Horseracing-as-sport is an obscenity of the highest order. There are, of course, many reasons why, but perhaps the three most obvious are these: First, the athletes in question are utterly unaware of their status as such – worse, they are in fact pieces of chattel, animal slaves. Second, participation in said sport is compelled by whip-wielding human beings. Third, and most telling of all, death on the field of play.

That horseracing kills horses is settled fact. But what most of the public doesn’t know is the magnitude of that killing, nor in how it relates to other accepted sports. We estimate that roughly 1,000 racehorses are killed on “game day” (just racing, not including training) each year. In comparison, here are the game-related death totals for the four major U.S. professional sports leagues over their entire histories:

Major League Baseball, founded 1903, 116 seasons – one death (Ray Chapman)
National Hockey League, founded 1917-18, 101 seasons – one death (Bill Masterton)
National Football League, founded 1920, 98 seasons – one death (Chuck Hughes)
National Basketball Association, founded 1946-47, 72 seasons – zero deaths

In other words, horseracing kills about as many in one day as the other four have in their collective 387 years. A sport? America, you’ve been hoodwinked.

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

In the spirit of Joseph Welch (who was speaking during the infamous Senate McCarthy hearings), I say the following to the horseracing industry: “Have you no sense of decency, sirs? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

This sentiment could easily apply to virtually anything I’ve published on these pages. But my outrage is particularly piqued today after seeing this on the website of the “National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame” in Saratoga:

Health, History, and Horses: This program, designed for fourth grade, offers classroom instruction, museum visits, and field trip opportunities that will enhance your students’ learning. Core courses include Horsing Around with History: a tour of the Oklahoma Training Track and a tour of the museum with a focus on local history, science and careers.

Target Audience: Fourth Grade
Program Category: School Program
Duration: We suggest a minimum of 3 hours for this field trip.

Horse Explorers Children’s Program: Recommended for ages 3-6, “Horse Explorers” is a hands-on series intended to creatively educate children about horses by developing age-appropriate skills in disciplines including art, literacy, science and math. The program will be staffed by the Museum’s professional educators. “Horse Explorers” will take place Thursday mornings in the Museum’s Horseplay Gallery. Children are free to attend with a paid accompanying adult.

Look, I realize that the notion of ethics in horseracing is fundamentally fantastical. Racing exploits (abuses), maims, and destroys multiple thousands of horses every year – for gambling. But to bring young children, as innocent as the animals they’re to be “taught” about, into this reaches new depths of depravity. Then again, it should not surprise: This industry is clearly in decline. Much of it is being kept afloat by subsidies; it is not attracting younger bettors – partly because of competition (casinos, lotteries), partly because of rapidly changing sensibilities toward animals (Ringling, SeaWorld). In other words, they’re desperate. Hence, “field trips” to the “Oklahoma Training Track” – where, by the way, 11 horses were killed last summer alone – and “professional educators” plying their trade on toddlers. For shame.

As mentioned previously, the best indictments of this industry often come from within. Take slaughter, for instance. While the racing people typically (and understandably) avoid this issue like the plague, occasionally some honesty surfaces.

In a recent HorseRaceInsider article, long-time industry writer and handicapper Mark Berner takes Racing to task for its “inability or unwillingness to deal openly with the issue of horse slaughter.” While I’m quite certain that Berner’s real worry (as evidenced by the article’s title) is that slaughter is killing the “sport” he so dearly loves, he does offer some seemingly genuine words of outrage:

“If a breeder elects to bring a horse into the world, it is their responsibility to make sure that horse is cared for until its natural death. It is not simply the cost of doing business; it is about doing what’s humane and morally correct.”

But it’s the stark admissions that caught my eye. Two statements in particular:

“A sport that once was the pastime of the billionaire class has devolved over time into a sport in which an overwhelming number of its athletes are slaughtered…”

Then: “Since the Thoroughbred industry has not significantly corrected this situation, the same percentages – 20% of all horses sent to slaughter from the US are Thoroughbreds – are safely assumed to be correct present day.”

And to think that all this time I’ve been citing the “only” 19% found in this seminal study. So let’s break this down. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, 114,000 American horses were sent to slaughter in 2016. 20% of 114,000 is almost 23,000. For that same year, the Jockey Club estimates the “foal crop” – newly registered Thoroughbreds – at 21,000. That would be an over 1:1 ratio of those exiting-via-slaughter to those coming in. Obviously, not all retired (or never-made-the-cut) Thoroughbreds end up bled-out and butchered. But even when accounting for some slight industry contraction each year, the numbers make it abundantly clear that at the very least most – Berner’s “overwhelming number” – eventually (because some will have an intervening round of exploitation – the so-called second career) do.

Case closed, again.

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