We posted the following petition yesterday on change.org. We see this as another effective tool, a fine addition to an already formidable arsenal (protests, tabling, speaking engagements, media interviews, editorials, and, of course, this very website). And the beauty here is in its simplicity – sign and share. That’s it. Sign and share…

For far too long, horseracing has been given cover under the banner of sport, indeed “The Sport of Kings.” In truth, however, it is no such thing. If you dig deeper, if you look beyond the mint juleps and bugle calls, you’ll see that horseracing, at its most basic level, is but a simple vehicle for gambling. $2 bets. The “pampered athlete,” too, is a grotesque lie, for life for the typical racehorse is ugly and mean:

Commodification: Racehorses are literal chattel, pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their owners decide.

Subjugation: The horse people thoroughly control every moment of their assets’ lives – control effected through, among other things, lip tattoos, nose chains, metal mouth-bits, and leather whips. Force and power; domination of a weaker species.

Drugging and Doping: Racehorses are injected, legally and otherwise, with myriad substances to enhance performance, mask injury, and numb pain. The horseman’s credo: Keep ’em earning, by any means necessary.

Confinement and Isolation: In perhaps the worst of it all, racehorses are locked in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day, making a mockery of the industry claim that horses are born to run, love to run. As if not enough, these naturally social, herd-oriented animals are, as babes, forever torn from their families and, except for brief moments on the track itself or while in transport, kept utterly isolated. In a word, heartrending.

Death: Since 2009, when the Gaming Commission began to make these things public, over 1,300 racehorses have died at New York tracks – an average of 138 every year. But that’s just onsite. How many more of the “catastrophically injured” were euthanized back at the owner’s farm? How many more, still, killed at private training facilities? Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs, primarily through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, has documented over 5,000 confirmed deaths; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training on U.S. tracks annually. Pulmonary hemorrhage, head trauma, “sudden cardiac event.” Shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines. What’s more, countless other still-active racehorses succumb to colic, laminitis, “barn accidents,” or are simply “found dead” in their stalls.

Slaughter: While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its hollow zero-tolerance policies and drop-in-the-bucket aftercare initiatives, the truth is, the vast majority of spent racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered – over 15,000 Thoroughbreds alone each year. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Again, not hyperbole – carnage.

Horseracing is in decline, and has been for some time: Since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 34 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, fields, “foal crop,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down. Moreover, a majority of tracks – including 9 of NY’s 11 – are being wholly propped up by subsidies – corporate welfare. Clearly, lotteries and independent casinos are winning the market, but politicians, swayed by industry talk of lost jobs and economic havoc should it be allowed to fail, keep sending lifeboats. It is unfair and horses continue to suffer (and die) for it.

Sensibilities toward animal exploitation are rapidly changing, most especially regarding entertainment. Ringling Bros. is no more; Greyhound Racing will soon be; SeaWorld, owing mostly to the film “Blackfish,” has ended its captive-breeding program for orcas; and, as you know, it will soon be illegal to use elephants for any form of entertainment in NYS. Why can’t, why shouldn’t, racehorses be next?

Governor Cuomo, be bold, set an example for the rest of the nation by moving our collective morality forward. End the cruelty. End the suffering. End the killing.

End horseracing.

Citing a survey that named “animal welfare” the number one cause in America, Ray Paulick, in his eponymous Paulick Report, sounds the alarm (not for the first time) among his fellow apologists: we’d better start taking this stuff seriously or trouble will follow. To help win the issue, Paulick points to the example of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, who, after investing in some “field conservation,” rebranded itself, in the words of its CEO, “one of the world’s largest animal welfare organizations.” Co-opting 101. Paulick: “[make] the public’s No. 1 cause [your] cause, too.”

But to be clear, this is not “animal welfare” for the animals’ sake. Rather, it’s about perception. To illustrate, he presents three recent incidents from Pennsylvania:

At Penn September 28, “Miss Swisher [whom I wrote about]…refused to run a few strides after breaking from the starting gate. Jockey Julio Hernandez could be seen on video striking the horse excessively in the neck or shoulder area with his whip as she pulled herself up, lifting his arm over his head before striking her.”

