The following U.S. racetracks have closed since 2000. In this same time span, to my knowledge only two new tracks opened: Mahoning in Ohio (but that could be viewed as an even swap for the deceased Beulah) and Pinnacle in Michigan, which, as you’ll see in the list below, closed after only two years. In other words, I present progress:

Anthony Downs, Kansas, closed 2009 after 105 years of racing
Atlantic City Race Course, New Jersey, closed 2015 after 69 years of racing
Atokad Downs, Nebraska, closed 2011 after 55 years of racing
Balmoral Park, Illinois, closed 2015 after 89 years of racing
Bay Meadows, California, closed 2008 after 74 years of racing
Beulah Park, Ohio, closed 2014 after 91 years of racing
Blue Ribbon Downs, Oklahoma, closed 2010 after 47 years of racing
Brockton Fair, Massachusetts, closed 2001 after 60 years of racing
Colonial Downs, Virginia, closed 2014 after 17 years of racing
Dayton Days, Washington, closed 2010 after 122 years of racing
Eureka Downs, Kansas, closed 2011 after 108 years of racing
Garden State Park Racetrack, New Jersey, closed 2001 after 59 years of racing
Great Lakes Downs, Michigan, closed 2007 after 18 years of racing
Hollywood Park, California, closed 2013 after 75 years of racing
Jackson Harness Raceway, Michigan, closed 2008 after 60 years of racing
Les Bois Park, Idaho, closed 2016 after 46 years of racing
Lone Oak Park, Oregon, closed 2000 after 67 years of racing
Manor Downs, Texas, closed 2010 after 20 years of racing
Maywood Park, Illinois, closed 2015 after 69 years of racing
Mount Pleasant Meadows, Michigan, closed 2013 after 28 years of racing
Northampton Fair, Massachusetts, closed 2005 after 62 years of racing
Northwest Montana Fair, Montana, closed 2011 after unknown number of years
Pinnacle Race Course, Michigan, closed 2010 after 2 years of racing
Playfair Race Course, Washington, closed 2001 after 100 years of racing
Rochester Fair, New Hampshire, closed 2007 after 73 years of racing
Rockingham Park, New Hampshire, closed 2009 after 103 years of racing
Saginaw Valley Downs, Michigan, closed 2005 after 25 years of racing
Solano Fair, California, closed 2009 after 58 years of racing
Sports Creek Raceway, Michigan, closed 2015 after 28 years of racing
Sportsman’s Park, Illinois, closed 2002 after 70 years of racing
Waitsburg, Washington, closed 2010 after 99 years of racing
Walla Walla Fair, Washington, closed 2010 after 144 years of racing
Western Montana Fair, Montana, closed 2010 after 96 years of racing
Woodlands Racecourse, Kansas, closed 2007 after 17 years of racing
Yavapai Downs, Arizona, closed 2010 after 50 years of racing
Yellowstone Downs, Montana, closed 2011 after 65 years of racing

“In many ways, you might call this one of the very best meets we’ve ever had here.” – Del Mar president Joe Harper, from the track’s website

As Del Mar is busy congratulating itself on losing “only” six horses in the just-completed meet (Joe Harper in Blood-Horse: “I just want to thank [the track superintendent] and his crew for doing an amazing job…”), a response is in order. Let me start by saying that given the way Del Mar has been hammered the past couple summers – and the large amounts of money at stake – a healthy dose of cynicism on this – just six? – is wholly warranted. That aside, two points.

First, I have long maintained that these kill numbers tend to ebb and flow from year to year – with the only constant being that multiple horses die at every meet run in the U.S. (excluding, perhaps, a county-fair calendar that is measured in days rather than weeks or months). Follows are Del Mar’s dead since 2011 (Stewards Minutes):

2011: 18 dead
2012: 15 dead
2013: 9 dead
2014: 15 dead
2015: 14 dead
2016: 21 dead (Blood-Horse says 17, contradicting the minutes)
2017: 6 dead

Saratoga, another elite meet, has a perfectly random up/down pattern since 2009 (Gaming Commission):

2009: 11 dead
2010: 15 dead
2011: 9 dead
2012: 16 dead
2013: 9 dead
2014: 14 dead
2015: 13 dead
2016: 16 dead (actually 19, but for this purpose I’ll go with the database’s number)
2017: 19 dead

So you see, they may dip in a given year but chalk that up to dumb luck. Granted, 21 (or 17) to 6 is a large decrease, but up until last year, Del Mar had averaged about 14 deaths a summer, which is right about Saratoga’s number. In other words, stay tuned. Best guess: Del Mar will find itself back in the shoes Saratoga now occupies – battling a PR nightmare – soon enough, perhaps as soon as this Fall. Reversion to the mean.

Second, but far more important: Morally speaking, what does it matter what the final count is? 6, 10, 15 – not a whit. Bottom line here, several intelligent, sensitive beings are dead because of Del Mar. Dead so that some might gamble, others be entertained. Viewed in this context, how is even one acceptable? It is not, America.

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)

Even when this industry is running “sham” races, it can’t help but kill. When reviewing the FOIA documents I recently received from Florida, I came upon a death at a track I had never heard of – Oxford Downs. Turns out, what Oxford really is is a cardroom/simulcasting center that runs a handful of Quarterhorse “races” a year in order to retain its license for the lucrative gaming. A quick search brought me to this Paulick article from 2014 explaining how some slimy businessmen have played the system, and how the state of Florida – or more specifically, the oversight agency for racing (which is what makes this an industry kill) – allows it to happen. In any event, here is the report I received on a horse named Hawks Linda Lou:

“On this date [June 14] at approximately 12:14 P.M. before race #3 the horse flipped and fell while being saddled for racing, hitting its head on the ground. The horse was immediately rendered unconscious and shortly thereafter expired. As the track veterinarian for Oxford Downs…I was summoned to the barn area, arriving at the site of the incident within approximately 2 minutes. At that time the horse did not have a corneal eye reflex and was demonstrating postmortem neuro-muscular spasms…the state veterinarian arrived and agreed that the horse had expired.”

Hawks Linda Lou was a 9-year-old mare who hadn’t run a legitimate race in over two years – her last one being a last-of-10 in a $5,000 claiming at Hialeah in February 2015. Vile. And on this, I think even Mr. Paulick would agree.

(While I do consider this an industry casualty, it must be said that Hawks’ death is directly attributable to Florida’s inability/unwillingness to “decouple” animal racing from other forms of gaming. That is, it’s high time that that state stops making it a requirement for license holders – for table games, slots, etc. – to run races that, with the possible exception of Gulfstream, the public cares little about. These racinos – combination racetrack/casino – are corporate welfare for a dying industry. Even if the cruelty part of this fails to resonate, you should be outraged that money that should be flowing to things like education is instead lining horsemen’s pockets.)

From the good news department: The Daily Racing Form reports that the Gillespie racetrack (along with two greyhound tracks) in Texas will not be renewing its license for live racing/simulcasting effective yesterday, August 31. In other words, it’s closing up shop. One down, three – Lone Star, Retama, Sam Houston – to go.