Yesterday, during a public-comment period at a California Horse Racing Board meeting, the activists – the true animal activists, that is, the ones calling for an unequivocal end to horseracing – came out in force. Those who spoke – Amanda Lunn, April Montgomery, Wayne Johnson, Ron McGill, Heather Wilson, et al. – even though they did so as individuals, made us at Horseracing Wrongs so very proud. Thank you for your intelligence. Thank you for your eloquence. And most of all, thank you for your unshakable resolve.

I would encourage a full watch, but one exchange is a must. In response to April’s recitation of the decidedly uncomfortable facts – “they (horses) are dying here” – Madeline Auerbach (below), the Board’s vice-chair, came back with this:

“So are the children. Why don’t you get on a crusade about all of the children going back and forth to school who don’t make it home every day?”

April pressed: “Are there dead horses dying on this track every day, yes or no?” Auerbach: “Are there children dying around the city every day?”

Why, good people of California, are you wasting your time and energy on dead horses? I mean, they’re just horses, for heaven’s sake. (By the way, Ron had a great retort to this when he stated the obvious: Animal rights and human rights are not mutually exclusive; indeed, we can and should champion both.)

Ms. Auerbach also claimed that “our horses do not go to slaughter,” revealing herself as either unforgivably ignorant or a cynical liar. Yes, they slaughter racehorses – by the multiple thousands annually.

We knew going in that people like Auerbach would not go down without a fight; this is, after all, a multi-billion dollar business. But when you have the facts, the truth – the right – on your side, you simply cannot lose. We will keep educating and exposing and the Madeline Auerbachs of the world will increasingly begin to fade away.

This past Sunday, Heather Wilson, Amanda Lunn, and Ron McGill organized a vigil for the 27 (now 28) horses who have died at Santa Anita Park since Christmas. We were honored to have Heather read – with unflinching strength and inspiring passion – a prepared statement from us. Thank you, Heather, Amanda, Ron, and to all who came out.

Today, we remember the 27 horses who have been sacrificed at this track since Christmas. But we must not – cannot – lose sight of the greater carnage. To wit:

The over 500 racehorses who have died here at Santa Anita in just the past decade.

The over 5,000 racehorses who have died at all California tracks since 1998.

The 2,000 racehorses who will be killed at tracks across America this very year –

the pulmonary hemorrhages
the blunt-force head traumas
the imploded hearts
the snapped necks
the crushed spines
the ruptured ligaments
the shattered legs
the protruding bones
the blood-soaked dirt
the vans
the carcass pits
the disposal trucks
the pain
the fear
the terror

Then, of course, let us not forget the 15,000 or more who will be shackled, hung upside-down, slashed, bled-out, and butchered this year at Horseracing’s singular retirement facility – the slaughterhouse.

Today we say with crystal clarity – No More. No more abusing unformed bodies; no more extreme, relentless confinement; no more whipping; no more drugging and doping; no more buying and selling and trading and dumping. No more auctions, no more kill-buyers, no more transport trucks, no more abattoirs. No more maiming and destroying. No more pain and suffering. No more. End Horseracing. Now.

In a Los Angeles Times article from April 4, David Wharton writes: “[The Jockey Club’s] statistics equate to 6,134 deaths in the last 10 years.” While Wharton does note that that figure is only for “participating” tracks (not all submit data to the JC) and does not include training kills, the 6,134 is still, of course, massively understated (see here, and here for a better understanding of the database’s disqualifying flaws).

On the same day, the paper’s editorial board also weighed in, writing, “On Sunday…Arms Runner fell…broke his right front leg and was euthanized. He was the 23rd horse to die while racing or training at the park in a span of three months. By contrast, there were 37 deaths there during seven months of racing in 2017-18.” The implication there is obvious. So, I thought, some record straightening was in order. Accordingly, I wrote and submitted an op-ed; for whatever reason, it was rejected. I reproduce it here…

The recent string of racehorse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California has attracted widespread national attention and, in the process, left the racing industry scrambling. Part of their strategy of distraction is to use words like “spike,” “spate,” and “anomaly,” implying that this – in the words of CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur – is but a “blip on the radar.” As the nation’s foremost expert on racehorse deaths, I can state unequivocally that nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the CHRB’s own statistics, in the 11-year period 7/1/07-6/30/18 Santa Anita averaged 50 dead racehorses annually. 50 dead horses every year. And it’s not as if one or two bad years skewed that average: Every 12-month period but one (when “only” 37 died) saw at least 40 corpses. And they can’t even claim they’re heading in the right direction as two of the three worst years were ’15-’16 and ’16-’17.

2007-08 51 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2008-09 41 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2009-10 42 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2010-11 37 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2011-12 71 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2012-13 43 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2013-14 52 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2014-15 46 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2015-16 62 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2016-17 64 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2017-18 44 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
September 2018-April 2019 35 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park

That’s almost 600 dead horses at Santa Anita since July 2007. An anomaly? Please.

To those who may take issue with the inclusion of “stall deaths” in the above (though they shouldn’t: two-thirds of soldier-deaths in the Civil War were non-combat related, yet no one would dare say that those men were any less casualties of the war than the ones who died in the fields), consider this: In the three most recent fiscal years – not including the current meet – there have been 148 track-related (racing or training) kills at Santa Anita – almost 50 per year. Again, that does not include the current 23. At all California racetracks, 435 kills – in just three years. Imagine that.

Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs, primarily through our seminal FOIA reporting, has documented over 5,000 confirmed on-track deaths since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed on U.S. tracks annually. Over 2,000. Pulmonary hemorrhage, head trauma, “sudden cardiac event.” Shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines. What’s more, countless other still-active “equine athletes” succumb to colic, laminitis, “barn accidents,” or are simply “found dead” in their stalls.

Then, too, slaughter. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its hollow zero-tolerance policies and drop-in-the-bucket aftercare initiatives, the truth is, the vast majority of spent racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered – over 15,000 Thoroughbreds alone each year. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Again, not hyperbole – carnage.

Sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially regarding entertainment, are rapidly changing. In just the past few years:

– SeaWorld, owing mostly to outrage over the film Blackfish, has ended its captive-breeding program for orcas and remains in a slow, steady decline.

– Ringling Bros. has closed for good, ending 146 years of animal abuse.

– Illinois and New York have become the first two states to ban the use of elephants for entertainment.

– The National Aquarium will release all of its remaining performing-dolphins to a seaside sanctuary by 2020.

– Los Angeles stands poised to ban the rodeo within city limits.

– And just this past November, Floridians voted overwhelmingly – by over 2:1 – to outlaw greyhound racing in that state by the end of next year, a monumental win for animals that will in one fell swoop shutter 11 of the nation’s final 17 dogtracks, leaving that industry in America all but dead.

So the question becomes, why should horseracing be exempt? Why is it allowed cover under the banner of sport when in fact it is nothing more that an anachronistic gambling business? In a landscape that abounds with plenty of other options – casinos, lotteries, real sports involving autonomous human beings – hasn’t the time at long last arrived to stop wagering on the backs of suffering animals?

End the cruelty. End the killing. End horseracing.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs

In a recent Guardian article, former exercise rider Elizabeth Banicki explains why she has turned against horseracing. Some of the highlights:

“I have come to a time in my life where I cannot watch a horse race. It evokes too much anxiety and fear, flashbacks of catastrophe, so I close my eyes and pray only for the horses to make it home safely.”

“I galloped thousands of horses and so many were battling damaged and otherwise malfunctioning legs that one of my strongest general recollections is of working from on top of their backs to actively help them from stumbling and falling. I galloped horses who moved so poorly it was as if every step was a new agony. Their chronic pain coupled with the unnatural way they are forced to live can lead to depression, frustration and listlessness. Some horses get so angry they charge, teeth bared and intent to hurt, anyone walking by their stall door.”

“Horses that are chronically injured but still in training, still running races, are called ‘cripples’ in racetrack slang, and a trainer who engages in the practice of treating their horses this way is called ‘a butcher.’ These are terms all racetrackers in America understand. The rigors of training and running ensure that virtually no horse finishes a career unscathed and most are done by five years old.”

“Eventually I made my way to Santa Anita in Los Angeles. At Santa Anita I landed a job with a prominent outfit galloping some of the best-bred horses in the world. Though I was working on the top string for a prestigious trainer, I was not exercising the stars. Instead I rode mostly the ‘sore’ horses, the ones who needed nursing through their gallops. Some warmed up and their stride softened and found a rhythmic safety. In those cases, I settled in as passenger staying out their way as they trained themselves. I was routinely reprimanded for not making my horses gallop fast enough, because in my barn overall fitness took priority above the quality of the legs. If the legs didn’t hold up there was a fresh set waiting to be shipped in.”

“…when a horse is hurt, aggressively medicated, and forced to train and race repeatedly at speeds that exceed their natural inclination, then it constitutes abuse. The current standard in American racing – lots of medication and extreme speeds on legs too young to endure it – is abusive and the horses have no choice in the matter whatsoever. It isn’t simply an issue of animal rights, it is one of ethics and morality.”

“I came to a time late in my career when I could no longer ignore inside of me what I was seeing outside. The tapping of ankles on a three-year-old that released a projectile stream of fluid followed by steroid injections. Horses hobbling to, around and from the track. Young horses breaking their legs in half. I justified doing my job by telling myself, and sometimes others, that these horses would have to train whether I was there or not, and if I could make it easier on them by being kind, letting them go slow and cutting the distance short when I wasn’t being watched, then I was helping in some way to combat the greater doom they faced.”

(full article)

The Los Angeles Daily News reports this for Saturday, Santa Anita’s biggest day of the racing calendar (seven “stakes” races, including the $1 million Santa Anita Derby): “…the announced crowd of 30,713 was the third smallest in the past 75 runnings of the Santa Anita Derby, about 5,000 below the recent average.”

Excellent, indeed.

Part of that, of course, is a direct result of the Horseracing Wrongs-sponsored protest. Local activists came out in force – and the media followed. Speaking to the News, long-time HW supporter Wayne Johnson said: “I don’t think people are going to want to come to a track where horses are dying… People will look back at Santa Anita in 2019 as the tipping point.” And a special debt of gratitude to Heather Wilson for spearheading the effort. Here’s Heather in KTLA’s coverage.

Moral progress is at hand; let us seize the moment.