Same track, same day, “a 2-year-old filly first-time starter named Keltoi was fractious behind the gate…the filly then reared up and flipped over backwards. Nevertheless, she was loaded in the gate and [raced].”

At Parx October 7, “Georgia Bonnet [whom I wrote about]…was racing just off the rail at the top of the stretch and began to lug in. Jockey Tyrone Carter switched the whip to his left hand and, according to Equibase footnotes, hit Georgia Bonnet repeatedly on the left side of her head through deep stretch.”

Terrible, all. But for Paulick, it’s the terrible “optics”: “[These incidents] are troubling to me in what they convey to the public and how they can shape a negative image of the sport. …actions – or lack thereof – will have an impact on how the public views our sport and help them form an opinion about whether we are treating or mistreating their No. 1 cause.”

When the racing people put their true feelings out there so blatantly, I can’t decide whether it’s arrogance or stupidity. Either way, it only goes to confirm what we already knew: “Equine welfare” is a ruse, a base marketing tool. But Paulick is right about this: The animal rights cause is strong and will only get stronger. And eventually, change (Ringling, SeaWorld, dogracing, horseracing as we speak), for in the end, moral progress is irrepressible. And, Mr. Paulick, know this: When the final chapter on “The Sport of Kings” is written, history’s judgment of those who promoted the exploitation, ignored the mass killing, and spun the cruelty will not be kind.

I recently came upon a 2007 article on the role of “On Call” vets at big Racing events – there as a liaison to the media, to communicate and explain injuries to horses during races. As this was published by dvm360, a vet magazine, the article was mostly about that profession and the standards they supposedly aspire to. But a couple of quotes from Dr. Larry Bramlage, the “On Call” vet present when George Washington broke down and was euthanized at the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic, caught my eye.

The magazine led in with this: “Desensitizing the public to the injury was one of Bramlage’s and McIlwraith’s objectives in describing to reporters what was taking place.” Then Bramlage:

“If you give them the information and the prognosis, they don’t leave the telecast with those vivid pictures as they did at the 1990 Breeders’ Cup where there was no one officially to talk about the injuries or the horses. All they could do was show the pictures over and over…”

“Our whole job is to have people leave the telecast remembering it for the races, not the injuries. I think we accomplished that. The right information puts people’s minds at ease and sometimes even if the news is bad, they can feel bad but don’t continue to agonize over it.”

Imagine that. One of the vet’s primary objectives – or, even, “whole job” – is to “desensitize the public” after a horse is killed; to make sure “[fans] don’t leave the telecast with those vivid pictures”; “to have people remembering the races, not the injuries”; to “put people’s minds at ease.” No “agonizing” over dead horses here.

What a twisted, sordid state of affairs. Veterinarians, men and women whose actions are supposed to be wholly informed by care and compassion for their voiceless, vulnerable patients, are, by “desensitizing the public,” actively aiding and abetting an industry that maims and destroys said patients as a matter of course; by glossing the ugliness, they are helping to guarantee that Racing’s (inherent) abuse and cruelty continues ad infinitum. But perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, for this is the American Veterinary Medical Association’s first principle on animal welfare:

“The responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as companionship, food, fiber, recreation, work, education, exhibition, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals, is consistent with the Veterinarian’s Oath.”

Exploit away. For shame.

