“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”

After conducting what it calls a “thorough investigation,” the Delaware Racing Commission has cleared the man who repeatedly (four times) punched a horse in the head prior to a race at Delaware Park to return to work, saying “no disciplinary action will be taken.” The Commission claims it conducted interviews with “individuals who are knowledgeable regarding the standard protocols of handling a fractious horse in the starting gate when a horse becomes a danger to the jockey and/or the assistant starter.” In addition, according to DelawareOnline, the Department of Agriculture’s animal-cruelty investigator has also granted full absolution. So, this man will continue working with animals after doing this:

As I’ve oft written, the racehorse is chattel – a piece of movable property. As such, he does not, cannot, have any rights, at least not in any meaningful way. Even when it appears to be egregious abuse (above), the law – in this case, the Racing Commission and Dept of Agriculture – almost invariably defers to “common industry practice.” So what they are saying here is that punching a horse in the head is perfectly acceptable – meets “standard protocols,” is common industry practice – if a human decides said horse is a danger to humans. Further evidence that you can’t fix this vile business. If you truly care about horses, there is only one position to take: Horseracing has to go.

In advance of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes…

The following racehorses have lost their lives at Belmont Park since the Gaming Commission began disclosing such things in 2009. To save you the trouble of counting, there are 389 dead horses on this list. As the Justify hype-machine kicks into high, remember this: Horseracing Kills Horses, day after day, year after year.

Midnight Slammer
My Lovely Lark
Not Ja Mama
Precious Kiss
City On Line
Sammy’s Toy
Glacken Queen
Teapot Dome
Sailor’s Cap
Hi Daddy
Cape Marco
Kentucky Bluebird
Big Stack
Atlantic Fleet
Kid Hendrix
Graceful Pose
Iron Curtain
Daimons Glory
Ramblin Boy
Joe Bravo
Karrie the Magic
Hoist The Gala
West Hampton
Irish Hearted
Hard to Explain
Dolche Destiny
Pappy’s Double H
Flint River
Tony Manero
Exotic Indy
Tickle Monster
Seattle Boss
Prute Hill
American Veteran
Lady Boudicca
Big Grey
Marly My Way
One Brave Cat
Duke of de Buqe
Golden Boychick
Alicias Butterfly
Client Eight
China Wavered
Whirling Agatha
One Seat Empty
Value Proposition
Share the Moment
Burns Up the Track
Kaffie’s Doll
Merit Badge
Sao Sebah
Dancing Destiny
Frontal Stride
Way to Karakorum
U S Calvary
Never Dream
Zip Moment
Check It Twice
Enchanted Storm
Smokey Eyes
Lets Fly Away
Read the Post
Shot Gun Gal
Up the Limit
Left Tee
Da Trouble
Hold that Prospect
Ommandon’s Thunder
Motor City Mama
Bull Speed Ahead
My Man Jake
Paper Duck
Roma Di Notte
Shes So Tough
Vitalino Mestre
Ten Till Mid Nite
Pea Stone
J J Coolay
Indian Bob
Guiltless Pleasure
Fair City Man
Road to Graceland
Maximo Star
Shelias Magic
Buddys Saint
My Daddio
Highly Notable
Royal Alibi
Fort Hughes
Skrzats Majesty
Team Plan
Divi Divi
Kisses From Karen
Blond Halo
Back From the Dead
Schillers Thriller
Ripples n Waves
Stormy Silver
Saratoga Tiger
Smart Maneuver
Midnight Mass
Make My Day Karen
Gasper C
Franklin Delano
African Diamond
Juicy Jaclyn
Steel Driving Man
Royal Majesty
Royal Brush
Show Trial
Carrington Village
Iron Ore
Wild News
Song of Siena
Yonder Tis
Jaw Crusher
Sunny by My Side
Moody Majesty
Fudge the Books
Clear Note
Banking Holiday
So Be It Rachael
Johnny Pump
The Noz
Shes Loca
Lights Out Lisa
Se La Livi
Ipswich Bay
My Girl Gracie
Kool Smoke
Giant Ryan
Rodeo Bustin
Star Lillie
Deluxe Package
Karma Shield
Matties Warrior
Sunday At Nipper’s
In Te Domine
Salsa Mambo
Little Ms Mink
Professor Weston
Highland Crown
Hey Little Girl
Join Forces
Thirty Minutes
Birthday Beau
Dr. Wheat
Seattle Appeal
Logical Order
Joy Rising
No Cat Like That
Five Sixteen
My Man Marty
Si Phi Rebel
Baltimore Jack
Lady Legion
Kid Flatter
Datts Appealing
You Look Mahvelous
Spit Ball
Live Lively
Kitten Goes Pro
Mr. Valentine
Grazie Toots
Silver Mast
Handshake Man
Skiddles n’ Bob
Mentor Cane
Discreet Code
Maui Mark
Two Comma Guy
Lavalette Gold
Roih Jones
King Wando
Pole Cat
Stonley The lonely
Flight of Fantasy
Two Roses
Bailey’s Dilemma
Six Divers
Caixa Eletronica
Go Canes Go
Weis Star
Valar Dohaeris
Flashy in Pink
Foreign Melody
Striking Slew
See The Music
Intense Holiday
Kingston Jamaica
Samuels Blond Lady
Point Taken
Fran’s Kid
Roses for Romney
This Guy is Blue
Music Maid
Missy Zelliot
See See See
Major Battle
Ego Friendly
Freddie Freud
Here In a Hurry
Grand Arrival
Giant Hearted Lee
Perfect Danger
Chase This Bandit
Saint Kris
Zo Sophisticated
Keen Katana
Soldier Inthe Rain
One More Chief
Tornado City
Summer Hawk
Eastcoast Lights
American Hero
Lunar Tales
Soul House
Ghost of Gettysburg
Animal Kracker
Lord Cashel
Miss Luckey Lauren
Sicilia Nino
Disappear Here
Marked Bills
Dilly Magilly
Flynn Bug
Blue Sixty Four
In Haste
Bam Bam
R Free Roll
Banker’s Boss
Fashion Fund
Sharyn’s Deram
Mini Muffin
Police Camp
Power Crazed
Lemon Iceking
Klassic Pat
It’s Elementary
Alexa’s Miracle
Karenina Gal
Rock Show
Noble’s Whim
Mordi’s Miracle
Go Go Jo
Riding the Rails
Rose Bern
Majestic Jo
Bonita Luna
Escape to Vegas
Todo Onota
Fort Smith
Cinder Block
The Silver Frisby
She’s My Ghibli
A Chip and a Chair
Winter Games
Long Blooming Rose
Daves Gone Bananas
Crystal Belle
Upside Brown
Yankee Tales
Fabulous Kid
Missy’s Hat Trick
Mac’s Posse
Rich ‘n’ Tuck
Classy Chris
Storm the Shore
Happy Match
Malibu Squeeze
Non Stop
Flying Bullet
Adirondack Dancer
Hidden Accounts
Dream Player
Karen Kan
Irish Prayer
Top Fortitude
Al’s Nightmare
Sherlock’s Hope
Rule the City
Hold On Momma
Saratoga Swayz
Elite Kid
Hyde Park Express
Rainy Night
Ogan’s Runner
Lucky Sugar
Steve’s Image
Alex the Terror
Old Dubai
Belt High
Desert Affair
Terry O Geri
Mark My Style