This past Saturday, Horseracing Wrongs co-hosted a protest of the Belmont Stakes outside Gate 5 at Belmont Park. It was, to my knowledge, the first ever coordinated protest at a Triple Crown race. And it was a success: We did several interviews, executed a powerful banner drop, and generally turned many a head. Below, please find a short video made by Kiirstin Marilyn and Karolina Tyszkowska of the NYC-based “V For Veganism.” Thank you to them, and to all who came out to stand with us for the horses.

The following letter was sent to Bob Costas, host of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage. To date, no reply. The sentiments expressed, of course, are applicable to all at that network, but most especially to Jon Miller, president of sports programming. Since my letter was mailed, an article in Sports Business Journal quotes Miller as saying: “Horse racing is an underappreciated and undervalued property that we were committed to growing and developing, and restoring to its status as a major sport in this country.” At once, repugnant (referring to the wholesale killing of horses for $2 bets as “sport”) and delusional (the U.S. racing industry is not coming back). Anyway, please read on.

Dear Mr. Costas:

My name is Patrick Battuello and I am the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to ending horseracing in America. First, let me say that as a life-long sports fan I have always respected your work. You are knowledgeable, eloquent, and thoughtful – truly one of the finest broadcasters of this or any generation. As a result, your words and actions hold great sway. Most recently, your stance against the NFL’s handling of the brain-injury issue and, more broadly, your detachment from football itself is both weighty and admirable. But your support and enthusiasm for horseracing is, I feel, profoundly disturbing, all the more so because of those aforementioned qualities.

I would like to share some information you may or may not already know. Since 2014, when I began filing FOIA requests with state racing commissions, I have been publishing first-of-their-kinds “Killed” lists – confirmed deaths on U.S. tracks. These annual lists have been roughly 1,000-strong, but after considering various factors (which I enumerate on the website), I have come to conclude that upward of 2,000 American racehorses are killed racing or training every year. Over 2,000. And this is not just a “cheap track” problem: Last summer, 21 horses died during hallowed Saratoga’s decidedly brief meet. The two summers prior, it was Del Mar. Truth is, there are no answers – death at the track is, always has been, and always will be an inherent part of this industry (please see “The Inevitability of Dead Racehorses”).

In addition, countless others, perhaps just as many as those killed on-track, succumb to what the industry conveniently dismisses as “non-racing” causes – things like colic, laminitis, “barn accident,” “found dead in stall.” In truth, however, these animals are no less victims of the business than the ones who snap their legs on raceday. Furthermore, the prevailing wisdom (fully explained on the site) is that most – likely an overwhelming majority of – retired racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered once Racing deems them expended. In short, I don’t think it hyperbole to say that the U.S. horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Yes, carnage.

As an animal advocate, I seek to draw parallels between “us” and “them” – to help people forge connections they may not have previously thought existed. That said, I can certainly appreciate that although we share much with the rest of sentient creation – the most relevant being the capacity for suffering – an exact equality is neither tenable nor necessarily desirable. In other words, I am not saying that a CTE-afflicted former football player and a “broke-down” racehorse are the same things. But the question is not whether dead horses and dead people matter equally; rather, do dead horses matter at all? If they do, what level of destruction must be met before we as a society say, enough? For me, of course, one dead horse for $2 bets is one too many. But what, respectfully, is that number for you?

Mr. Costas, I implore you to dig deeper, to look beyond the juleps, hats, and horns, for that is racing on but a handful of days, at a tiny fraction of tracks. The rest of it, Racing’s very core, is ugly and mean. It’s spirit-crushing isolation and confinement for over 23 hours a day (which, by the way, makes a mockery of the industry claim that horses are born to run, love to run); it’s needles and syringes and injury-numbing chemicals; it’s absolute control and utter subjugation – lip tattoos, nose chains, metal bits, leather whips; it’s anxiety and stress (in the most detailed FOIA documentation I have received to date, the Pennsylvania ’16 report indicated the presence of ulcers – most extensive to severe – in virtually every one of the dead horses); it’s buying and selling and trading and dumping; it’s shattered limbs, imploded hearts, head trauma, and pulmonary hemorrhage; it’s kill-buyers and transport trucks, shackles and butchers’ knives. It’s exploitation and cruelty, suffering and death.

