifted by your love and support of the horses exploited by the racing industry. THANK YOU and keep sharing Horseracing Wrongs! We ARE making a difference!

  4. THANK YOU, Joy for commenting in support of the horses, sharing your extensive knowledge of the horse, your many years of first hand experience at racetracks (the shedrows) in rescuing innocent racehorses (along with Mary) in heartbreaking situations – your comments are awesome, they truly are.

    Horseracing Wrongs is making a huge difference – ground-breaking imo. We are unstoppable.

  5. Shattered legs! Racing horses is a corrupt business, especially here at Del Mar, where the surf meets the turf. The amount of lies and cover ups each summer is getting worse. We will continue to expose them daily here. With the latest rounds of deaths and injuries, they are still in denial of why this is still happening. The fact that the track was not closed after the nine deaths for a full investigation is wrong. Shame on Mr. Harper and shame on the State of California for allowing severe animal abuse to continue.

    • Thank you, Ellen! Keep up the great work of exposing and peacefully protesting! I’m sorry you have to deal with such abusive verbal attacks from some race-goers and the apathy of others, but we KNOW your tireless work is making a difference! – it IS!

    • Signed and shared petition.
      Thank you Ellen for all your peaceful demonstrating, for educating, and for being a voice for the voiceless.
      California should have shut down Del Mar a long time ago.
      The dying and carnage has been going on for way too long now.
      This is a legitimized death circus and it shoul have been stopped a long time ago.

  6. Wow Gina after tha last spiel I can see why you may have been called a lunatic a time or two before. I thought we were talking about horse racing?
    Focus Gina, focus….

    • I focus, but are compelled to respond to those that don’t such as Fred and Joan Booth.
      You need to check out their rants that promote their “breeding” about 90% of the time.
      You should tell them to focus instead of focusing on me.
      Another thing, I don’t give one iota what people think of me.
      Being politically correct usually equates to racehorses dying which is what this Blog is about.

      • Yes, Gina…your incredible FOCUS on what truly matters is so appreciated – if not by those who should acknowledge it, I know there would be a ROAR of approval and gratitude if the horses could speak! It’s difficult to address everyone’s concerns to their liking – you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

        Yes, as we know, THIS blog addresses the abusive horse racing industry…it doesn’t mean that we aren’t aware of and refuse to acknowledge other animal “wrongs”. If any individual can effectively battle them all, I’d love to talk with them and have them teach how.

  7. This CAN”T continue to go on! Don’t the riders have any sense of caring for the horseflesh between their legs doing their best? Normal people come to love the animal they work with. I’m heart-broken and ashamed for these heathens.

    • From my observations, most jockeys lack horsemanship. In lieu of lengthening their irons and have leg contact with the horse to communicate with this magnificent intelligent animal, they choose to have their legs/feet up near their backsides = no contact, no signal to let the horse know what the rider wants of it.
      Tragically for the horse, the jockeys “ride” with their whips. This physical and psychological painful abuse pushes the horses beyond their limits when their nervous system is telling them to slow down, nature’s way of self preserving. Consequently, horses often suffer injury and many DIE as Patrick’s ongoing factual lists of horses killed in action reveals.
      It’s all about the money and they don’t give a damn about the horse.

  8. I definitely agree with you on that 1 Gina..
    Fred and Joan Booth seem to have their own agenda which quite often strays far from the real issue and point of discussion here….

  9. I’ve never been into horse racing, they start them to young before their bones have grown. Why else would all these horses break down? Please what are they being fed and what’s their training like? So unbelievably disgusted

    • The predominant reason why a racehorse suffers a catastrophic breakdown is due to the doping cocktails used to mask chronic issues.
      Doping cocktails refer to the combination of drugs to have a more powerful impact when injected.
      It’s also the long term ongoing use of dope that is sort of the same of what I said.
      Supporters defend the use of these drugs stating that the administration is regulated.
      Well if it’s so regulated then why are 20+ drugs permissible in their system on race day?
      This just addresses the “legal” drugs, but more often than not illegal drugs are eventually found when tested for.
      They even buy compounded drugs.
      Most of the multiple drug violating Trainers who have horses that test positive for powerful pain masking drugs, usually have an increase of fatal racehorse deaths under their “care.”
      So there’s a direct correlation there.
      The truth is this industry can’t train, and race without drugs.
      There would be no racehorses filling races for wagering resulting in a increase of profits.
      So they continue to allow dope to maintain their wagering profits while racehorses die.

