“In many ways, you might call this one of the very best meets we’ve ever had here.” – Del Mar president Joe Harper, from the track’s website

As Del Mar is busy congratulating itself on losing “only” six horses in the just-completed meet (Joe Harper in Blood-Horse: “I just want to thank [the track superintendent] and his crew for doing an amazing job…”), a response is in order. Let me start by saying that given the way Del Mar has been hammered the past couple summers – and the large amounts of money at stake – a healthy dose of cynicism on this – just six? – is wholly warranted. That aside, two points.

First, I have long maintained that these kill numbers tend to ebb and flow from year to year – with the only constant being that multiple horses die at every meet run in the U.S. (excluding, perhaps, a county-fair calendar that is measured in days rather than weeks or months). Follows are Del Mar’s dead since 2011 (Stewards Minutes):

2011: 18 dead
2012: 15 dead
2013: 9 dead
2014: 15 dead
2015: 14 dead
2016: 21 dead (Blood-Horse says 17, contradicting the minutes)
2017: 6 dead

Saratoga, another elite meet, has a perfectly random up/down pattern since 2009 (Gaming Commission):

2009: 11 dead
2010: 15 dead
2011: 9 dead
2012: 16 dead
2013: 9 dead
2014: 14 dead
2015: 13 dead
2016: 16 dead (actually 19, but for this purpose I’ll go with the database’s number)
2017: 19 dead

So you see, they may dip in a given year but chalk that up to dumb luck. Granted, 21 (or 17) to 6 is a large decrease, but up until last year, Del Mar had averaged about 14 deaths a summer, which is right about Saratoga’s number. In other words, stay tuned. Best guess: Del Mar will find itself back in the shoes Saratoga now occupies – battling a PR nightmare – soon enough, perhaps as soon as this Fall. Reversion to the mean.

Second, but far more important: Morally speaking, what does it matter what the final count is? 6, 10, 15 – not a whit. Bottom line here, several intelligent, sensitive beings are dead because of Del Mar. Dead so that some might gamble, others be entertained. Viewed in this context, how is even one acceptable? It is not, America.

Thursday, the Albany (NY) Times Union ran an article entitled “What football and horse racing have in common” – football injuries, racehorse deaths (prompted, of course, by the current batch of kills at Saratoga). Inane, sure. But so very dangerous, too. First – and I can’t believe this needs repeating – the obvious (from our website):

If horseracing is a sport, then that word must be redefined, for the competitive racing of horses resembles no other accepted sport on the planet:

In what other sport are the bodies of adolescent athletes pounded into the ground?

In what other sport are the athletes typically kept confined/isolated 23 hours a day?

In what other sport are the athletes condemned to a life as (literal) chattel?

In what other sport are the athletes drugged and doped without consent?

In what other sport are the athletes whipped for motivation?

In what other sport are the athletes regularly dying on the playing field?

In what other sport are most of the retired brutally slaughtered for their meat?

But, as mentioned, there is a (deadly) serious component to all this. The words of Chris Churchill, a respected journalist and author of this piece, carry sway. By even mentioning horseracing in the same breath as football (or any other human-only activity), by calling it a sport five separate times in a relatively short article, Churchill clearly sends the message that there is nothing philosophically objectionable to horseracing; it just needs a little cleaning up (“Get rid of Lasix,” his expert says). This message – shared by the miserable HSUS – will help sentence countless more horses to horrific deaths. It will because no matter what supposed “reforms” come down the pike, horses will continue to die on American racetracks. It’s inevitable.

To be fair, though, Churchill does hit on something by bringing youth football into the discussion. As he notes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that parents and schools are putting young brains at risk on American gridirons. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that at some point someone (the state) is going to have to step in and stop it – to speak for and protect children. Or, exactly what domesticated animals require. Therein, the commonality: children and animals, animals and children – the voiceless, the most vulnerable members of our society.

But even at that, there remains one glaring difference. Of even the worst of these parents – the ones forcing their kids to play out of their own egos or insecurities – it can’t be said that their sons are slaves. Not so with racehorses. Throwing around words like “sport” and “athlete” does nothing to change the fact that horses are things to be used, pieces of property to be freely traded on an open market. By definition, property has no rights. Legally, a “horseman” can do virtually whatever he wishes to his horse – even run him into the ground. It (yes, “it”) is his. A practical, workable safety net simply does not, nor can it ever, exist. Property is property.

Mr. Churchill, please don’t confuse and distract the public. Horseracing is not football (or baseball, or soccer, or…). It is the subjugation and exploitation of a weaker species; subjugation and exploitation are necessarily cruel. Take a stand. Please.

