How is it that the state of California can publish this list of horses who died in the San Luis fire but ever refuses my annual FOIA request for the names of their track kills?

2016: “The CHRB has not changed its policy and therefore cannot provide a list of racehorses that died or were euthanized on or at California race tracks…the name of the horse…is considered confidential.”

2015: “The CHRB cannot provide a list of racehorses that died or were euthanized on or at California race tracks…the name of the horse…is considered confidential.”

2014: same basic response.

Appears to me that this recent transparency is a rather transparent attempt to arouse sympathy and support for the affected racing-people and, by extension, the racing industry at large. In other words, vile. As usual.

Highlights from a recent report by the New York State Comptroller’s Office:

In October 2011, Resorts World New York City Casino (Resorts) opened adjacent to Aqueduct Racetrack. According to NYRA’s Franchise Agreement (Agreement), a percentage of Resorts’ Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) revenue is directed to NYRA for enhanced purses, operational support, and capital expenditures. The Agreement directs that NYRA receive VLT funding until 2033 unless the franchise is terminated before that time. However, the FOB stressed the need for NYRA to develop a plan to become profitable without reliance on VLT subsidies.

NYRA’s overall financial condition, as a result of VLT revenue subsidies, is sound. However, NYRA’s traditional racing operations (which exclude the VLT revenues) have generated multimillion dollar annual deficits. Excluding VLT revenues, NYRA would have generated cumulative operating losses of $109.3 million from 2010 through 2014 (or an average annual loss of about $22 million). Moreover, NYRA has not developed a sufficient plan to make operations profitable without VLT subsidies.

Translation: VLT subsidies make NYRA – which in addition to Aqueduct, includes more prestigious Saratoga and Belmont – profitable. Without them, Thoroughbred racing in NY is failing. (Cheap Finger Lakes also stays in the black through racino cash; all seven harness tracks, too. In fact, I hold that sans racinos, those eight would have been shuttered by now.) Failing – at a clip of about $22 million/year.


End the corporate welfare, NY. And if Horseracing can no longer subsist on its product alone – and it clearly cannot – let it go the way of myriad other American industries that time passed by. As a further incentive, the Empire State will no longer be in the business of sanctioning equine cruelty/killing. Imagine that.

(Previous post on NY’s racinos – “Feeding at the Slots Trough”)

Although I am loath (and loathe) to give Ray Paulick, one of Racing’s more notorious hacks, “clicks” or “hits” (for I know he counts them), this short clip was too good to pass up. Speaking in the wake of the duo kills at Pimlico, Paulick at first was typically (for this industry) dismissive and dishonest (“in the vast majority of cases these horses are well cared for”; “there’s been a lot of progress”). But then, a startling, at least to me, admission. Forgoing the usual blather about “sport” and “athletes,” he says:

“The public has changed. We’re using animals for entertainment here. And, all you have to do is look at the circus where they’ve eliminated elephants from the show…look at SeaWorld… We have to do everything possible for the safety and health of these horses because we’re using them for entertainment. That’s the bottom line.”

Remarkable, actually. Not only does Paulick concede that his beloved industry is nothing more than animal exploitation, but his references (comparisons) to Ringling and SeaWorld show, though I’m sure he would not say so publicly, that he sees Racing’s future. It will go, just as those other two entities, at least their animal versions, are, as we speak, in the process of going. It will go because of exposure (think “Blackfish”) and the public’s reaction to that exposure. You see, when your product rests on a foundation of cruelty – how else to describe the enslavement and exploitation of sentient beings? – and the masses become enlightened, eventually the jig is up. For Racing, that moment is coming. And what’s more, Ray Paulick knows it.

But Paulick wasn’t the only high-profile apologist to break from Racing orthodoxy last week. In an article in the Thoroughbred Daily News, renowned racing writer Bill Finley decries California’s new, more-liberal whip rule. But Finley goes one step further, calling for an outright ban on whipping. For Finley, it’s mostly a matter of perception (and self-preservation): “People don’t like to see animals abused and a lot of people think hitting a horse with a whip, stick, crop, or whatever you want to call it, is cruel. Most people think dog racing is cruel. And look where dog racing is.”

