Just because California posts its whipping violations doesn’t mean it cares more about its racehorses than the majority of states that don’t. In fact, all American racehorses are treated exactly the same – as things to be used, abused, and expended. It’s just that California, one of our more progressive states on any number of social issues, is keenly aware of public perception. Hence, the transparency ruse. But more to the point, at least for the purpose of this entry, is of what use are violations if the corresponding penalties never rise to deterrent-level, are, in fact, a joke? Among the several violations reported in Los Alamitos’ most recent minutes is this:

“Jockey Eduardo Nicasio appeared in the stewards office in order to review his ride aboard #9 Mr Apollitical Dash who finished fifth in the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity (Grade 1) [on December 11] which carried a purse of $1,950,050. This horse earned $114,483 for his fifth place finish. Film review shows Jockey Nicasio use his whip twelve (12) consecutive times in this races final eighty (80) yards. This was his fifth riding crop violation since July of 2015. The stewards unanimously ruled this occurrence was a blatant misuse of his riding crop.”

Ruling:

“JOCKEY EDUARDO NICASIO IS SUSPENDED FOR THREE (3) RACING DAYS FOR A BLATANT VIOLATION OF CALIFORNIA HORSE RACING BOARD RULE #1688(b)(6) (USE OF RIDING CROP-MORE THAN THREE TIMES IN SUCCESSION WITHOUT GIVING THE HORSE A CHANCE TO RESPOND) DURING THE EIGHTH RACE AT LOS ALAMITOS RACE COURSE ON DECEMBER 11, 2016.”

Twelve consecutive lashes, which apparently constitutes a “blatant violation”; fifth whipping infraction in 18 months. But heck, there appears to have been mitigating circumstances – to wit, a whole lot of money was at stake. Ruling: a three-day suspension (with, far as I can tell, no fine). Three days.

Speechless.

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On September 30, 6-year-old Lil Dip a Nitro was a scratch in the 4th at Los Alamitos. Turns out he couldn’t be raced that night because he was dead – “euthanized,” says the CHRB, just prior to (official cause not given). In all, the gelding went under the whip 30 times, most recently a month before dying.

Also – with each edition of the California Stewards Minutes, there are, typically, several “whip violations.” Perhaps the primary reason the numbers ever seem to remain steady is the wrist-slap penalties (e.g., a third violation in a 60-day period brings but a $300 fine). But this one really caught my eye:

WHIP VIOLATION The following ruling was issued to Jockey Eduardo Nicasio for blatant abuse of the crop in Saturday evening’s ninth race, when he was riding #1 Better Check Him Out. During the entire 350 yards of the race, Mr. Nicasio hit his mount approximately “twenty five” plus times in three different engagements. All of this for a horse that finished last [10th]. Eduardo did not argue the matter and had no plausible excuse. The Stewards thought that this was so aggressive and abusive that he deserved a suspension. It should be noted that Mr. Nicasio has had numerous crop violations this year, although none in the previous sixty days.

The following ruling was issued: JOCKEY EDUARDO NICASIO IS SUSPENDED FOR THREE RACING DAYS FOR A BLATANT VIOLATION OF CALIFORNIA HORSE RACING BOARD RULE #1688(b)(6) (USE OF RIDING CROP-MORE THAN THREE TIMES IN SUCCESSION WITHOUT GIVING THE HORSE A CHANCE TO RESPOND) DURING THE NINTH RACE AT LOS ALAMITOS ON OCTOBER 1, 2016.

To recap: Jockey hammers horse 25+ times – in about 18 seconds, while bringing up the rear. Jockey came into the race with “numerous” whip violations on the year. But jockey – “Eduardo,” as the stewards refer to him – is sorry. Verdict: three days off. Three days – for what the stewards themselves concede is abuse. Still buying the “equine welfare is our top priority” drivel? Sick.

Replay (Better Check Him Out is on the inside rail): http://www.losalamitos.com/Replays.aspx – hit “Replays,” Sat Oct 1, Race 9

Although I am loath (and loathe) to give Ray Paulick, one of Racing’s more notorious hacks, “clicks” or “hits” (for I know he counts them), this short clip was too good to pass up. Speaking in the wake of the duo kills at Pimlico, Paulick at first was typically (for this industry) dismissive and dishonest (“in the vast majority of cases these horses are well cared for”; “there’s been a lot of progress”). But then, a startling, at least to me, admission. Forgoing the usual blather about “sport” and “athletes,” he says:

“The public has changed. We’re using animals for entertainment here. And, all you have to do is look at the circus where they’ve eliminated elephants from the show…look at SeaWorld… We have to do everything possible for the safety and health of these horses because we’re using them for entertainment. That’s the bottom line.”

Remarkable, actually. Not only does Paulick concede that his beloved industry is nothing more than animal exploitation, but his references (comparisons) to Ringling and SeaWorld show, though I’m sure he would not say so publicly, that he sees Racing’s future. It will go, just as those other two entities, at least their animal versions, are, as we speak, in the process of going. It will go because of exposure (think “Blackfish”) and the public’s reaction to that exposure. You see, when your product rests on a foundation of cruelty – how else to describe the enslavement and exploitation of sentient beings? – and the masses become enlightened, eventually the jig is up. For Racing, that moment is coming. And what’s more, Ray Paulick knows it.

