As reported here, 3-year-old Just Jack “broke down” in the 5th at Laurel New Year’s Eve – just another sentient being sacrificed for gambling, and for me, yet another name to record. And the beat goes on. But every so often I receive a comment or an email that heartens, buoys – helps to keep me going day after deadly day. What follows is progress, and for that, I thank you.

“I was at Laurel Park on December 31st, placed a bet on Just Jack, and watched the race at the rail. Not only was I shocked and heartbroken when he fell and died, but something in me changed forever. I’d seen horses fall before but had continued to enthusiastically ‘follow’ (wager on) thoroughbreds, visiting tracks from Saratoga to Santa Anita, living under the rationalizations that ‘horses live to compete’ and that since we eat cows that betting on horse racing is somehow ethical.

That’s all behind me. I will never wager on horse racing again. I used to soothe my guilt with donations to equine rescues, but I was working at cross purposes. Just Jack was whipped mercilessly in the stretch and he died as a result. It is one thing to kill an animal for food, but it is quite another to kill one for entertainment. I could not believe the patrons at Laurel quietly went back to the buffet after the race and then prepared their bets for the next race.

Those in the industry will say that better regulation can prevent these events. They are completely wrong. I have followed this industry for 40 years and it has not really improved. The only way to prevent such hideous cruelty is to stop wagering on horse racing, just as we stopped wagering on greyhound racing in most states. And let’s stop supporting Saudi tyrants in the process.

I still feel sick about my presence at Laurel, and in fact I have always felt somehow ashamed of my wagering. I can now look forward to a clearer life and limit my involvement with horses to supporting them in the most positive ways.”

Racing is set to hold the latest in what feels like an endless stream of take-stock-of-our-industry conferences this December in Arizona. The “Global Symposium on Racing & Gaming” will feature the usual fare – “cultivating customer loyalty,” finding “new wagering products” to help “grow the sport,” improving “medication and substance integrity,” etc. – but one item on the docket stands out as not just atypical for events like this but downright game-changing. On the final day, comes this:

The Animal Rights Agenda: An Issue That Can No Longer Be Ignored

Animal rights protesters were found in large numbers outside racing’s two most iconic tracks this summer, Saratoga and Del Mar, and they aren’t going away. Is there any middle ground racing can find with these groups? Panelists with years of experience dealing with these types of groups will enlighten the audience of tactics these organizations use, some successful campaigns used against them as well as the animal rights groups successes that have fundamentally changed the way a number of animal industries operate. Now is the time for racing to seriously consider how the actions of these groups may forever change the face of the sport.

Remarkable. Truly remarkable. First, the obvious: We’re winning; the above is proof-positive. By our numbers, which we plan on growing exponentially next summer, through unrelenting exposure, we have compelled them to confront us – to put us on the agenda. (And, not so gently nudged the media: Because our protests practically demanded coverage, for the first time in 150 years the killing at “iconic” Saratoga received more than a mere glossing over.) From here, as any student of the great social-justice movements can tell you, the writing is on the wall. You see, these things don’t just fade away; they get stronger and stronger and stronger, until – change.

Here, though, I want to be crystal clear on the change we seek (and perhaps aid in the planning of future “symposiums”). There is no “middle ground” to be had. We are not looking for a mere seat at the table or to “change the face of the sport”; we want the table gone, the “sport” erased. No compromise, no reform – an end to horseracing, pure and simple. And I can save them even more time. Our “tactics” are neither elaborate nor, for that matter, even plural. In this fight, we wield but one, simple tool: education. Impart knowledge; let compassion and conscience take it from there.

Finally, I almost find it astounding that they would make public their plan to identify “campaigns” to use against us. Insulting, really, as if we’re not sophisticated enough to do anything more than hold placards, incapable of monitoring their activities. Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe the threat we pose, though they concede as real, does not rise to some requisite level of seriousness that would warrant more secrecy. No matter, the upshot remains the same. Attempts to discredit, to smear, to muddle our message, to repackage their century-old lie of a message – horseracing is a sport, the horses “athletes” – will not work, for we are smart; we are organized; but above all, we have the facts – the truth – on our side. And truth, folks, is irrepressible.

