Racing is set to hold the latest in what feels like an endless stream of take-stock-of-our-industry conferences this December in Arizona. The “Global Symposium on Racing & Gaming” will feature the usual fare – “cultivating customer loyalty,” finding “new wagering products” to help “grow the sport,” improving “medication and substance integrity,” etc. – but one item on the docket stands out as not just atypical for events like this but downright game-changing. On the final day, comes this:

The Animal Rights Agenda: An Issue That Can No Longer Be Ignored

Animal rights protesters were found in large numbers outside racing’s two most iconic tracks this summer, Saratoga and Del Mar, and they aren’t going away. Is there any middle ground racing can find with these groups? Panelists with years of experience dealing with these types of groups will enlighten the audience of tactics these organizations use, some successful campaigns used against them as well as the animal rights groups successes that have fundamentally changed the way a number of animal industries operate. Now is the time for racing to seriously consider how the actions of these groups may forever change the face of the sport.

Remarkable. Truly remarkable. First, the obvious: We’re winning; the above is proof-positive. By our numbers, which we plan on growing exponentially next summer, through unrelenting exposure, we have compelled them to confront us – to put us on the agenda. (And, not so gently nudged the media: Because our protests practically demanded coverage, for the first time in 150 years the killing at “iconic” Saratoga received more than a mere glossing over.) From here, as any student of the great social-justice movements can tell you, the writing is on the wall. You see, these things don’t just fade away; they get stronger and stronger and stronger, until – change.

Here, though, I want to be crystal clear on the change we seek (and perhaps aid in the planning of future “symposiums”). There is no “middle ground” to be had. We are not looking for a mere seat at the table or to “change the face of the sport”; we want the table gone, the “sport” erased. No compromise, no reform – an end to horseracing, pure and simple. And I can save them even more time. Our “tactics” are neither elaborate nor, for that matter, even plural. In this fight, we wield but one, simple tool: education. Impart knowledge; let compassion and conscience take it from there.

Finally, I almost find it astounding that they would make public their plan to identify “campaigns” to use against us. Insulting, really, as if we’re not sophisticated enough to do anything more than hold placards, incapable of monitoring their activities. Or maybe they just don’t care. Maybe the threat we pose, though they concede as real, does not rise to some requisite level of seriousness that would warrant more secrecy. No matter, the upshot remains the same. Attempts to discredit, to smear, to muddle our message, to repackage their century-old lie of a message – horseracing is a sport, the horses “athletes” – will not work, for we are smart; we are organized; but above all, we have the facts – the truth – on our side. And truth, folks, is irrepressible.

Yes, sensibilities in regard to animals are changing: Ringling has retired its elephants; SeaWorld is phasing-out its orcas; “vegan” is no longer an alien word. Is it so hard, then, to imagine a world where horses are no longer beaten, maimed, and killed for $2 bets? I think not. And judging by the above, I believe the racing people can see it, too.

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Unlike the Thoroughbred version, harness racing operates under no sport illusion – Bob Costas doesn’t do Batavia; Standardbreds don’t make the cover of SI (or win their own postage stamps). Accordingly, there is scant information to be found on harness outcomes. What’s more, the official USTA charts offer only the relevant numbers – purses, odds, payouts. No notes to mine for clues (think “broke down,” “vanned off”), just an order of finish, or as the case may be, “did not finish.” This, “DNF,” in fact, is all the harness people saw fit to share about 4-year-old Apostles Creed’s run in the 11th at Yonkers Tuesday. Fortunately, though, we have the (only-of-its-kind) NYS database, and here is what it had to say about Apostles Creed: “…started race – broke stride – pulled up – laid down and died.” “DNF”? Yes – because he “laid down and died.”

Also, the Commission reports, a yet-to-be-named 2-year-old was “found dead in [his/her] stall” at Belmont yesterday. A 2-year-old horse, a pubescent by any measure, “found dead.” But fret not, for surely the “investigation” will get to the bottom of it.

This is horseracing.

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In a CBS8 news report on a protest on Del Mar’s final day, Joe Harper, club president, said this: “Sometimes I wonder why they’re out there carrying banners when the rest of us are actually doing something about it [the “it” being horses dying] and donating literally millions of dollars for research going to the health of the animal.”

You can’t make this stuff up. (I’ve included the video link below.) By the way, Harper’s assertion that the death number is 15 does not reconcile with his track’s stewards minutes. Going into his interview Monday, 20 had died either on Del Mar grounds or while being prepped off-site for upcoming DM races. And of course Chasing Aces – by many accounts, the most gruesome of the meet – made it 21 that very day.

I’ve long maintained that some within Racing are delusional – really, they see things that just aren’t so. Things like: lashes to the flesh don’t hurt; racehorses – isolated-and-confined-in-tiny-stalls-23-hours-a-day racehorses, drugged-and-doped-without-consent racehorses, bought-sold-traded-and-dumped racehorses – lead better lives than you and me; slaughter is an “animal rights” fantasy, or at the very least doesn’t rise to the level of serious, widespread problem; and, best of all, that what they do is a “sport,” the horses “equine athletes.”

Mr. Harper is either callous and cunning or sad and pathetic. No matter, for his comment reads the same either way. To claim that the very industry abusing and killing horses for profit is doing more for those horses than the volunteer advocates whose only goal is to end the barbarity is, in a word, obscene.