But Paulick wasn’t the only high-profile apologist to break from Racing orthodoxy last week. In an article in the Thoroughbred Daily News, renowned racing writer Bill Finley decries California’s new, more-liberal whip rule. But Finley goes one step further, calling for an outright ban on whipping. For Finley, it’s mostly a matter of perception (and self-preservation): “People don’t like to see animals abused and a lot of people think hitting a horse with a whip, stick, crop, or whatever you want to call it, is cruel. Most people think dog racing is cruel. And look where dog racing is.”

But then this (again) startling admission: “He [a Jockeys’ Guild official who argues that the new rule is not abuse] might want to bring that up with my 15-year-old daughter. Brought up in a family where both parents work in the racing industry, she has zero interest in the sport and when asked why said it is because she doesn’t like to watch the jockeys beating the horses.”

Mr. Finley, you are wrong on this. Your daughter is not some unworldly sentimentalist; this is not mere perception. This is reality, reality grounded in rational thought – in common sense. Yes, whipping racehorses, whipping any subjugated animal, is cruel. How can it be seen as anything but? And the truth is, Mr. Finley, even if they were to implement your “reform” – eliminate whips – horses will continue to suffer and die on American racetracks. You can’t fix that which is wicked from the start. I have a hunch your daughter gets that. Perhaps it’s time you followed her lead.

The California Horse Racing Board has approved a measure that will increase – yes, increase – the number of times a jockey is allowed to strike his horse down the stretch. Currently, jockeys must wait for a “response” after three consecutive strikes of the “riding crop”; the new rule will make it four, at least over the last 16th of a mile. The measure passed 4-3; the deciding vote, says CBS/SF, came from active jockey Alexis Solis. Beyond the ridiculous conflict of interest, there is this (CBS):

Solis…expressed his support for the four-strike limit, recounting a recent race in which his horse was tired and he hit her for a fourth time, despite the three-limit rule, and got her to win. He said he had to pay a $200 fine, but that it was worth it because he won the grand prize.

“I have to be very honest I’ve been in trouble a month ago because at 16th of a mile my horse got very tired…I hit her three times and I hit her one more time right at the wire and she just won by a nose. And I know if I wouldn’t have done that, it would have cost me the winner,” Solis said.

Commissioner Steve Beneto, in response to the story told Solis, “That’s what upsets me is, the horse is tired, he’s giving out and we’re sitting there encouraging them a whip. I think that’s cruel…better to lose the race than have someone abuse the horse.” In response Solis said, “Yeah, but I don’t know if the bettors going to feel that way. So. I mean, we’re there to do a job.”

Mr. Solis, while I despise what you do, I commend your frankness. And appreciate it: By openly admitting that winning trumps “equine welfare,” that a jockey has an ethical responsibility to the bettors, you have indicted your trade far better than I ever could.

So, thank you.

(By the way, Solis’ case is not an anomaly: This month alone, says the article, 14 jockeys have violated the CHRB rule, many choosing to willfully defy after weighing potential wins against paltry fines.)

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“Last year more than 100,000 people attended the Melbourne Cup, with more than 3 million watching the race on TV in Australia alone. This would have to make whipping in horse-racing the most public form of violence to animals in Australia today, but most people don’t seem to notice it. …most appear blithely unaware that they are actually watching horses being whipped … and hard.” (Dr. Paul McGreevy)

As advocates, it can be easy to get lost in any number of Horseracing’s sordid aspects: 2-year-olds, drugging/doping, corrupt “connections,” negligent vets, claiming races, etc. But for me, focus should be trained on two above all:

First and foremost, Horseracing kills horses – lots of them, every day.

Second, the horserace itself exists, can only exist, through brute force – the primary instrument of which is a whip. A whip. On this, Racing’s age-old lie (painless “guide”) has conditioned otherwise decent people to ignore their very senses, eschew a common sense. Well, this is intolerable. So at the risk of insulting the intelligence of many of you, let me state (shout) what should be the clear, the plain, the obvious: Whipping a domesticated (enslaved) animal – any domesticated animal, for whatever concocted reason – is cruelty defined. Absolutely, unequivocally, beyond all doubt.

Sadly, though, some still ask for “scientific proof.” Enter Paul McGreevy – veterinarian, ethologist, professor of animal behavior/animal welfare science at the University of Sydney. Follows are some highlights from a McGreevy-penned article that originally appeared in The Conversation.

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Pain and distress may be difficult to evaluate in animals. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it must be assumed that procedures and conditions that would cause pain and distress in humans cause pain and distress in animals. Given there is no evidence to show that whipping horses doesn’t hurt, I decided to find out whether having my leg struck with a racing whip, as hard as jockeys whip horses, would cause me pain and distress.

Well, the answer is a resounding “yes”, and the thermographic images I took clearly show heat at the site of impact. In the image below you can see white areas of inflammation in my upper leg 30 minutes after it was struck – only once. And a warning: this material is disturbing.

My view is that – because there is no evidence to the contrary – we must assume that, just as I felt pain and distress from the impact of the padded whip, similar whipping in a horse would also cause pain and distress.

Representatives from the racing industry will doubtless say horses have thick skin and are therefore immune to pain from whip impacts but there is actually no evidence of such pain resistance in horses. Indeed, horses can feel a fly on their skin such that it triggers a characteristic shake called the “panniculus reflex”.

As sports journalist Patrick Smith recently wrote: “If whips didn’t cause pain there would be no use to them.”

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