by Joy Aten
Aftercare. The TB racing industry’s buzzword these days. Recognizing the public’s ever-increasing awareness that vast numbers of racehorses are sent to slaughter, the industry and its apologists boast, ad nauseam, of their drop-in-the-bucket aftercare initiatives. Their incessant chatter on the subject begs some questions: If racehorses are the “beloved family members” the horse people gush they are, why are they not providing their spent and injured horses with post-racing homes? Why does this multi-billion dollar industry not fully support the horses it bred and used, but instead plead with an over-solicited public to help foot the bills?
And we see them every day. Racehorses begging for homes. Everywhere. Still at the track. At auction barns. In kill pens. In rescue and placement programs. On social media. Listing services. “Watch Lists.” Craigslist. Endless lists. And if a home is secured? The financial demands to meet the horse’s needs for the next 20 or so years will far surpass what any racing owner’s were for that same horse. Bred for racing, used in racing, but ultimately, not supported by racing.
Diva’s Kitten was one such horse – no longer wanted, in desperate need of a home. Here is what a listing service had to say about the 4-year-old filly: “**Please Note she has a chip in her Upper Knee Joint** Extremely Classy Dappled Beauty!! It was found recently that she’s got a chip in her Upper Knee Joint. She could continue to Race but her connections would rather see her retire. Great Broodmare Prospect!! She could also be a ridding [sic] horse for someone willing to give her a chance since a chip doesn’t mean they can’t still have a career! Our meet is ending and needs to Move ASAP!!” She was priced at $650, but within a day, it was changed to “Make Offer.”
So what do you think? Clearly, the ad depicts the following as facts: 1), R&P Racing Stables (owner) and Rodney Faulkner (trainer) appear considerate (“She could continue to Race but her connections would rather see her retire.”); 2), the “chip” is dismissed as inconsequential as not only could DK “continue to race,” she is also a riding prospect; 3), a $650 price tag, given the preceding, seems more than reasonable (with negotiating room – “needs to move ASAP” – to boot). Looks great, right? Buyers see a bargain in a young, serviceable filly, and apologists will praise the connections for retiring her when they could still be racing her. Red flags, anyone?
First put to the whip as a 2-year-old, Diva’s Kitten would be raced 32 times in all for Faulkner, R&P, and Skipper Hamilton, “earning” over $100,000 along the way. But in her last race, September 17 at Thistledown, she “trailed, stopped, jogged to wire” – finishing last, nearly 30 lengths behind. At some point between then and October 15, her connections had knee x-rays done, and by the latter date she had been put up for sale (the ad’s info coming directly from Faulkner). So, while it looked a great deal to a prospective buyer, the outcome was more likely to be pasture pet/money pit, and with that, a huge risk of Diva landing in the slaughter pipeline. This is where rescuers Mary Johnson and Rose Smith come in, ultimately purchasing (and saving) Diva.
Having been told Diva’s Kitten came out of her last race lame but without possession of the x-rays (Mary tried unsuccessfully to obtain them several times), it was decided to take more films – and of both knees. The diagnosis was as bad as anticipated. For this 4-year-old to have any chance for a comfortable life, she needed surgery.
Diva’s Kitten underwent bilateral knee arthroscopy on November 14. Her left knee had taken the worst of the pounding. From the operative report: “large defect on the weight-bearing surface of the intermediate carpal bone, along with a large fragment…loose cartilage on the entire dorsal margin [and] a distinct fragment buried deep in the joint capsule [that] could not be removed.” Diva’s Kitten was, obviously, not sound to race. And “riding” horse? Not without surgery, followed up with a series of joint injections and monthly supplements. And then, only maybe.
That is how her “job” left her. At four. Without surgery, she would have quickly deteriorated to “broodmare only” condition, followed by “pasture-pet” status – while, likely, in her teens, if not before. In less than one month, the cost of her post-racing needs has climbed to just shy of $5,000, and, of course, that’s just the beginning. Bred for Racing. Used by Racing. Maimed by Racing. But not a penny in help from Racing.
Had Diva’s Kitten not been rescued by Mary and Rose, it would only have been a matter of time before photos of her at an auction or in a kill-pen surfaced (if, that is, she was lucky enough to be noticed). There would then have been a scrambling for donations to save her life. But with the revelation that her last race was several months prior, the apologists would have made certain to absolve her “connections,” prattling: “Her racing owner didn’t send her there! She’s been off the track since September – couldn’t have been Racing that dumped her at auction!” Not responsible? Please. Didn’t they use her? Take her “earnings”? Wasn’t she maimed in their care? Yes, yes, and yes. Not only did Faulkner ignore the injury she suffered while making him money, he set her up for disaster by presenting her as something she was not.
Diva’s Kitten, of course, is not unique. Racing owners don’t attend to their horses’ injuries unless it’s to salvage for breeding or continued racing; they just pass the “problem” on to the next guy. Countless racehorses found at auction have the same story as Diva’s Kitten…and while their connections might not have personally delivered them into the kill buyers’ hands, they might just as well have. They set their spent, injured, and unwanted horses up for bad endings; they open the door to slaughter and send them through it. Again. And again. And again.
Where is the aftercare for Diva’s Kitten? Racing didn’t supply the funds to cover her purchase, veterinary expenses, board, transport, and follow-up care. And racing isn’t going to provide her with a home for the next 25 years. Bred for, used in, damaged and discarded by Racing – moral bankruptcy defined.