Yes, sensibilities in regard to animals are changing: Ringling has retired its elephants; SeaWorld is phasing-out its orcas; “vegan” is no longer an alien word. Is it so hard, then, to imagine a world where horses are no longer beaten, maimed, and killed for $2 bets? I think not. And judging by the above, I believe the racing people can see it, too.

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In a CBS8 news report on a protest on Del Mar’s final day, Joe Harper, club president, said this: “Sometimes I wonder why they’re out there carrying banners when the rest of us are actually doing something about it [the “it” being horses dying] and donating literally millions of dollars for research going to the health of the animal.”

You can’t make this stuff up. (I’ve included the video link below.) By the way, Harper’s assertion that the death number is 15 does not reconcile with his track’s stewards minutes. Going into his interview Monday, 20 had died either on Del Mar grounds or while being prepped off-site for upcoming DM races. And of course Chasing Aces – by many accounts, the most gruesome of the meet – made it 21 that very day.

I’ve long maintained that some within Racing are delusional – really, they see things that just aren’t so. Things like: lashes to the flesh don’t hurt; racehorses – isolated-and-confined-in-tiny-stalls-23-hours-a-day racehorses, drugged-and-doped-without-consent racehorses, bought-sold-traded-and-dumped racehorses – lead better lives than you and me; slaughter is an “animal rights” fantasy, or at the very least doesn’t rise to the level of serious, widespread problem; and, best of all, that what they do is a “sport,” the horses “equine athletes.”

Mr. Harper is either callous and cunning or sad and pathetic. No matter, for his comment reads the same either way. To claim that the very industry abusing and killing horses for profit is doing more for those horses than the volunteer advocates whose only goal is to end the barbarity is, in a word, obscene.

Drop our banners, Mr. Harper? Sure, but you first: Drop your whips, your syringes, your bugles; scrap your “vans”; stop your transport-trucks; shutter your betting-windows. Cease and desist. Then, we won’t be necessary. Until such time, know we’ll be out there – in increasing numbers – educating the masses, making you and your entire vile industry feel more and more uneasy with each passing day.

CBS8 story

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Wayne Pacelle, president/CEO of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has penned a blog post that should shock and enrage every (true) animal advocate on the planet, as he betrays, once more, the very creatures he purports to defend.

Calling for tighter regulation – reform – Pacelle makes clear (again) that the HSUS is not at all interested in the end of Racing, just a better (cleaner) version of it. Even worse, to him Racing is a sport: “This is a national industry, and like football or baseball or other major American sports – perhaps more so, since the equine athletes cannot speak up for themselves – we need national standards…” “Like football or baseball.” “Equine athletes.” Pacelle goes on to say that in order “for this sport to retain credibility with the American public,” blah, blah, blah.

As an advocate, I recognize the great challenges – hurdles – presented by food and testing. It’s why I understand, though remain conflicted on, a subtler, more incremental approach: “Meatless Monday,” “Vegan Before 6,” “Replace, Reduce, Refine.” But animal entertainment – that is, the enslavement, exploitation, suffering, and, sometimes, killing of animals as a way to pleasantly pass time? We – 21st Century America – should be ashamed at even having this conversation. It must end. Yesterday. Thing is, Pacelle and the HSUS agree as it pertains to…

circuses, acting: “The HSUS opposes the use of captive wild animals as performers in circuses, film and television, and commercials.”

marine-mammal shows: “It is unacceptable for marine mammals to be held in captivity for the purpose of public display. The HSUS…believes that…it should be rejected outright.”

rodeos: “The HSUS opposes rodeos…bull riding, bronco riding, steer roping, calf roping, ‘wild horse racing,’ chuck wagon racing, steer tailing, and horse tripping.”

bullfighting: “The HSUS opposes…bullfighting.”

and…

greyhound racing: “The HSUS opposes greyhound racing. This practice leads to an unacceptable level of greyhound exploitation and suffering solely for profit. The industry promotes and tolerates an overproduction of dogs, resulting in an annual surplus numbering in the thousands, many of whom will end up being destroyed. The sheer waste of life is a scandal.”