(full Times Union article)

First, the good. In addition to three separate Albany-area TV interviews (CBS6, CBS6, WNYT) over the past two weeks, Horseracing Wrongs has been cited in this area’s – the Saratoga Race Course area, that is – two largest newspapers, the Times Union and The Daily Gazette. The most recent came in the latter’s August 2 edition (front page), in an article entitled “Flurry of horse deaths at Saratoga raises concerns”:

The organization Horseracing Wrongs, whose mission is to see horse racing abolished, held a protest across the street from the track on the first Saturday of the meet, July 30. In a blog post on the group’s website, they cite a Daily Racing Form account of two of the equine fatalities: “‘Two horses suffered fatal injuries while training over Saratoga’s main track Saturday morning, while another horse suffered a non-life-threatening injury during Friday’s Curlin Stakes, leaving horsemen and racing officials searching for answers.’ Allow me to save them time: Horseracing kills horses, lots of them; what’s more, there’s nothing they can do to stop it.” (and the paper’s online edition graciously provided links to my site)

The article goes on to recap the seven deaths (up to ten as I write). Good, yes. But while I appreciate the coverage – which in Saratoga country was practically unheard of just a couple years back – the industry, as is usually the case with these stories, is afforded ample space (much more than us, of course) to peddle its propaganda:

NYRA, which operates racing year-round at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack, reiterated its commitment to human and equine safety. “We take the health and welfare of our equine athletes and jockeys seriously,” NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said. “That’s why we’ve made significant improvements and enhancements to the facility with an eye on improving the quality and safety of our racing operations.”

Recent improvements at Saratoga — which is through 11 racing days — include upgraded drainage to promote an even, consistent surface, a widened Oklahoma training track to reduce traffic congestion for horses and alarm systems to alert people of a loose horse.

According to the gaming commission, “any time a horse dies on the track during a race or because of an injury sustained during a race (e.g., later euthanized because of that injury), an Equine Safety Review Board (ESRB) — consisting of track management, trainers and jockeys of horses involved, veterinary professionals, stewards, the state’s equine medical director and more — thoroughly reviews every aspect of the horse and the race, including the horse’s training regimen, its history, any medications it received or previous health issues, as well as any other issues that may be considered a risk factor.”

“The commission consistently re-evaluates its efforts and makes necessary amendments as needed in order to best reflect the research of the industry,” state Gaming Commission spokesman Lee Park said in a written statement. “We apply a quality control approach in our work and continue to identify risk factors, circumstances and trends that may contribute to equine fatalities. We go to great lengths to educate the industry’s participants on best practices and guidelines to reduce and/or eliminate such risk factors.”

Sounds so very impressive, doesn’t it? Thorough, thoughtful, antiseptic. It conveys, they’re on this – no stone has been/shall be left unturned. Which of course begs the question: Why only now, after 150 years of racing at “the oldest sporting venue in the nation,” are they so intensely focused on kills? Well, it’s not because they haven’t been happening all along. They have; the public database is only eight years old, and I’ve only been doing this for four years. Rather, it stems from groups like ours – with facilitation from an increasingly cooperative press – casting a bright, hot, searing light on the nastiness. And the racing people are running scared.

But even more to the point, we the public should view the above as nothing more than a slick ruse executed by men well-schooled in plying their craft. The thing is, every time a spate of deaths garners unwanted attention (Aqueduct ’12, Del Mar the past two years, Saratoga ’16, etc.), the industry promises improvements, ramped-up vigilance – more vets, tighter testing, better surfaces. And yet, horses continue to die. They do because the killing is inherent to the “sport,” built-in to the system. I cannot be any clearer, dead racehorses are inevitable.

Finally, I also need to address another less-than-the-truth being promulgated by NYRA and, unwittingly I’m sure, by many in the local press. The article states that “there were 16 fatalities at Saratoga last year.” Now perhaps we can forgive journalists for not looking beyond the preposition “at,” but NYRA knows full well that in addition to the 16 who perished on track grounds, 3 others were clear and unequivocal victims of Saratoga Race Course last summer, especially given that two of the three were VIHs (almost $1 million earnings between them):

Wheels Up Now, injured training August 5, subsequently euthanized at a clinic

Recepta, also injured training August 5, euthanized in November after – because she was a still-valuable (in the breeding shed) asset – an extended period of suffering and, eventually, infection

Stradivari, injured training July 22, euthanized in December (same general story as Recepta)

So here, the true Saratoga ’16 Kill List:

Hadeed Fi Hadeed, May 30, training
Squire Creek, July 16, training
Stradivari, July 22, training (euthanized December)
Zamjara, July 23, race 1
Rootformejustin, July 23, race 5
Indian Nobility, July 27, race 3
Domestic Warrior, August 1, race 4
Lebowski, August 2, “found dead outside stall”
Jonrah, August 3, training
Midnight Visitor, August 4, prior to race 4
Wheels Up Now, August 5, training
Recepta, August 5, training (euthanized November)
Prince Corredor, August 20, training
Elusive Neko, August 24, training
Bob Le Beau, August 25, race 1
Ring of Truth, August 25, race 10
Desert Trial, August 28, training
Its Only Fair, September 9, training
Core Competency, September 19, training

Let the above numbers game serve as a (further) lesson in industry subterfuge. 16, bad; 19, 20% worse. Fact is, the oft-celebrated but already-discredited-here Jockey Club “Equine Injury Database” only counts horses who die or are euthanized within 72 hours of a race-related (the JC apparently has no interest in training kills) injury; I imagine the NYS Gaming Commission employs a similar parameter. In addition, how many more injured Saratoga runners through the years have been euthanized in anonymity back at a private farm? After being acquired by a rescue? In short, it – the killing – is worse than what they tell us. Extended nationwide, it’s carnage. Carnage.

(full Gazette article)