From a reader:

Two decades ago, I went to work at Saratoga Race Course. I had no experience with racehorses, but a summer job “walking hots” was easy to find – I held horses for their baths after exercise, and walked them in a circle until they were cool.

Back then, there were few, if any, organized protests against horseracing. At larger races I would sometimes see a protestor or two, but even though their presence made me uncomfortable, they didn’t stop me from going. “The thing they don’t get,” a coworker told me, “is that these horses wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for racing.”

I don’t remember if I thought of those words the first time I saw a horse fall, but I do remember the horse. He went down in front of the grandstand. Some fans gasped, while others cheered the dramatic turn of events and their resulting good fortune. I felt ill as the veterinary ambulance pulled its curtain. I said nothing to my friends. The sun was shining, the drinks were flowing. We were having a good time.

Over the years I witnessed dozens of accidents at Saratoga and other tracks, but the last involved a mare who spent 23 hours a day confined to a stall at a training facility near Finger Lakes Racetrack. During her 20 minutes of daily exercise in the EuroXciser – a rotating carousel of stalls – her hind leg lodged between panels. The stalls kept moving, and panicked horses cantered over her. The mare’s leg sustained massive damage, and she was euthanized later that day.

It’s taken years to admit my responsibility in the mare’s death. I had led her from stationary stall to mobile one, yanking her over-the-nose chain to make her behave. I didn’t like her much; she was angry, bored, and difficult to groom. In retrospect, her defiance reflected what I was slow to admit: that I was complicit in her suffering.

Afterwards, I had nightmares not only about the horses whose deaths I had seen, but about those who weren’t good enough, who didn’t win, who stopped winning. Some were sold to breeding facilities, while others were “repurposed” as riding or show horses. Others were too broken to be of use, and I knew they had gone to slaughter.

I understand now that my coworker was right to say that racehorses wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for racing, though not in the way she thought she was. I no longer agree that any life is better than none, or that the horses I saw fall were lucky to have lived. About 2000 Thoroughbreds die annually on U.S. tracks; an estimated 15,000 are shipped to slaughterhouses when they’re no longer useful. Some argue that the solution is to strengthen rehoming efforts, but because the lifetime care of a horse is prohibitively expensive and requires appropriate facilities and experience, there are never enough homes to absorb the industry’s excess.

Hundreds of protestors are expected at this year’s Travers Stakes in Saratoga. No matter their numbers, it’s unlikely that devoted fans of the track will be dissuaded, though I hope that casual attendees who have yet to understand the darker side of horseracing will reconsider their patronage. Saratoga and other tracks will perpetuate exploitation as long as people attend. The longevity of horseracing depends upon the consumer. Years ago, I went to the Travers as a fan and NYRA employee; this year I’ll be joining Horseracing Wrongs in protest.

Ashley Pankratz, August 2018

From the California Horse Racing Board for Los Alamitos, July 27-July 29: “Three equine deaths were reported this week [the week in question was three days] due to racing injuries.” Unacceptably, however, no names were disclosed. We know from other sourcing that one was Unusual Kiddy in the 8th July 29; it’s a good bet that, based on the charts, the other two are from this group: Amore Di La Mamma; Provodnikov; Dramatic Angel. Regarding UK, I received the following email:

Dear Patrick,

My name is Laura. I have always been a lover of all creatures, vegetarian since age 4, and highly sensitive to any stories of animal mistreatment. Until last Sunday, I knew almost nothing about the horse racing industry. It has been a very heartbreaking week.

My Dad used to work at a track when he was a teenager, and since we moved to Los Alamitos last year, he has wanted us all to go together to see some races. My life partner and I are expecting, and so we decided to take my parents there for dinner and share our happy news.

The night began innocently enough. We marveled at the beautiful horses, enjoyed our dinner, and laughed as my Mom picked a winner five times in a row. It was down to the final race of the night, and for the first time all night, I did not put my $2 on the horse with the greatest odds stacked against him, Unusual Kiddy.

What happened seconds after the horses left the gate has replayed in my mind hundreds of times this week. Unusual Kiddy tumbling several times before coming to a motionless stop. Ambulances. The winner being called over the speakers, no discussion of the carnage on the track. Watching through my tears. A silent drive home. A sickening feeling of guilt and despair. A sleepless night.

When I called in to the racetrack the next morning, the person who answered the phone was sympathetic to my teary request to know what happened. They called me back within the hour with the awful truth: Unusual Kiddy had broken his neck when he had fallen. He was paralyzed and lost consciousness on the track, was transferred to the ambulance and euthanized.

I have spent the better part of this week reading about horses and horse racing, and sharing this story with whoever would listen. I found your site, and wanted to share this poor animal’s story. Sunday I am going to a rescue sanctuary and sponsoring a racehorse that was saved from shipment to a slaughterhouse. This small intervention does not even dent how helpless I feel.

Thank you for all of your efforts to call attention to the dark side of this industry. I wish I could help save them all. The cruelty of human beings towards animals truly breaks my heart. Please feel free to put this story on your website so that this animal may be remembered.

Sincerely,
Laura Snoussi

Sunday, Horseracing Wrongs was again out in force for our weekly protest at Saratoga Race Course. And again, the regional media was all over it. This, of course, allows us to reach exponentially more consumers – literally, hundreds of thousands of people. In short, the momentum here is going but one way.

Spectrum News

CBS6 News

NewsChannel13

The Daily Gazette

Inevitably, though, the other side is afforded ample space to respond (most of the time, greatly exceeding our own). Sunday was no different. First, Gary Contessa, $80 million career-earning trainer, reacting to my own comment about Racing being cruel, said this to Spectrum: “These are our children. These are our pets.” Well. Mr. Contessa entered two horses at Saratoga Sunday, Will Do It in the 2nd, Truly Courageous (who ended up being scratched) in the 10th. Both races, as it happens, were of the “claiming” variety, meaning both of Mr. Contessa’s “children” were, or would have been, “For Sale” prior to (prior to, that is, being put to a whip).

Worse still, another of Contessa’s horses, 3-year-old Charlonique, was killed training at Belmont just yesterday. Look, we’ve long since known that these people are callous – the evidence of cruelty and killing is overwhelming – but what this quote also betrays is an utter contempt for the public. They’re playing us for fools.

Then came this statement from NYRA, in response to our protest:

“There is no issue more important to NYRA than the safety of our equine and human athletes. That is why NYRA has implemented extensive reforms and made significant investments since 2013 to improve track surface conditions, upgrade equipment, provide vets with more authority to monitor thoroughbred health, establish committees to oversee safety measures, and actively seek out advice and guidance from independent experts and scientists. We remain steadfast in seeking to continuously improve the safety of our racing operations and will never waver from this commitment.”

Well. Since 2013, the year these supposed improvements began, both total deaths and racing-only deaths are up (11% and 20%, respectively) at the three NYRA tracks. Yes, that’s right, there were more dead horses in 2017 than in 2013. I say again, ignore their pony and pony show. Horseracing kills horses, always has, always will.