This past Sunday at Ellis Park, a 2-year-old filly named Spooky Ghost was put to the whip for the very first time. Her official line from Equibase was “went wrong along the backstretch, lost rider, vanned off.” Since Kentucky is one of the states that rejected my FOIA dead-horse request – “we don’t have that information” – the final fate of Spooky Ghost likely would have remained a mystery. As it turns out, however, the local paper, The Courier-Journal, believes a dinged-up jockey is newsworthy; within an article centered on the rider’s precautionary trip to the hospital, was this:

“Spooky Ghost…collapsed while running down the backstretch of the six-furlong race and soon thereafter died.”

It continues:

Will Farmer, Kentucky’s chief state veterinarian, could not say what caused Spooky Ghost’s death. “But she did collapse on the racetrack and expired on her own,” he said. “There will be a necropsy, so hopefully we get some answers.”

Brad Cox, Spooky Ghost’s trainer, said he’s assuming his filly had a heart attack or aneurism. “It was very very weird,” he said. “She was running along and all of a sudden she started hopping. It was the strangest thing I ever saw. Then I see Jesus slingshot over her head… I thought she broke something.”

One, she didn’t “expire on her own” – Racing killed her.

Two, I’m fairly confident no “answers” are forthcoming.

Three, the fluke-thing implication – “very very weird, strangest thing I ever saw” – is entirely misleading: adolescent racehorses simply collapse and die with regularity.

Four, seems, at least to me, a bit flippant for the death of a “family member.”

This is horseracing.

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Racing’s apologists are fond of pointing to California’s new whip (actually it’s now called a “riding crop”) rule as evidence of an industry trying – progress. But putting aside the fact that the rule’s very existence is an admission that whipping racehorses is not (obviously) as innocuous as it’s been made out to be all these decades, there is a reason those same apologists are loath to mention the penalties for breaking said rule. Witness this from the most recent Santa Rosa Stewards Minutes:

RAMIREZ RULING [8/8/15]

“Jockey MARCIAL RAMIREZ who rode STARBUCK’S BABY in the first race at the Sonoma County Fair on Friday, August 7, 2015 is suspended three racing days for violation of California Horse Racing Board rule #1688 (Use of Riding Crop – used more than three times without giving the mule a chance to respond). The above ruling was issued for Ramirez 4th whip violation in less than 30 days. We have tried and tried to explain…but young Ramirez can’t seem to grasp the new rule. He says he knows, but just can’t seem to comply in the heat of the moment. Steward Nevin felt a fine of $750 was a more appropriate penalty.”

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Four violations in less than a month – suspended three days (and one thought even that was too steep). This is horseracing.