But then this (again) startling admission: “He [a Jockeys’ Guild official who argues that the new rule is not abuse] might want to bring that up with my 15-year-old daughter. Brought up in a family where both parents work in the racing industry, she has zero interest in the sport and when asked why said it is because she doesn’t like to watch the jockeys beating the horses.”

Mr. Finley, you are wrong on this. Your daughter is not some unworldly sentimentalist; this is not mere perception. This is reality, reality grounded in rational thought – in common sense. Yes, whipping racehorses, whipping any subjugated animal, is cruel. How can it be seen as anything but? And the truth is, Mr. Finley, even if they were to implement your “reform” – eliminate whips – horses will continue to suffer and die on American racetracks. You can’t fix that which is wicked from the start. I have a hunch your daughter gets that. Perhaps it’s time you followed her lead.

From the Les Bois Park website:

Dear Les Bois Park Fans,

As you may be aware, we will be closing our Turf Club Bar & Grill and Simulcast Facility, effective end of day on Sunday, March 20th. After being granted the simulcast license in December, Treasure Valley Racing kept simulcast operations going in order to mitigate the overhead costs of keeping Les Bois Park open during this time when the future of live racing remained uncertain and the horsemen were pursuing a solution. But the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee has elected not to hear the Idaho Horsemen’s gaming commission bill this session. In the absence of another revenue source, we don’t believe running Les Bois Park is financially viable and therefore are closing down all operations.

(That “another revenue source” they seek is actually one they previously had – “instant gaming machines.” The legislature, however, feeling they were duped by the racing people, took the machines out after rightly determining that they were, for all intents and purposes, slots; slot machines are illegal in Idaho. So it does not appear that the gift – the subsidy – is coming back.)

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Good news, indeed. But as sure as night follows day, the horse people ever refuse to go quietly. It’s the same old, tired script: Start by claiming victimhood at the hands of an unjust state; underscore the prospect of wrecked economies should Racing be allowed to fail; sprinkle in a healthy dose of racing-as-an-irreplaceable “tradition”; and finally, demand redress from – to be saved by – that state. In a Messenger Index opinion piece penned by horse owner Ed McNelis, the fatuity flows freely:

“Legislation was passed in 1964 that allowed pari-mutual [sic] wagering at tracks in Idaho. This was passed to help grow the horse industry in Idaho. The state lottery was approved and eroded the funding from the horse industry due to its wide spread access and convenient delivery system. The legislature’s goal of enhancing the horse industry and local economies was greatly diminished when they put the STATE in the gaming business. They never took steps to fix what they had broken when they took away the funding from the horse industry by passing the lottery.

All this is further compounded by the passage of Indian Gaming which took away even more funding from the horse industry and the small communities where it resides. The voice of the horse industry became weaker as the STATE lottery and Indian Gaming got stronger and took away the funding generated by wagering on horses. The Legislature had put themselves in direct competition with the very industry they had set out to help grow and prosper.”

Well. For decades, Racing enjoyed a virtual monopoly on legal gambling; all was right with the world. Then, alas, the market was opened – competition, the cornerstone of our capitalist society – and Racing paled against the more attractive products (an attraction enhanced, as McNelis freely admits, by “[a] convenient delivery system”).

More egregious, though, is McNelis’ slick (or is it ignorant?) substitution of the word “funding” for revenue (he does this four times in two short paragraphs). In point of fact, that shifting revenue is simply the gambling dollar going elsewhere – “taken away,” as it were, not by the big, bad state, but by the consumer, the buying public.

He continues:

“The horse industry is part of agriculture – the number one industry in our state. It generates over a billion six hundred thousand dollars in economic value to the state’s economy each year and has huge potential. Most of this goes to small communities where it is greatly needed. Small communities are always under economic pressures and need funds for their fair grounds and youth programs.”