Football may indeed be embarking on a slow, steady decline, and it’s probably just as well. For it is a violent, unforgiving game, with many of the participants’ lives forever altered. But in the final analysis, they, as fully-autonomous human beings, have a choice. Horses do not. In fact, and pardon the inflammatory language, the racehorse is but a simple slave – a thing to be used, a resource to be mined. When future generations cast a critical eye, what is to be our collective defense? That we countenanced the above for entertainment? For gambling? Mr. Costas, your position on football has changed – evolved. We ask only that the same thoughtfulness and caring that went into that be applied to “The Sport of Kings.” Please, for the horses.

Sincerely,
Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs
website: horseracingwrongs.com
email: patrick@horseracingwrongs.com

Follows are some of the heartening comments and emails I have received. Progress.

“I am writing you because I saw what you posted about Mariano Intheninth. My family and I live in Louisville. I have never been a huge fan of horse racing but my family got free tickets to the track that day and were taking my 85 year old grandma for a day out. I was there when Mariano Intheninth broke his leg…about 30 feet away from me. I will NEVER forget it. Everyone was worried about the Jockey while I was concerned about the poor horse who was obviously afraid and in pain. I have not stopped thinking about it since. I just wanted to thank you for acknowledging his existence and short life as well as the hundreds of others who have pointlessly lost their lives. I for one will NEVER return to Churchill Downs or any other track ever again, and this experience has only further opened my eyes to this disgusting ‘sport.’ I wish everyone knew the truth. Thank you again Patrick.” – Meghan in Kentucky, 6/15/15

“Hello Patrick, I love what you post, you post the truth and only the truth. I am so sick of hearing of the horse deaths. I ride and ride for fun, Thorougbreds, Quarters, etc. My last race was Del Mar 2000, horse went down. Seeing it live was horrible. Never went back, but still ride and love horses. Thank you for posting and saying ‘the truth.’ I hope it helps. Live in Sacramento, CA.” – name withheld per wishes, 5/21/16

“I came across your website last night trying to research the horse in the subject line. In the 4th race at Emerald Downs on July 1, 2016, Corporal Agarn fell and, to my untrained eye, clearly broke one of his front legs. The only information I know about him now is that he was ‘vanned away.’ I am quite sure he was euthanized. You seem like you are well on top of things, and I commend you for the research you’ve done on your website. I just want to make sure this one doesn’t fall through the cracks – and I’d like to be absolutely sure of what happened to him. As a member of the betting public for the past three years, it was easy for me to justify the risks of this form of entertainment. It’s a lot harder now, seeing it live in real time.” – name withheld per wishes, 7/2/16

“I’m a longtime writer and a former horse owner, and I’ve been following Horseracing Wrongs for a couple of years. I wanted to say thank you for the work you do – painful though it is to keep track of these stats, what you’re doing is extremely important, especially in an industry that refuses any form of transparency. I’ve been posting on social media and sending messages to friends and family, to encourage others to spread the word about the atrocities of the racing industry. Some of my friends are following suit, and I hope the movement will grow. If there’s anything else you can think of that we might do to make a difference, I’d be happy for the information.” – name withheld per wishes, 8/27/16

“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. 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.” – name withheld per wishes, 1/3/17

“Thanks for your blog. If more people knew about the mistreatment of these beautiful animals they would choose to spend their money on other forms of entertainment. I joined a friend at Lone Star Park last night because she wanted to see the horses in person for the first time. This will be her last trip to the racetrack. In race three the winner broke down right at the wire and was euthanized on the track in front of hundreds of horrified spectators. I saw several children in tears as the curtain came out to hide from view what I knew was going to be the unfortunate death of another race horse. You can see the replay at the Lone Star website. The name of the horse is Hidden Talent. Something was hidden alright, and that was the cover up of this innocent victim dying in front of our eyes. There was no mention after the event of the unfortunate demise of an unwilling participant – only the condition of the jockey. This is horse racing. I won’t be back.” – Brad Forster, 10/1/17