      • Where were you an Associate Stewart. ? And where did you work within the industry ?Ms Powel..Thanks

  10. Just curious as to why you would use two photos of a horse that has broken down that is not at Del Mar, or Santa Anita, to promote your story? The outriders in So Cal don’t wear pinks and hunt caps- that’s an eastern thing.

    • Just curious eh, Casey?

      The photos that Patrick puts up are examples of the shocking injuries resulting in death that many racehorses suffer.

      “To promote your story” mmm… yes, well where does one start?

      “Don’t wear pinks and hunt caps” in southern California, eh Casey?

      My, my, my, you certainly scrutinized
      the photo of the horses coming out of the gates, yep 3 jockeys wearing pink silks! Now folks this is crucially important, take note of the colours the jockeys are wearing, oops, nearly forgot the hunt cap worn by the attendant.
      Yes… well Casey, having worked at the coalface in the industry and born into a racing family, I’ve seen a fair bit. Did u notice that there were another two attendants with this doomed horse? I’ll tell u what they were doing, they were preventing the horse from getting up because then the public would witness the sickening sight of a horse trying to get up with a broken limb, pelvis or spine trauma which ain’t a pretty sight, believe me. I’ve seen them sit on a horse’s head and neck causing near death from respiratory failure purely to stop the horse getting up which he desperately wants to do, being a prey animal. Oh the fear and agony on this horse’s face.

      One question to ask of u Casey
      Did you notice the fatally injured horse lying on the ground with his head up in excruciating pain, all alone, with his herd mates gone, they finished the race off but he didn’t!

      No, you wouldn’t because you, Casey whoever? would’ve only noticed that the jockey was wearing red and white silks and that the horse had red and white bandages on and those colours are worn in southern California!

      And that’s all you would’ve noticed, eh Casey!

      By the way, the horse was jet black, in case you didn’t notice, Casey.

        The supporters, and participators of horse racing are so low, and so pathetic that they overlook the pain, suffering, agony, of a dying horse for race colors?
        No words.

  11. What animal activistsdont seem to appreciate – but acknowledge in a way by referring to horses dying on owners’ farms – is that it isn’t racing and other equestrian activities that are the problem.

    Horses are supposed to be able to run fast without shattering their legs. They evolved to do so naturally in a variety of terrain. They have fine natural balance and are prey animals who run in herds to escape predators.

    This business of taking a bad step or breaking down crossing the finish line like Eight Belles should not be happening. The reason it is, and so often, has more to do with breeding and racing practices than with racing itself. Several fast and precocious bloodlines – including Storm Cat and Raise a Native – are notorious for promoting unsoundness. I recall reading the moniker “Snap Cat” applied to the legendary and high priced stud because if this phenomenon.

    Horses start running too early. The dream horse now is a colt who wins the BC Juvies at 2, the Triple Crown and BC Classic at 3, and is off making more of his kind by 4 (like retiring a 15 year old human athlete who started competing in elite company at age 7). These baby bones aren’t ready for the stress .

    Then there are the drugs like corticosteroids , known producers of osteoporosis in humans and animals even as they take down in inflammation, Lasix, a powerful diuretic that I can personally attest leaches water from all over the body. Including muscle and bone tissue – the list goes on.

    These are addressable issues.

    • Jennifer ‘ “these are addressable issues.”
      The only addressable issue is that this cruelty circus, and death camp needs to shut down now.
      That’s the issue.

  12. One more thing; about that heartbreaking photo of Eight Belles being held down – she had shattered both front legs. They were holding her down while the van carrying Larry Bramlage and his merciful death needle was en route. There was no face saving vanning her off to do the dirty deed away from the TV cameras. She would have surely suffered even more had she tried to get up on what were effectively two stumps. Horrible, crushing day.

    • Jennifer, you stated “there was no face saving vanning her off to do the dirty deed away from the TV cameras”.
      What you failed to mention was that Eight Belles was very high profile, worth a huge amount of money and adored by the public. Of course they were going to do the right thing by her.
      On the other hand, every day horses are being vanned off in excruciating pain (some with multiple fractures) in lieu of being put out of their agony in a humane manner on the track. And some are killed because it’s not viable to spend the money to save them. And some are put on the kill truck the next morning. Racing for decades has been successful in hiding its sickening mistreatment of its horses but not anymore – the tide is turning. You say that Racing isn’t the problem yet the “addressable” issues are what Racing is.
      Racing has a crucial animal welfare crisis on its hands.