Statements from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS):

“We’re not against racing. We want it done well and humanely…while PETA may be an anti-racing organization [it’s not], HSUS isn’t.” – former president and CEO Wayne Pacelle

“This is a national industry, and like football or baseball or other major American sports…we need national standards…” – Pacelle

“Two weeks ago, the racing industry celebrated its latest Triple Crown winner, and it’s now enjoying the increased enthusiasm a new superstar brings to the sport. But all of that enthusiasm and support will be difficult to sustain if the industry fails to consider the welfare of the equine athletes at the heart of this sport.” – current president and CEO, Kitty Block

“First, I want to clarify the Humane Society of the United States’ position on horse racing and our interest in this legislation. We are not, in principle, opposing horse racing.” – Block

“The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs imperils an industry that employs 400,000 Americans.” – Block

“The lack of strong and consistent national oversight of this industry…decreases vital public support for the industry. The Horseracing Integrity Act would address the pervasive drug use in the industry, and – as its name suggests – begin to restore some integrity to horseracing, helping…the business.” – Block

“This change in policy is urgently needed because the administering of performance-enhancing drugs is unfair to just about everyone involved in racing, [including] the fans who wager on the outcome of races…” – Block

“Racehorses are incredible athletes.” – Marty Irby, senior adviser, in a recently-released Facebook video

“The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs is KILLING [his voice inflection in the video] an industry that employs 400,000 Americans.” – Irby

“Horseracing is a $40 billion a year industry that fuels our economy. Without reform…support from fans will waver.” – Irby

I once called the HSUS’ position on racehorses criminal. It is. But in retrospect, I think that too kind. Horseracing is, by any and all definitions, animal exploitation. Absolutely, positively, unequivocally. Exploitation necessarily involves suffering of some kind. Exploitation, then, must be called abusive. Animal exploitation, then, is animal cruelty. There is no wiggling out of this.

Far worse than the HSUS simply remaining mum on this issue, the self-styled “leading animal advocacy organization” in America is actively trying to help Horseracing survive – indeed to help it thrive. The logic, then, becomes irrepressible: The Humane Society of the United States endorses, at least in this one area, animal exploitation; The Humane Society of the United States countenances, at least in this one area, animal cruelty. Here, a refresher on what that cruelty looks like – cruelty, I remind, that is inherent to horseracing, meaning it could never be eliminated. (note: I will omit the nonconsensual drugging/doping, the HSUS’ virtually singular obsession.)

Commodification: Racehorses are literal chattel, pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their owners decide.

Subjugation: “Horsemen” utterly control every moment of their assets’ lives – control effected through, among other things, lip tattoos, nose chains, metal mouth-bits, and leather whips. Force and power; domination of a weaker species.

Confinement and Isolation: In perhaps the worst of it all, racehorses are locked in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day, making a mockery of the industry claim that horses are born to run, love to run. Adding to this cruelty is the complete isolation of naturally social, herd-oriented animals. In a word, heartrending.

Killing: While the HSUS claims that curtailing and controlling drug use will reduce deaths, the simple truth is that some horses will always die, even if all drugs were ruled out completely (see dead horses in “cleaner” Britain/Australia; see 18-month-old trainees breaking down before ever being injected with raceday meds).

Slaughter: Ignore their hollow “zero-tolerance” policies. Fact is, the vast majority of horses bred to race end up bled-out and butchered. It’s a business, and everyone is trying to find the next Justify; “responsible breeding” does not, will never, exist. Consequently, there are simply way too many has-beens or never-were competing for the available “safe landings.” If in doubt, talk to your local rescues and query them on funding and space. On this, PETA also warrants rebuke for its new feel-good program whereby winning bettors can donate to Thoroughbred retirement. First, it can’t even begin to make a dent. Worse, with this, PETA, too, is now helping Racing rehabilitate its image, thus helping it to become more firmly entrenched in our society.

As previously covered, the HSUS stands against all animal-entertainment – the circus, the marine park, the rodeo, bullfighting, “acting,” and, yes, dogracing – all of it except for horseracing. There can be but one explanation for this: Somewhere within the highest echelons of the HSUS (directors, donors) there are Racing enthusiasts who have co-opted and corrupted this organization. By actively promoting horseracing, the HSUS is abetting the condemnation of countless future generations of horses to lives of crushing negation, terrifying breaks and deaths on the track, and brutal, violent ends in the slaughterhouse. In short, the HSUS is a sham and undeserving of even a dime from anyone who considers him-herself a friend to animals.

“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”