“I read your posts and I decided I would not support horse racing anymore. So I am totally out of any industry that promotes gambling or mistreats animals. I would feel good about horse racing going out of business. Thank you.” – Richard Tindall, 11/19/17

“I started watching horseracing occasionally years ago beginning with the triplecrown won by the great Secretariat. Recently we moved to New Jersey and we began to attend Saratoga racecourse once a year. Then I discovered TVG. I enjoyed watching the beautiful horses parading in the paddock, and picking winners. Then one day early in 2018 I saw a beautiful gray horse, Electric Alphabet, in the parade. I watched during his race as he took a ‘wrong step’ and went down. I waited to hear from the announcer what had happened. No word except that the jockey was ok. That’s when I found your website and confirmed what I dreaded. He had been euthanized. He was 12 years old and still racing? I read comments from your site and realized this was not an occasional thing. I still couldn’t believe it. I watched more, horses kept getting hurt, announcers kept under-reacting. The last straw was this weekend. Through sheer luck I did not see the horse collapse at Gulfstream. In what other ‘sport’ do you witness death on a daily basis and think that’s acceptable? Do baseball players going for a long fly hit the outfield wall and slump over, dead? We would surely all be horrified. What if a downhill skier lost control and we witnessed her or his detached leg flying down the mountain alone? I don’t think anyone would enjoy that. But horses collapsing at an astonishing rate is ok? Shame on us.” – Linda Murphy, 2/26/18

“I don’t bet on racing anymore. I’m saving my money to help rescue those who have been shipped to sale auctions for slaughter.” – Tonya Stephenson, 3/17/18

“I saw Boom Boom Bango break down in the 9th at Santa Anita on March 18th. Looked bad and threw the rider. I am hoping the worst is not true. The track announcer and camera crew are trained to de-emphasize the event. Follow-up news updates are intentionally almost non-existent and information is always minimal. I am hoping I do not see Boom Boom Bango on your list tomorrow [she is in fact dead]. …I am not going back there.” – Randy Bramstedt, 3/18/18

Earlier this month, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial criticizing the subsidization of the Pennsylvania horseracing industry. Good, yes. Unfortunately, it did not go nearly far enough. So, in the interest of presenting the full picture, I wrote a letter to the editor, to which I received no reply. Thus, I publish it here:

I would like to thank you for your recent editorial decrying the corporate welfare to the Pennsylvania horseracing industry. As the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to ending horseracing in America, I am certainly aware of this sadly under-reported issue. As you so accurately point out, racing is indeed in decline; the subsidies propping up Keystone State tracks is an all-too-common theme across the country. Here in New York, for instance, it is no exaggeration to say that without the largess from Video Lottery Terminals, all seven harness tracks and likely two of the state’s four Thoroughbred tracks would have been shuttered by now. But there is another element to this story – that is, the moral one.

In each of the past three years, I have placed FOIA requests with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture seeking information on racehorse deaths. What I have found, and reported – in gruesome detail – on my website, is that from 2015-2017, 290 horses died on or at Pennsylvania racetracks. 290. (Nationally, I estimate that there are over 2,000 track-related kills every year.) And that’s almost surely understated, as countless other “catastrophically injured” horses are euthanized back at private farms or after being acquired by rescue groups. Even worse, scores more (indeed, most) of the “retired” are brutally and violently slaughtered once this industry deems them expended. So in addition to diverting funds that could be used for the public good to an archaic business, the commonwealth is also sanctioning the killing of beautiful, intelligent, sensitive creatures – and all for nothing more than $2 bets.

Sensibilities on animal matters are clearly changing: Ringling is dead, SeaWorld, owing mostly to the movie “Blackfish,” is desperately hanging on, and greyhound racing is on life support (currently being kept alive by, you guessed it, subsidies). End the welfare, yes. But also end the exploitation; end the cruelty; end the killing.

End horseracing.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs
New York

This article by racing writer Art Wilson appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News on December 14. In it, he chastises PETA for not offering money/help in the wake of the wildfire that killed 46 racehorses at San Luis Rey Downs earlier this month. I followed with a letter-to-the-editor; to date, I have heard nothing from the paper. So, I have reproduced my response here. It can be found after Wilson’s diatribe.

