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.

Coming on the heels of last month’s admission by an industry-connected vet that 10,000-12,000 American Thoroughbreds are being slaughtered each year, some racing people recently got together in Saratoga Springs for a “symposium” on Thoroughbred “aftercare.” Follows are highlights from the area’s two largest papers.

The Times Union:

“Mandatory fees, help from the state Legislature or even tapping video lottery ‘racinos’ or casinos were all trotted out Tuesday as potential ideas to ensure that ailing or aging racehorses enjoy humane retirements rather than being auctioned off to Canadian slaughterhouses or worked to death as farm animals.”

“…rather than being auctioned off to Canadian slaughterhouses or worked to death as farm animals.”

“Participants laid out the challenge in frank terms. Despite the glamor and excitement that surrounds it, racing is a business and owners are under pressure to keep their animals running and turning a profit. Others at Tuesday’s discussion…noted that they are seeing more horses with severe injuries or chronic problems who are kept on the track… The reality is in the lower rungs of the racing world, there are owners and trainers who are barely hanging on financially, thus the pressure to get as many races as they can from their equine athletes.”

“…seeing more horses with severe injuries or chronic problems who are kept on the track…pressure to get as many races as they can from their equine athletes.”

The Daily Gazette:

“The horse racing industry already contributes funds to the care of thoroughbreds after they retire, but the people tasked with preparing horses for life after racing say it’s not enough. ‘We breed 20,000 a year, so if we don’t fund the exit plan, we can’t control the arteries from bleeding out,’ said Stacie Clark, operations consultant for the [industry-connected] Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA).”

“…if we don’t fund the exit plan, we can’t control the arteries from bleeding out.”

And perhaps most startling of all, at least as concerning New York State:

“…officials in 2015 sought to track down all NY thoroughbreds that raced between 2010 and 2012. They were only able to identify 1,871 out of the 3,894 horses that raced during those years, or about 48 percent. ‘We will continue to try to locate these New York thoroughbred horses; however, the fact that in two years we have only found about half of the horses speaks volumes about the challenges of just how many retired race horses there are out there,’ said [the Gaming Commission’s] Ron Ochrym. Of the horses identified, 604 were retired to breeding, 422 went on to have second careers, 327 were ‘simply retired,’ 155 were adopted and four were retired to stud, he said.”

First, the “identified” add up to only 1,512 – well short of the 1,871 cited. Second, “retired to breeding” is its own kind of exploitation. And, what is “simply retired”?

Then this:

“Of the 2,023 thoroughbreds that could not be located, 58 ran their last races at Saratoga.” Saratoga, one of the top racetracks in America, with 58 MIA over a three-year period. Combine that with the 40 horses we know died there 2010-12 and you have almost 100 dead or missing in three short (six-week) meets. Remember that when it comes time to pack the coolers and baskets next July. What’s more, if this is happening at one of Racing’s crown jewels, you can imagine what goes on at the Thistledowns and Penn Nationals of the world. As I’ve said repeatedly, carnage.

(full Gazette article)