Drop our banners, Mr. Harper? Sure, but you first: Drop your whips, your syringes, your bugles; scrap your “vans”; stop your transport-trucks; shutter your betting-windows. Cease and desist. Then, we won’t be necessary. Until such time, know we’ll be out there – in increasing numbers – educating the masses, making you and your entire vile industry feel more and more uneasy with each passing day.

CBS8 story

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“Carnage,” as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is “large-scale death and destruction.” Those familiar with this site know that I’ve oft used this word to describe what is happening within the American horseracing industry. Critics take umbrage, calling it dramatic and hyperbolic – just another bit of overheated animal rights rhetoric. And of course, they say, untrue. Well.

In each of the past two calendar years, I have identified roughly 1,000 track-related (racing/training) kills. But after factoring in what is missing – rejected FOIA requests, most notably from major racing-states California and Kentucky; training deaths omitted from other FOIA documents; the “catastrophically injured” who are euthanized back at the farm or shortly after being acquired by a rescue; slipshod recordkeeping – I believe that the 1,000 can easily and reasonably be doubled. But that figure – 2,000 (annually) – covers only deaths on or originating from open-to-the-public racetracks. There are at least as many private training facilities as sanctioned tracks. It should not be difficult to see where this is headed.

Next, consider what the industry refers to as “non-racing” fatalities – that is, deaths of stabled-at-the-track, awaiting-next-race horses from things like stress-induced colic, racing-related infections, and the proverbial “barn accidents.” For technical accuracy, I do not include these horses on my KIA lists, but make no mistake, they are no less casualties of this sordid business than the ones referred to above.

Finally, slaughter. While Racing grossly downplays the extent of the problem, proudly flashing its zero-tolerance policies and aftercare programs in defense, we do have statistics from which to draw conclusions. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance (using USDA data), an average of 135,823 American horses have been slaughtered annually over the past ten years. (The last U.S. abattoirs closed in 2007; now, we simply ship them – itself, a horror – to Canada and Mexico.) A Wild for Life Foundation study found that from 2002-2010 an average of 19% of the slaughtered were Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a far lower percentage, say 10%, we’re still well over 10,000 butchered – annually. Just Thoroughbreds, mind you. How many more “retired” Quarterhorses and Standardbreds meet this same brutal end?

All this – the broken bodies of raceday, wherever, whenever euthanasia finally comes; the “sudden cardiac events” in morning practice, be they at Gulfstream or GoldMark; the colic, laminitis, “found dead in their stalls”; the exsanguinations – leads to a single, inescapable conclusion: carnage. Carnage.

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The latest Del Mar Minutes are in. While no dead are specifically identified (because California does not require such transparency), the “deceased” tally for the week comes in at four. This presumably includes Unusualy, Alicanto, and All the Marbles – leaving one unnamed. All told, this brings Del Mar ’16 to at least 20 dead racehorses.

week of 7/11/16-7/17/16, “Deceased: 5”
week of 7/18/16-7/24/16, “Deceased: 6”
week of 7/25/16-7/31/16, “Deceased: 1”
week of 8/1/16-8/7/16, “Deceased: 2”
week of 8/8/16-8/14/16, “Deceased: 2”
week of 8/15/16-8/21/16, “Deceased: 4”

A recent San Diego Union-Tribune article points to the various obstacles we anti-racing activists face on a daily basis. First, one from ostensibly our own. The article says that “animal advocates” met with Del Mar officials to air grievances and seek answers. Former Assemblywoman Lori Saldana: “We are out here today to ask the board to investigate the reasons for these breakdowns, these injuries and these deaths.” Not only ignorant (“Investigate the reasons”? Do your homework.), but horribly misguided. By reaching out to, and working with, the industry, you validate that industry’s right to exist, making it harder to ultimately bring it down.

Next, an unwitting (or fully witting, it’s hard to say) press allowing itself to be a conduit for industry propaganda: “The board…said it’s already taking steps to prevent the injuries, including adding more personnel to inspect horses and tightening blood screening standards to make sure horses are healthy enough to race.” Look, this is all-too-familiar territory. Every time there is a surge in deaths (or at least what is perceived to be a surge – Del Mar ’15 lost at least 18), the industry responds with assurances of “we’re on this; no stone will be left unturned.” More vets, tighter testing, better surfaces. And yet somehow, the killing continues. Imagine.

Inevitably, too, in the wake of (publicized) dead horses, come execrable quotes from industry VIPs. Del Mar president Joe Harper: “I’m in this business because I love animals. I love horses and believe me when one is injured, we all feel it. And like animal rights folks, we want to find out what we can do to help prevent or at least slow down some of these injuries.”

One, Mr. Harper, you’re most certainly not in this business because you love animals; you’re in this business for business. You can love horses. You can love horseracing. But you can’t love both. Two, and this goes back to Ms. Saldana’s quote, true “animal rights folks” are not at all interested in finding ways to “prevent or at least slow down some of these injuries.” A true animal rights person is only interested in ending your vile business. No “improvements,” no reform – just an end.

Worse, though, is this summation (which I would describe as shocking if not for the fact that, at least for me, Racing’s ability to shock has long since dissipated) from Cliff Goodrich, former president of Santa Anita: “Goodness knows in society there are problems that are unsolvable; this may be one of them.” The this here – the potentially “unsolvable problem” befuddling 21st Century America: killing horses for $2 bets. Sometimes, there are simply no words.

(Due to copyright considerations, I cannot post the picture that accompanied the article. But I encourage you to take a look.)