First, again being crafty, McNelis makes it seem like the horse industry, as opposed to agriculture in the whole, generates “over a billion six hundred thousand dollars in economic value.” Second, and more important, of what relevance is “economic value” when the industry in question is moribund? If the “horse industry” is no longer viable, it should not fall to government to provide life support. Perhaps if this were 2008 and the teetering industry was banking…but it’s not. It’s horseracing. Enough said.

But even more shameful than assuming the victim role or economic scaremongering is conflating the “horse industry” – that is, the whip-forced racing of horses for $2 bets – with history, tradition, nature, and, yes, the future of our youth…

“Urbanization further drowned out the voice of small communities and agriculture of which the horse industry is a part. History was forgotten. Facilities and youth programs came under severe pressure as funding disappeared when the STATE lottery and Indian gaming eroded income that had gone to the horse industry.

While Idaho is becoming more urban it is a very desirable place to live because of the outdoors and life style. Each day facilities like our fair grounds get more depleted. Our huge army of volunteer leaders who make our youth into solid citizens through 4H and other programs cannot find funding… The disappearance of these programs, leaders and young people who grow and blossom as a result is a huge and critical loss to our state. …Youth are a primary recipient of benefits generated by the horse industry. …Where can we better invest our money?

The horse industry in our state is a vital industry and part of our history, lifestyle and the very fabric of our communities.” (McNelis’ entire article here.)

Idahoans, don’t fall for it. Racing is not, nor has it ever been, something special. It is a vile gambling business that kills – either on the track or in the slaughterhousethousands of horses annually. And judging by the empty stands and idle windows, not one you want or need any longer. The time has come. Let it die.

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Last week, The Jockey Club gleefully boasted of progress on the “breakdown” front: “An analysis of data from the Equine Injury Database…has shown a 14 percent decrease in the frequency of fatal injury…from 1.89 per 1,000 starts in 2014 to 1.62 per 1,000 starts in 2015…the lowest since the EID started publishing…in 2009.”

Well – time to deconstruct the oft-cited, much ballyhooed “Equine Injury Database”…

To start, the wording is (intentionally, I have to believe) misleading: Presented as deaths per 1,000 starts, it reads, at least to the untrained eye, deaths per 1,000 horses. But the typical racehorse logs many starts (up to 25) each year, making the death rate per 1,000 horses much higher – certainly not one they’d want to publicize.

The database is completely voluntary: While many tracks participate, some do not. Besides that, no third party – not the JC, not a government agency, no one – verifies the submitted data. At the risk of stating the obvious, dead horses are bad for business. So, not only is there no compelling reason for tracks (trainers, owners, etc.) to give a complete reckoning, there is a vested interest to not. Self-reporting – an honor system – the casualties that they are directly responsible for? Please.

The database is anonymous: No names, no dates, (mostly) no locations. Not only does this make it impossible for someone like me to cross-confirm, it keeps the names and faces of the dead safely secreted away. Messy carcasses converted to sterile ratios.

The database has acknowledged restrictions: Only those who perish “as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race” are counted. In other words, the 3-year-old (an adolescent, by the way) who keels and dies of what is commonly dismissed as a “cardiac event” is excluded, not to mention all training deaths, which are at least as common as those occurring in-race. And, the death must come “within 72 hours of [the] race,” leaving the many who are euthanized back at the farm, post unsuccessful surgery, or after being acquired by a rescue unaccounted for. More hidden carnage.

In the end, The Jockey Club is American Thoroughbred racing, impossible to separate from the other interested parties. How can anything it says regarding the more unseemly aspects (dead horses) of its own industry be taken seriously? Truth is, the “Equine Injury Database” is but a marketing tool, created in the wake of Eight Belles and all the bad press that ensued, existing solely to quell an increasingly unsettled public with an empty promise of “we’re on this, we care.” They’re not and they don’t.