Unless otherwise noted, the following horses were “vanned off” American tracks this week.

Monday:
6-year-old Vamoose, Albuquerque, race 8
3-year-old Drama Magnet, Indiana Downs, race 1
3-year-old Crown Her First, Mountaineer, race 7

Tuesday:
3-year-old Ramrod Key, Parx, race 2 (broke through the fence)
4-year-old Steve’s Adventures, Parx, race 7
2-year-old Toyon Bay (first ever race), Turf Paradise, race 4
2-year-old Phantom Favorite, Zia Park, race 4

Wednesday:
3-year-old Sun Beauty, Charles Town, race 9
2-year-old My Hip Hop Honey, Delta Downs, race 5
3-year-old Pulp, Indiana Downs, race 6
5-year-old Sunday Groom, Indiana Downs, race 8
4-year-old Notoriously Noble, Indiana Downs, race 11
7-year-old De Romance, Penn National, race 2 (not vanned off but a “bleeding from both nostrils” DNF)

Thursday:
5-year-old Turbo Tweaked, Laurel Park, race 2
4-year-old Time for Wine, Penn National, race 5
6-year-old Triple A Rating, Penn National, race 5
3-year-old Si the Ocean, Santa Anita, race 8

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Recently, Europeans have grown increasingly concerned about the safety of American-sourced horsemeat being shipped to their continent from Canada. Here are the relevant facts:

Tens of thousands of American racehorses are sent to Canadian slaughterhouses each year for the express purpose of human consumption.

American racehorses, practically all of them, receive phenylbutazone (PBZ, bute), an anti-inflammatory, as a matter of routine.

PBZ has a laundry list of grave, if not potentially fatal, effects in humans: According to an FDA newsletter from 2003, “Phenylbutazone is known to induce blood dyscrasias, including aplastic anemia, leukopenia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia and deaths. In addition, phenylbutazone is a carcinogen, as determined by the National Toxicology Program.”

PBZ does not have a safe withdrawal period like some other drugs administered to food-producing animals. Dr. Ann Marini, author of a Food and Chemical Toxicology medical paper on the subject, says (Horseback, 2/8/12) that “if a horse is administered one dose of phenylbutazone, the horse cannot enter the food chain.” Ever. Accordingly, PBZ is banned for use in food-producing animals in the US, UK, EU, and Canada. In short, Dr. Marini says (Toronto Star, 7/30/11), “there‚Äôs no horse in (the U.S.) that is eligible for slaughter for human use.” Not one.

Horse meat back on the menu at 'Taxi Jaune' restaurant, Paris, France - 23 Jan 2007

Armed with this information, which has been readily available for years, how, then, can American horsemen continue to dump bute-laced meat into the food supply? To those paying attention, the answer is obvious: Men who would allow their erstwhile pet-racers to be strung up and slashed aren’t likely to lose much sleep over a Frenchman’s health. Horseracing’s moral bankruptcy, yet again.

In 2006, William Rhoden of The New York Times wrote an article (5/25/06) contrasting two breakdowns in May of that year. The first, Barbaro, received international attention upon shattering his leg in the Preakness Stakes. Four days later, a nondescript horse named Lauren’s Charm fell (of an apparent heart attack) at Belmont. Rhoden writes:

“THERE was no array of photographers at Belmont Park yesterday, no sobbing in the crowd as a badly injured superstar horse tried to stay erect on three legs. There was no national spotlight. Instead, there was death.”

When Lauren’s Charm collapsed, “no one, except those associated with the horse and two track veterinarians, seemed to notice.” With Barbaro, however, “a national audience gasped; an armada of rescuers rushed to the scene. In the days that followed, as the struggle to keep Barbaro alive took full shape, there was an outpouring of emotion across the country and heartfelt essays about why we care so much about these animals.”

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“But I’m not so sure we do, and I’m not so sure the general public fully understands this sport. When people attempt to rationalize the uneasy elements of racing, they often say: ‘That’s part of the business. That’s the game.’ But there was nothing beautiful or gracious or redeeming about the seventh race at Belmont. This was the underside of the business. The nuts-and-bolts part, where animals are expendable parts of a billion-dollar industry.”

Rhoden sets the scene:

“The dead animal was loaded in the ambulance and carted to the track’s stable area, where it was put on its side, legs bent as if it were still running. The horseshoes had not been removed. The carcass was then half carried and half pushed into an area designated for autopsies. An earthmover helped push the horse against a concrete wall.

The gate to the fenced-in area was closed. I glanced back at Lauren’s Charm, lying on the ground. Just days ago, the cameras were trained on Pimlico, and a nation cried for Barbaro. I wonder what the nation would have thought about this.”

He concludes:

“One animal breaks an ankle on national television in a Triple Crown race and sets off a national outpouring of emotion. A 4-year-old collapses and dies in full view on a sunny afternoon and not many seem to notice. Or care. As they say, it’s the business. But what kind of business is this?”

A shameful one.

The NYS Gaming Commission has just announced the death of three-year-old King Wando from an injury sustained while galloping at Belmont Park. With just five career starts and less than $16,000 earnings, the gelding’s passing is of little import to an industry that produces Thoroughbreds like a bakery does muffins. But we noticed. And we also noticed that he died on October 9th, the third horse killed at venerable Belmont that day.

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Oscar Pistorius, the “Blade Runner” sprinter who became a media darling at the London Olympics for competing without legs, ran a race last December against an Arabian horse in Qatar, ostensibly to raise disabilities awareness. A sorry spectacle, sure, but noteworthy here because of the merciless flogging administered to Pistorius’ equine adversary. In a 100-meter race that took about 11 seconds to run, the horse was struck at least 20 times, roughly 2 lashes per second. Imagine that.


Pistorius, of course, claims to have been unaware of the excessive beating going on behind him, a beating that would qualify as criminal had it occurred in NY. In one way, however, this video is a gift: Side-by-side, stride-for-stride, two supremely conditioned beings “compete.” One, an autonomous and self-driven embodiment of human athleticism, runs free and easy to the finish line. The other, a half-ton piece of movable property, is set (and kept) in motion by a whip. Here, in but 11 seconds, the idiocy in calling horseracing sport and the racehorse athlete is laid bare for all to see.