      • Yes Carolyn, and the welfare crisis is not acute, but chronic.
        In fact, the crisis will never end because this entire business model is based on the exploitation of a sentiment being for staggering profits.
        The only issue is that is must be shut down, and only then will the killings stop.

  13. I didn’t know injured horses were put on the kill truck the next morning! Terrible! My 2 points are , and please bear with me. First, too much breeding! Put a lower cap on stallion books, say 60. Second, do away with the damned claiming scandal!!! Worn out horses raced to death! I hate the abuse! The thousands of racers who aren’t high profile need help!

    • You are right Cindi. The breeding is out of control because there is so much money to be made. Plus the despicable “claiming game” will never go away as long as racing exists. It is the disposal system for the “elite” of the game and the downward spiral to hell for the horse.

    • Cindi, the breeding is out of control but it won’t be decreased since those involved in racing are always looking for the next big “hit” – a Triple Crown Winner. Years ago, Joy Aten, Jo Anne Normile and I visited Ken McPeek’s training center in Lexington, Kentucky. We spoke to the manager of the center who said that one of the sheiks down the road (I can’t remember which one) bred one of his stallions to 200 mares a year with the hope of producing a Derby winner. Again, one stallion to 200 mares. Horrific, in my opinion. Now, I do realize that not every mare will take nor will every mare produce a live foal, but the numbers are still enormous. Eric Mitchell, of the Bloodhorse, told me a few years ago that approximately 5% of the foal crop will win a stakes race during their racing career so it should be obvious that the vast majority of the horses will end up in the low level claiming ranks and then will need to be “disposed of.” It is a sad and vicious cycle and it can’t be “fixed.” Horseracing is animal exploitation, plain and simple, and it can’t be cleaned up. The only way to “fix” it is to end it.

  14. You said it, Mary ! Racing can’t be fixed because it’s core, it’s very foundation, is the use and abuse of the horse for money. All this talk about “improving” racing is hog wash.

  15. After over twenty years in horse racing, I respectfully disagree with the notion that this many horses dying are an inherent and unavoidable part of horse racing, not this many deaths. No other track in the U. S. has numbers anywhere close to this. The fact that the Del Mar officials want to pretend its normal, or it’s because it’s early in the season or because the trainers didn’t condition their horses properly is siuch BS. Or it would be happening at other tracks or at every track. The refuse to properly work the track surface, turn it over deep enough and mix the soil with a softener, (Loam, peat moss, etc.) TO COUNTERACT THE EXTRA HARDNESS of the track due to hot weather baker Nguyen it and salt in the sea air, hardening it which they should be doing every year is totally irresponsible and should be met with a boycott. But hey, not their horses, cheaper to deflect blame and responsibility.

    • Read my FOIA reports (state-by-state in the categories section). Peruse my “Killed” lists at the top of the site. See this on Saratoga ’16. This is most certainly not just a Del Mar problem. Fact is, your chosen field kills horses every day. For $2 bets. And yes, it is inevitable. I suggest you go peddle your propaganda to a more receptive audience, perhaps, say, at the Paulick Report.

    • Christie, you fail to mention many factors that directly contribute to racehorses dying such as: training/running at 2 years old long before the muscoskeletal system is fully developed resulting in pre-existing conditions that are present long before they reach the age of 3 years old; the pre-existing/chronic conditions are masked with doping cocktails (just for the record doping cocktails are a concoction of more than 1 drug combined with another to have a greater impact), the total and complete absence of medication records for review, the refusal of the industry to protect the racehorse who shows obvious signs of distress (DNF), and still permits that horse to run, the 23/7 intense confinement not meant for any animal let alone a free ranging racehorse that requires regular movement to remain healthy (not sent out to run in a circle at break neck speed), the beating/whipping of racehorses when probably sore, and/or tired all of these factors, and more culminating in an accident waiting to happen.
      These are the cornerstones of the operating procedures in any racing stable from the bottom claimers to the highest level, and that’s why racehorses are destined to die.
      This business can’t eliminate these operating factors because they require it in order to continue exploiting racehorses to fill races, and to increase wagering profits.
      Merely changing the track surface doesn’t change the fundamental basis of this business which results in racehorses dying every single day at racetracks and training centers all over the country.
      Anybody who rationalizes the horrific aspects of this business is delusional.

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