The following, unless otherwise noted, were “vanned off” American tracks this week.

4-year-old Starship Sultry, Gulfstream, race 7 (“broke down”)
3-year-old The Man Himself, Parx, race 9 (confirmed dead)
4-year-old Double Java Girl, Turf Paradise, race 4

6-year-old Made the Cut, Beulah Park, race 5
5-year-old New York Gin, Beulah Park, race 5
4-year-old A Pache Rojo, Turf Paradise, race 4
2-year-old Quick to Hit, Zia, race 1

4-year-old Brown Eyed Nance, Aqueduct, race 8
3-year-old Bird County (after winning), Churchill Downs, race 10
3-year-old Drop On By (after winning), Evangeline, race 7
3-year-old Seeking Suki, Penn National, race 8
8-year-old Anotation, Turf Paradise, race 7

3-year-old Marywiththeblueyes, Aqueduct, race 1
2-year-old Tropic of Artie, Churchill Downs, race 6
3-year-old Prima Zip, Penn National, race 9 (“pulled up lame,” vanned off; also vanned off at Gulfstream in February)

The Daily Racing Form (11/14/13) reports that 6-year-old Turallure, two years removed from winning the Woodbine Mile, was killed today “shortly after breaking down in a routine gallop at Keeneland…” Trainer Charlie LoPresti: “This is just awful for all of us. Turallure was just like part of my family.” As per usual, racing’s conditioned fans are offering obtuse “condolences to the connections.” But amid the drivel, one brave soul left this on both the DRF and Paulick Report sites (though it appears to have been stricken from the latter): “How come when the 5k claimers break down and are euthanized…they are NEVER ‘part of the family’?” Hear, hear.

Turallure’s last 9 races:

Churchill Downs, 5/5/12, 7th of 11
Churchill Downs, 7/1/12, 4th of 5
Keeneland, 4/6/13, 6th of 7
Churchill Downs, 5/2/13, 6th of 9
Arlington, 6/8/13, 5th of 7
Saratoga, 7/24/13, 2nd of 9
Saratoga, 8/31/13, 4th of 5
Keeneland, 10/5/13, 9th of 10
Keeneland, 10/18/13, 6th of 12

Based on the above, and after winning his “family” almost $1.4 million, one would think that Turallure (pictured below) had earned a permanent respite. One would be wrong, for this, after all, is horseracing, squeezing till the bitter end.

photo credit: DRF
photo credit: DRF

The News 4 I-Team (Washington) reports (11/13/13) that the Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia – one of the nation’s busiest, running, basically, year-round – has recorded 54 2013 deaths (46 in-competition) through 9/4, and 144 over the past two years. In 2011, 47 horses perished. On the spike, a spokesman for Charles Town’s operator, Penn National Gaming (yes, Charles Town is a racino, with slots and table games jacking up purses for bottom-tier racing), said this:

“Charles Town is the venue. We have, however, limited impact on the races and those horses competing at our facilities. We maintain our track, surfaces and facilities at the highest standards. We have no control over the physical condition and training of horses entered in our races. We do not know if that horse has a prior injury, has been medicated beyond legal limits or has been trained too much or too little.” How comforting.

download (7)

David Willmot, former CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group (owner of the prestigious Woodbine Racetrack), gave a 2001 speech on the then-state of Ontario Horseracing (which has since taken a significant turn for the worse). With uncommon candor, at least for horseracing, Willmot, a racing-executive legend, shatters horseracing’s greatest myth:

“During the first month that I was CEO, I had a meeting with about eight or ten of our biggest gamblers. During our discussion, I used the word ‘fan,’ and talked about our ‘fans.’ And one of these guys looked at me and said, ‘Don’t insult me.’ I said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ He said, ‘I am not a fan of anything that you or your rich friends do around here. And don’t call me a ‘patron’ either, because I’m not a patron. I am a gambler. …And you think the only reason we are here is to watch you, your friends, and your brown furry animals enjoy your elitist activity.'”

Mr. Willmot concedes: “The truth of the matter is, racing is a gambling business 99.8 percent of the time and a sport the other point-two percent. A $20,000 claimer on a Thursday afternoon is not a sport.”

Still, there are holdouts who liken horseracing to pro football, a sport with a gambling component. But disregarding for a moment the conspicuous absence of whips, on-field kills, and ex-player abattoirs, 80,000 people do not flood a football stadium to follow office-pool picks. Simply put, the NFL’s success is explained by fandom while horseracing’s, such as it is, by $2 bets (and increasingly by corporate welfare). To the gambler who drives racing, the horse is inconsequential beyond that day’s program; any fleeting emotional bond is the same felt for a blackjack card.

So please spare us talk of ambiance, tradition, the beauty of equines in full stride, and competitive athletes honing their craft. People don’t go to the racetrack for any of that. Horseracing is no more sport than taking a quarter to a scratch-off. It is unadulterated gaming, nothing more, nothing less. Problem is, VLTs have no bones to shatter, roulette wheels no carotids to slash. Gambling in and of itself is not immoral. Gambling on the backs of suffering horses is.

In yesterday’s 9th race at Parx, 3-year-old The Man Himself “broke down in the opening quarter mile and was humanely euthanized.” Had he lived, the colt, who was claimed prior to the race, would have been laboring under a 4th different trainer in 6 1/2 months:

2 starts (4/27, 6/9), William Mott (for Besilu Stables)
3 starts (8/16, 9/2, 9/29) Edward Plesa Jr (for Besilu Stables)
3 starts (10/23, 10/28, 11/11) Joseph Mazza (for Lucille Caruso-Mazza)

In the 10/23 race at Belmont, his first under Mazza, The Man Himself finished 9th (of 10) chasing a $40,000 purse. With no rest for the weary, the not-yet-fully-formed Thoroughbred was thrust into a $28,000 race at Parx just 5 days later; 14 days after that, he was dead.