“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero, and we have taken many productive steps toward reaching that goal over the past four years.” – NYS Equine Medical Director Scott Palmer, VMD

Midway through Saratoga’s nightmare of a meet (21 dead horses) last summer, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) issued the latest in what seems a never-ending stream of we’ve-got-this-killing-thing-under-control statements. The first thing that jumped out with this one was the length – there were lots of words (over 2,200); the second, related to the first, the almost risible redundancy, with multiple people being quoted saying basically the same thing – “equine safety” is our top priority – and the same “measures” repeated over and over again. (Never mind that these are the same measures that, in one form or another, have been talked about for years.)

“increased veterinary presence during training hours”
“state-of-the-art monitoring of horses”
“the strictest equine medication rules in North America”
“comprehensive trainer education”
“extensive and continuous testing of racing and training surfaces”

Leaving aside for a moment Racing’s many other wrongs – the commodification, the intensive confinement and isolation, the drugging, doping, and whipping, slaughter – what this statement amounted to was nothing less than a master’s course in manipulative marketing (a.k.a. propaganda). Supported by a stable of polished professionals – vets, lawyers, PhD’s – it read as exhaustive, meticulous, scientific:

“[Dr. Mick Peterson’s] tests include the use of ground penetrating radar that looks at cushion depth, moisture, and composition of racing surfaces, immediately identifying any variations outside pre-determined criteria. His team also performs physical samples of the soil using triaxial sheer testing to maintain target clay, silt and sand ratios on the main track. Additionally, Dr. Peterson inspects the overall performance and consistency using the Biomechanical Surface Tester, which replicates loads and speed of a thoroughbred’s leading forelimb at gallop. This test looks closely at vertical and horizontal load on the hoof during impact with the surface.”

“ground penetrating radar…triaxial sheer testing…Biomechanical Surface Tester”

How are the uninitiated, which is to say the vast majority of people out there, to come away with anything but the distinct impression that Racing is all over this, leaving no stone unturned in an almost single-minded pursuit of equine well-being. (Saratoga, by the way, has averaged 14 dead horses a summer since the Commission began disclosing such things in 2009. Which of course raises the question, where was this zeal back in 2010? Answer: They weren’t getting hammered with bad press then.)

But facts, as the great John Adams once said, are stubborn things. So, let’s direct our attention to a few. Follows are the Gaming Commission death totals for NYRA’s three tracks – Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga – for 2013, when the much-ballyhooed “Task Force” implemented many of its supposed improvements, and 2017:

2013 – Aqueduct, 23 dead; Belmont, 38 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 70 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 17 dead; Belmont, 40 dead; Saratoga, 21 dead; total, 78 dead

That’s an 11% increase in horses dying at NYRA racetracks from 2013 to 2017.

Okay, they’ll say, but those totals include deaths from “non-racing” causes (e.g., colic, laminitis). (By dubbing them so, the industry is effectively saying, “that’s not on us”; morally, however, the how matters not a whit – a dead racehorse is a dead racehorse.)

On-track – racing or training – only, then:
2013 – Aqueduct, 21 dead; Belmont, 32 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 62 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 19 dead; total, 62 dead

No change.

Increasingly desperate, I can then imagine them asking for racing totals only. Okay:
2013 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 6 dead; Saratoga, 5 dead; total, 25 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 12 dead; Belmont, 10 dead; Saratoga, 8 dead; total, 30 dead

A 20% – yes, 20% – increase. Fancy that. But in the press release, NYRA’s Hugh Gallagher says this: “As a result of these reforms, the number of catastrophic injuries during races occurring on NYRA tracks has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 2013.” So what gives? Is Mr. Gallagher simply making stuff up? No, nothing as nefarious as that, but they are, as is their wont, dissembling and deceiving. For you see, “catastrophic,” to NYRA, means “musculoskeletal breakdowns” – broken legs, ruptured ligaments – only. In other words, imploded hearts (“sudden cardiac events,” they call them), broken necks, head traumas, and pulmonary hemorrhages need not apply. Imagine the audacity of these people.

But it’s even worse. In 2013, the three NYRA tracks had 247 days of live racing; 2017, 234. That’s a 5% decrease in racedays. Deaths up, number of races down. To be clear, though, I’m not arguing that things are getting worse; only that despite what NYRA and the Jockey Club – an industry group with a vested interest in good news and whose celebrated database I have already debunked – say, they’re not getting better. Since I began documenting in 2014, my annual kill lists have remained remarkably consistent. In fact, though not by a significant margin, the 2017 toll is the highest I’ve yet recorded; for all NY tracks, the ’13 and ’17 totals are almost exactly the same: 122, 121. These are hard facts. Please don’t get distracted by their pony and pony show.

As I have previously written, the simple truth is that the maiming and destruction of racehorses is inherent to the industry. Death at the track is, always has been, and always will be an inevitable part of racing. There is nothing they can do to stop the carnage. Nothing. At least not in any meaningful way. And what’s more, they know it. Now, go back and re-read Dr. Palmer’s quote at the top of this post and try to imagine the gargantuan effort it must have taken to utter those words with a straight face.

Other posts on NYRA subterfuge:

“NYRA Can’t Stop the Killing”
“Spinning the Carnage, the NYRA Way”
“The Truth: Saratoga Can’t Stop the Killing”

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, John Cherwa, author of that paper’s “Racing!” newsletter, wrote this on the death of Magic Mark at Los Alamitos Wednesday:

“No doubt, this is the part of the sport that is most difficult to stomach. It takes a bit of your soul every time it happens, be in [sic] it in a race, during training or back at the barns. It happens at a rate that no one finds acceptable.”

First, Mr. Cherwa, your “sport” is no such thing; it is but exploitation of a weaker species for nothing more than $2 bets. It is mean and cruel, and as you allude to, regularly deadly: Through my seminal FOIA reporting, I estimate that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training on U.S. tracks annually, and this says nothing of the multiple thousands more who are brutally and violently slaughtered as part of Racing’s one-of-a-kind “retirement” program. (By the way, Mr. Cherwa, you also say, “We don’t write about every horse death, not that we aren’t constantly told by the anti-racing folks that we should.” As a matter of practicality, you couldn’t write about every dead racehorse, for if you did you’d have no space for anything else.)

Second, as a longtime fan you must know that the killing is built-in – an inevitable part of what they do. So please spare us the hollow handwringing (“difficult to stomach, takes a bit of your soul every time”), for if you support this industry in any way – be it through bets, attendance, racino plays, or, like you, marketing and promotion – you support the abuse and killing. If, and this goes for the whole “prayers and condolences” crowd too, you help make it (death and destruction) possible, you’re not allowed to cry about it after the fact. In the end, it’s as simple as this: You can love horses. You can love horseracing. But you can’t love both.

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.