By ART WILSON

Like the rest of you, I’ve read with great interest over the years how much the animal rights group PETA cares about the welfare of our horses.

You know the drill. They’ve picketed outside Del Mar, claiming abuse of the horses. They’ve been very vocal in their distaste for horse racing.

So like many of you, I was curious to know how much PETA chipped in to help in the aftermath of last week’s San Luis Rey tragedy.

I sent emails to a couple of executives in the industry, Mike Willman of Santa Anita and Mac McBride, who’s been at Del Mar for a good number of years, to find out the extent of PETA’s involvement in the relief efforts.

Here’s what they told me:

“I have not heard about them donating a single penny,” Willman wrote.

I can’t share with you the rest of Willman’s email because this is a family newspaper.

McBride’s reply concerning PETA’s involvement?

“Nada. Zip. Zilch.”

Turns out, PETA did reach out to the industry in the days following the fire at San Luis Rey.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA, emailed the Southern California News Group with details about her organization’s actions following the tragedy.

Guillermo’s email reads, in part: “I was in touch with the Stronach Group, which owns San Luis Rey, on Dec. 8 and was assured they were on their way to assess the needs. I contacted Joe Harper at Del Mar on Dec. 11. Mr. Harper told me that there had been an outpouring of volunteers — more than 300 on the first day — and thousands of dollars in donations. I was thus assured that all needs were being taken care of.”

Santa Anita and Del Mar spearheaded an effort to raise much-needed money and supplies in the wake of the San Luis Rey nightmare. They started a gofundme page that, as of 1:55 p.m. Thursday, had raised more than $637,000.

But it’s still a fact that not one penny came from PETA, the self-described champion of animal rights, and no member of the group showed up to join other volunteers.

Yes, PETA made two phone calls. But while they were “in touch” with officials from Southern California’s two major race tracks, thousands of others were busy either donating money or actually on the grounds offering physical support.

Wilson went on to cite “heart-warming stories” of the industry stepping up, then closed with this: “It’s just an example of how much these horses are loved and cared for and how people were willing to risk their lives to save them.”

The column, the editor notes, “was updated and revised to reflect PETA’s comments.” The original, I note, repeated the word “crickets” several times – “crickets,” as in all attempts to reach PETA were met with a supposedly revealing silence.

And my retort:

Regarding the recent Art Wilson article on the San Luis Rey Downs fire that killed multiple racehorses: First, as a technical matter, Horseracing Wrongs, not PETA, is the preeminent anti-racing organization in the country – having compiled and published first-of-their-kind Killed in Action Lists, organized and staged historic protests at Saratoga Race Course and beyond, etc. Second, and more to the point, the mere suggestion that we or any other not-for-profit entity should be helping to bail out the multi-billion (that’s billion with a “b”) dollar racing industry or that that same rich industry would have the chutzpah to start a gofundme page is positively ludicrous. Worse, though, is Mr. Wilson’s complete evasion of this inconvenient truth:

Yes, wildfires injure and sometimes kill wild animals, but at least those free, autonomous beings have a fighting chance. Locked-up pieces of property do not. In a crisis situation, their lives are utterly dependent on the willingness (or ability) of humans to help. The fact is, if not for horseracing those 450-odd horses would not have been at that place, at that time; if not for horseracing, 46 of them would not now be dead. In short, horseracing owns these horrific deaths, just as it owns the thousands – yes, thousands – of horses who are maimed and killed on U.S. tracks every year and the thousands more who are brutally slaughtered once their earning-windows have closed. Sure, tragedies happen, but this one happened for $2 bets.

Upon further reflection, characterizing this article as ludicrous is far too kind. Mr. Wilson’s snarky (“crickets”) indictment of groups whose only mission it is to end animal suffering and his simultaneous celebration of an industry that only exists to exploit – and, by definition, cause suffering of – animals for personal gain, with an expectation that we should help fund their recovery, is, in a word, obscene. Obscene.

Patrick Battuello
Founder, President, Horseracing Wrongs