Everything, that is, except for horseracing (and other “equine events”), even as all they’ve written on dogracing clearly – at least to those with functioning brains – applies to the equine version. (Worse, actually: Most “surplus” racehorses die violent, terrifying deaths in foreign slaughterhouses. Talk about “scandal.”)

So the question becomes, why? A theory: Either Wayne Pacelle is a closet fan (or can’t quite shake a fandom past) or he counts Racing people, most likely rich and powerful ones, as close friends. Whatever, at least where horses are concerned, both he and the organization he represents – an organization, by the way, sitting on over $200 million in assets – are fakes. But it’s even deeper: By (very publicly) endorsing The Big Lie, by refusing to repudiate this vile-to-the-core industry, the HSUS, with its almost incalculable reach, is helping to ensure that all of Racing’s inherent, other-than-drugging evils – the commodification, the social and emotional deprivation, the abuse (whipping?), the maiming, the destruction – continue, ad infinitum. Betrayal, Mr. Pacelle, is too kind a word. What you are doing to racehorses is unforgivable.

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I recently upbraided the HSUS for their position on horseracing (it’s a sport; it’s worth saving) and took some criticism for doing so. But, fortunately, I am not alone. The following comes from renowned advocate (and author of “Saving Baby – How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption”) Jo Anne Normile:

In response to the recent HSUS blog post on horse racing: This disingenuous drivel has so many errors in it, it’s difficult to know where to start.

“The horse-racing industry is plagued with dozens of poorly run and regulated tracks . . .” Are you kidding me? The inference is that they do not want this “plague,” yet they have fought any change in the status quo for over 40 years. Just who do you think brought this “plague” upon these horses? The people in this gambling industry that daily abuse and sacrifice the life and limbs of thousands of sentient beings who cannot even give a whimper to indicate when they are in pain and if they show any signs of not wanting to run faster, they are whipped. How many years of morning training has the HSUS attended? More horses are on the track every morning than on any race-day and there are no rules – any whip goes and they don’t even have to count their injured or dead! Some tracks do not even have a vet on premises, so when a horse breaks a leg training it lies there in agony until a vet can be found.

Drugs? Why are they given the majority of drugs in the first place? Do I have to spell it out? Racing in and of itself is maiming horses, and then ALL tracks, not just the ones cited, continue to race unsound horses until they have to resort to steroid injections into fractured joints, torn tendons and ligaments and painkilling drugs – which then increase the breakdown rate. There’s no chicken or egg theory here. RACING a healthy horse is abusive in and of itself and that’s what causes death or injuries – drugs come after.

Sport? Referring to racing as a sport? Really? True sports do not routinely see their athletes snapping a leg off or lying dead in the dirt, yet it happens in horse racing all the time. And when their careers are over, human athletes are not slaughtered. Yet the HSUS believes racing is a sport? How can that be? Horse racing is a form of gambling, pure and simple. Take away the gambling component and the whole thing collapses. Horse racing has been on the decline for decades. People were so disinterested in attending every-day races that they had to have a federal law passed allowing simulcast gambling across state lines – the only gambling entity allowed to do this. Despite these offsite wagers now comprising 90% of their intake, they began whining about state lotteries and casinos, so then they were allowed to inflate purses with “racino” (mostly slot machines) revenue.

The HSUS should be “putting the horse first.” If they have followed horse racing, then that phrase should sound quite familiar. This very industry they are striving to save made that promise back in 2008 after Eight Belles crossed the finish line in the Kentucky Derby and promptly shattered both front ankles. Millions watched as she pitifully attempted to rise with her nose slammed into the dirt until a screen hid the view. This industry did not keep its promises and the death, destruction and slaughter of these horses has galloped on.

Racing is not a sport. It is a gambling business that uses live animals instead of cards or dice. If the HSUS cared about “putting the horse first,” they would be supporting the “Teller All Gone Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015″/”Coronado Heights Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015,” and they would strive to take away slot machines and casino subsidies (that could be going to much-needed education or infrastructure improvements instead of propping up gambling on horses!!). Then, if successful, horse racing will die a slow death – just like so many of its horses currently do.

Jo Anne Normile
“Saving Baby – How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption” http://www.savingbaby.com
Saving Baby Equine Charity http://www.savingbaby.org