Through a request to the California Horse Racing Board, I have been able to confirm the names of the six heretofore unidentified dead horses at Santa Anita this meet:

Henry, Jan 14
Ponchito, Jan 22
Mongolian Hunter, Jan 28
Cooney, Mar 4
Rolling Shadow, Apr 4
Current Times, May 27

For a historical parallel on these “non-racing” deaths: Roughly 620,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War. That’s a fairly well-known number. But what most don’t know is that roughly two-thirds of those died of disease. And they don’t because no moral distinction is – or should be – drawn between those felled by dysentery and those by gunshot. Simply, the War was responsible for all. Similarly, every death in horseracing is by horseracing. Cooney, Battle of Midway – not a scintilla of difference.

Yesterday, the LA Times Editorial Board weighed-in (again) on Santa Anita, calling (again) for the track to shut it down. Fine, but its reasoning is terribly flawed, its outrage (“we’re appalled”) unforgivably overdue.

Santa Anita should close, says the Board, until “an investigation into the mysterious spate of deaths that has bedeviled the track” is complete. “It’s reckless,” they say, “to keep racing before the park has all the information it needs.” Okay, here we go again. Going back to 2007, Santa Anita has averaged 50 dead horses annually. 50. 48 died there just last year. We’re currently at 35 (yes, it’s 35, not 29). No “spate,” no “spike” – in fact, right on schedule. To that, where was this rebuke back in 2018? 2015? 2007? Ever? And what, pray tell, about Los Alamitos’ 257 dead horses the past five years, or Golden Gate’s 180? Or California’s over 5,000 since 1998? If Santa Anita “should not risk any more horses’ lives” by continuing to race, shouldn’t those other tracks (because dead horses are a guarantee) close too?

As to the “mysterious” nature, the Board would do well to read some of the highlights from the already-in 2018 necropsies. No mystery here.

Still, the Board got one thing right. At the end, it says, “Over time, Americans have to decide how much death they are willing to tolerate in this ancient sport.” Indeed, how many, America? How many?

In the 10th at Santa Anita Saturday, Formal Dude “took a bad step” and was “vanned off” (Equibase). “Took a bad step” is one of this industry’s euphemisms of choice for dead. And indeed, we have confirmation that the 4-year-old was euthanized – for a broken pelvis. The LA Times quotes the CHRB’s Dr. Rick Arthur: “With few exceptions, fatal pelvic fractures have pre-existing stress fractures at necropsy.” As if this somehow makes it better: “Pre-existing stress fractures” are a direct result of the incessant grinding – training and racing – racehorses are forced to absorb, and, by the way, another reason the killing is inevitable.

Santa Anita has 34, not the 28 being reported in the press, dead animals on its decidedly ignominious ledger. Shut it down.

Psychedelicat, killed racing at Santa Anita Dec 30, 2018
Tank Team, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 4, 2019
Unusual Angel, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 4, 2019
Secret Street, killed training at Santa Anita Jan 8, 2019
Derby Treasure, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 11, 2019
Noise Mandate, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 18, 2019
Amboseli, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 20, 2019
Like Really Smart, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 21, 2019
Last Promise Kept, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 21, 2019
Dancing Harbor, killed training at Santa Anita Jan 23, 2019
Spitfire, killed training at Santa Anita Jan 25, 2019
Kid Cantina, killed racing at Santa Anita Feb 2, 2019
Comegowithme, killed racing at Santa Anita Feb 3, 2019
Jager Time, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 17, 2019
Unusual Rider, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 18, 2019
Hot American, killed racing at Santa Anita Feb 22, 2019
Battle of Midway, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 23, 2019
Just Forget It, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 23, 2019
Charmer John, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 24, 2019
Eskenforadrink, killed racing at Santa Anita Mar 2, 2019
Lets Light the Way, killed training at Santa Anita Mar 5, 2019
Princess Lili B, killed training at Santa Anita Mar 14, 2019
Arms Runner, killed racing at Santa Anita Mar 31, 2019
Commander Coil, killed training at Santa Anita May 17, 2019
Spectacular Music, killed racing at Santa Anita May 19, 2019
Kochees, killed racing at Santa Anita May 25, 2019
Derby River, killed training at Santa Anita June 5, 2019
Formal Dude, killed racing at Santa Anita June 8, 2019
unidentified, Jan 14-Jan 20, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Jan 21-Jan 27, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Feb 25-Mar 3, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Feb 25-Mar 3, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Apr 1-Apr 7, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, May 20-May 26, died off-track at Santa Anita

