In the wake of the 26th dead racehorse (since Christmas) at Santa Anita yesterday (two broken legs), and faced with an unprecedented media-fueled national outrage, the track’s owner, The Stronach Group, announced, among other things, an immediate ban on raceday drugs. Complicating things, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, immediately praised the action – thereby helping this vile industry recover from its current PR disaster. A strange, sordid state of affairs, indeed.

On the move itself, the primary target, Lasix, has long been controversial within racing ranks. Some consider it a simple performance-enhancer (the diuretic causes horses to shed water weight; lighter equals faster), while others say it’s necessary to control the pulmonary bleeding that as a matter of course is caused by forcing horses to run very fast. (Really, I’m not making this up.) In any event, file this in the “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” category. The weather? The track surface? Congestion during training? Now, Lasix? C’mon, folks, wise up.

Horseracing – because (for speed) it breeds animals with big bodies but spindly legs and fragile ankles; because it trains and races them long before their bones are done growing, plates done fusing; because it compels them to run at a decidedly unnatural pace; and because it commodifies them – is inherently deadly. In other words, there’s no fixing this. It must end. Full stop.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign these petitions for California and New York.

Please call Governor Newsom’s office directly. No more PETA-style equivocating. Demand (respectfully, of course) an end – a final, irrevocable end – to this madness: 916-445-2841 or email

Santa Anita released its most recent Stewards Minutes today. The report, covering February 25-March 3, lists three more “fatalities.” One we know is Eskenforadrink on March 2; the other two remain unidentified. Of greater significance is this: According to the stewards, this makes 25 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park since Christmas, not the 21 total being widely disseminated in the media. Yes, I know that that 21 refers to racing/training kills, but what of the other four? Do the deaths of stabled-at-the-track, awaiting-next-race horses from things like colic and laminitis not count?

During the Civil War, roughly two-thirds of the 620,000 soldier deaths were from disease. Yet no one dares to draw a distinction. A dead soldier is a dead soldier is a dead soldier, and the Civil War killed every last one of them. Similarly, Racing is as responsible for the horses who die (usually painful and terrifying) colic deaths in the stall as it is for the ones who snap cannons out on the track. Casualties, all.

Santa Anita’s shame:

Dec 24-Dec 30, 1 dead
Dec 31-Jan 6, 2 dead
Jan 7-Jan 13, 2 dead
Jan 14-Jan 20, 3 dead
Jan 21-Jan 27, 5 dead
Jan 28-Feb 3, 2 dead
Feb 4-Feb 10, 1 dead
Feb 11-Feb 17, 1 dead
Feb 18-Feb 24, 4 dead
Feb 25-Mar 3, 3 dead
Let’s Light the Way, March 5

In the wake of 23 dead horses since Christmas, Santa Anita cancelled racing yesterday and is closed indefinitely. But let’s identify this for what it is: marketing-101 damage-control, nothing more, nothing less. After being hammered in the media – practically every major outlet in the country has covered the killing – and after a big HW-sponsored protest there this past Sunday (with more to come), the suits of California Racing are scrambling. But to be clear, this move is not because they think the track (weather) is the culprit or that further “testing” (“Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester” – please) will do any good. Nor is it because they care about the deaths in and of themselves, for if they did, they would have shut down – permanently – long ago.

According to official CHRB statistics, in the 11-year period 7/1/07-6/30/18 Santa Anita averaged 50 dead racehorses annually. And it’s not as if one or two bad years skewed that average: Every 12-month period but one (’10-’11, when “only” 37 died) saw at least 40 corpses. What’s more, they can’t even claim they’re heading in the right direction as two of the three worst years were ’15-’16 and ’16-’17. Now, consider this comment by the board chairman kicking off the most recent annual report:

“The year 2018 was a good one for California racing in many ways, but the clear highlight was the progress we have made in reducing equine fatalities at racetracks and training facilities. Admittedly, even one death of a racehorse is too many, but it is a sign of progress that the industry is finding solutions to a problem that for far too long has perplexed all of us who care deeply about the safety and welfare of horses.”

As I’ve oft-written (Saratoga ’17, Del Mar ’16), this is not a multi-billion dollar industry for nothing. They’re quite adept at controlling the story, assuring an increasingly uneasy public (regarding animal exploitation in general) that they’re on top of this – that “even one death of a racehorse is too many.” Well, facts, as the great John Adams famously said, are stubborn things. And the facts here say, unequivocally, that the current killing season is no anomaly – no “blip on the radar,” as the CHRB’s Dr. Rick Arthur called it. Rather, it’s business as usual, here – and everywhere.

“Progress,” as imagined by the California Horse Racing Board:

2007-08 51 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2008-09 41 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2009-10 42 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2010-11 37 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2011-12 71 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2012-13 43 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2013-14 52 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2014-15 46 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2015-16 62 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2016-17 64 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2017-18 44 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
September 2018-March 2019 31 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park

July 1, 2007-March 5, 2019 584 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park

Horseracing kills horses. Always has. Always will. And that’s all you need to know.

While Santa Anita scrambles to contain its current killing crisis, closing the track Tuesday while, as the Daily News put it, “staff tested the soil to seek environmental factors that could have contributed to the deaths of 19 horses since the season started in December,” the latest Stewards Minutes reveal that that 19 figure being widely reported is actually understated by two. Direct from the Minutes:

w/e December 30, 1 “fatality”
w/e January 6, 2 “fatalities”
w/e January 13, 2 “fatalities”
w/e January 20, 3 “fatalities”
w/e January 27, 5 “fatalities”
w/e February 3, 2 “fatalities”
w/e February 10, 1 “fatality”
w/e February 17, 1 “fatality”
Hot American, February 22
Battle of Midway, February 23
Just Forget It, February 23
Charmer John, February 24

So, that’s 21 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park since the meet began in late December. Crisis, intensified.

“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”