Tuesday, AP sportswriter Stephen Whyno published an article that could just as easily have come from the New York Racing Association’s PR department. He begins:

“The home of the Belmont Stakes is laps ahead of other U.S. racetracks when it comes to keeping horses safe. Belmont Park and other tracks around the state of New York have had some of the fewest horse deaths in the sport. Amid the 26 [it’s actually 33] horse deaths at California’s Santa Anita Park since late December, the Belmont will be run Saturday on a track that national observers say is among the safest and best maintained in the country.”

Whyno goes on to cite the ubiquitous, but largely meaningless, “fatality rate per 1,000 starts” for Belmont and how it compares favorably to other tracks, including the other two Triple Crown venues, Churchill and Pimlico. The secret, he says, is in the “the attention given to [the] track surfaces”: “[NYRA] keep[s] copious amounts of data using ground-penetrating radar and sensors that track the moisture content in the tracks. They also have a weather station that tracks rainfall and wind speed.”

Very impressive. Count the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Steve Koch as a fan: “At Belmont Park, NYRA racing, Glen Kozak and his team and the way they do things up there, that is going to be our industry benchmark.”

May I present the “industry benchmark,” “some of the fewest horse deaths in the sport.” In just the past three years, the three NYRA tracks – Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga – have recorded the following kills:

2016 – Aqueduct, 11 dead racehorses; Belmont, 39 dead racehorses; Saratoga, 16 dead racehorses

2017 – Aqueduct, 17 dead racehorses; Belmont, 40 dead racehorses; Saratoga, 21 dead racehorses

2018 – Aqueduct, 15 dead racehorses; Belmont, 29 dead racehorses; Saratoga, 13 dead racehorses

Since 2009, when the Gaming Commission’s database went live, which, incidentally, only came in the wake of outrage over Eight Belles and calls for greater transparency, 423 horses have lost their lives at Belmont Park, an average of 42 every year; at all NYS tracks, over 1,300 deaths – 137 annually. The best U.S. Racing has to offer? Vile.

As Santa Anita continues to reverberate, NYRA issued a statement last week that in addition to promoting the spring Belmont season, regurgitated the now-standard litany of “safety initiatives” that have (supposedly) been implemented at NYRA tracks. The whole Goebbels-esque statement can be read here, but here’s the gist:

“In addition to accreditation…by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, a variety of initiatives have been put in place since 2013 at all three NYRA racetracks…in areas such as racing surfaces and race-day scrutiny, as well as capital improvements and collaborative efforts…to ensure the safety of all participants. These extensive reforms and commitment to improving the safety of NYRA’s racing operations have led to demonstrably safer races.”

While I’m generally loath to use the word “lie,” to say that NYRA Racing is “demonstrably safer” since 2013 is demonstrably false. Whether it rises to the level of lying, I’ll leave to you to decide. Follows are the death totals (direct from the Gaming Commission) for the three NYRA tracks for 2013 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% increase. But wait. In 2013, the three NYRA tracks had 247 days of racing; 2017, 234. Deaths up, number of races down. Now, to be fair the 2018 numbers did come down a bit: Aqueduct, 15 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 13 dead – for a total of 57 dead. So, after five years of state-of-the-art technology (“ground-penetrating radar”), greater vigilance (multiple “inspection” and “observation” periods), better protocols (“enhanced levels of scrutiny”), the deaths went from 70 to 57. Is this what is to pass for “demonstrably safer”? Is this – only 57 dead animals for, I remind, gambling and entertainment – what we’re to call progress in 21st Century America? Citizens, awake.