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

Friday:
4-year-old Windswept Summer, Charles Town, race 8 (“broke down”)
3-year-old How Bout Junior, Laurel Park, race 2 (“lame,” vanned off)
3-year-old Crabapple, Thistledown, race 4 (“lame,” vanned off)

Saturday:
3-year-old Wasted at Midnight, Hollywood Park, race 3
7-year-old Suyeta, Churchill Downs, race 3 (bled, vanned off)
4-year-old Offshore Banker, Delta Downs, race 2 (bled, vanned off; 2nd consecutive DNF due to bleeding)
3-year-old Long Beach Logan, Golden Gate, race 9
5-year-old Vianney Lane (48th start), Laurel Park, race 6
6-year-old All About Larry, Los Alamitos, race 6
3-year-old Royal Regard, Los Alamitos, race 9
7-year-old Candyonmymind (45th start, $5000 claiming), Mountaineer, race 5
6-year-old Fast Footed Frog, Retama, race 4 (not vanned off but bled)

Sunday:
4-year-old Space Traveler, Aqueduct, race 8
4-year-old Cadet Logan, Calder, race 1 (“broke down”)
3-year-old Pursteena, Churchill Downs, race 2 (bled, vanned off)
5-year-old Smokin Motion (46th start, $3200 claiming), Los Alamitos, race 1
2-year-old Survive, Los Alamitos, race 3
4-year-old Taba’s Gold, Portland Meadows, race 6
4-year-old Win the Future, Thistledown, race 3 (“broke down”)
4-year-old Trilite Thunder, Thistledown, race 8 (“lame,” vanned off)
2-year-old Cafe Bonita (1st start), Zia, race 6
2-year-old JC Storm (1st start), Zia, race 7

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Back in the spring of 2012, Governor Cuomo’s office ordered the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to investigate a spate of racing fatalities (30, in all) at Aqueduct’s 2012 winter meet. Ultimately, the Racing and Wagering Board (RWB) appointed a 4-member “Task Force On Racehorse Health and Safety.” Summarizing the findings, Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, said (The New York Times, 9/28/12), “At the New York Racing Association, concern for the health of the horses finished a distant second to economics.” Here are the highlights:

Lack of Transparency and Disclosure: None of the fatally injured horses had complete necropsies. In addition, there were no urine samples collected and only limited blood testing, leaving open the question of illegal administrations. Although rules exist for when and how much drugging is allowed, trainers failed to report (and the RWB failed to monitor) injections. Furthermore, racing’s ubiquitous corticosteroids often mask breakdown-causing injuries or preexisting conditions like this one, making the track vet’s job all the more difficult. And lastly, there were discrepancies between the trainers’ description of veterinary care and the practicing vets’ actual records, which, by the way, are not required to disclose dose information.

Conflict of Interests: All regulatory vet responsibilities are performed by NYRA vets who answer directly to NYRA racing officials; these officials, not the stewards, execute scratches, and racing officials do not like scratches. In addition, “written protocols containing standards and practices were not provided to the NYRA veterinarians,” leading to inconsistent pre-race procedures and scratch criteria. Worse, the dollar-driven, mind-your-own-business culture discourages whistleblowing: Generally, trainers don’t tattle on other trainers, and jockeys, with ever an eye on future mounts, are disinclined to voice soundness concerns.

Disproportionate Purses in Claiming Races: The Resorts World Racino, which opened in the fall of 2011, resulted in artificially inflated purses in the claiming races that predominate at Aqueduct. The extraordinarily high purse-to-claim ratios “incentivized poor decision-making by a range of stakeholders that increased the risk for mismanagement and subsequent injury.” In short, racing cheap, broken horses for jacked up purses is great for people, bad for animals.

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Let’s see if I have this straight: The owners, buying and selling at a frenzied and historic rate, are chasing racino cash with second-rate (at-risk), expendable assets. The trainers, operating in a highly competitive environment, either skirt or outright flout existing drug rules, often with a wink and a nod from private veterinarians who disdain answering to bureaucrats. The track vets, briefed on the primacy of field size, are compromising their professional integrity. And the jockeys are risking their teammates’ lives to preserve paydays.

Whether some or even all of the promised reforms have taken hold is quite beside the point, for as recently as last year, the preceding was standard operating procedure at the New York Racing Association. Says all we need to know.

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets, Installment 7

Royal Finder
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

Bred and owned by a prominent racing family, Royal Finder took his first wobbly steps as a newborn in Texas. One might expect Royal Finder would race successfully then find a soft landing at the end of his career, after having fattened the bank accounts of his father-son owner and trainer team. The handsome grey gelding did in fact earn $64,000 in 11 starts as a 2- and 3-year-old. He was running in allowance races with purses well in excess of 20K and was also stakes-placed. A full year passed, however, from his 11th start in an allowance race to his next race as a 4-year-old. In his 12th start, he was dropped into a claiming race, a frequently used “business plan” for owners to dispose of an injured horse. Such was the case for Royal Finder, and although he placed first for another 10K in earnings, he was claimed that race.

Royal Finder raced less than three weeks later for his new connections. He came in a dismal 10th, and the track comments for his next three races were telling: “Early speed, tired,” “Pressed pace, tired,” and “Close up, gave way.” And finally, his last race, “Clear, broke down.” Royal Finder’s knee had collapsed. Even after such a catastrophic injury, Royal Finder was forced to walk back to the barn in what must have been excruciating pain. And yet, his ownership was transferred again, to a small-time trainer who believed he could get one more race out of the wounded gelding.

When our racehorse rescue volunteers walked the shedrows of Michigan’s Great Lakes Downs during the closing week of its 1999 meet, they knew they would be intaking many injured horses – horses of nomadic trainers who would not want to pay to ship them to the next meet in another state. And so it happened for Royal Finder. His new trainer decided against taking the gelding with him and approached the rescue volunteers about purchasing him. One look at the pitiful grey horse – ears back, head down, and non-weight bearing on the injured leg, which was grotesquely turned outward from the knee down – and the rescue matched “meat price” then quickly searched for the private racetrack veterinarian.

Although track vets see equine injuries on a regular basis, Royal Finder’s collapsed knee was so severe the vet was shocked and outraged at the suffering the gelding was left to endure for well over a week. Then in less than an hour’s time, Royal Finder was purchased by the rescue, liberating him from the industry that destroyed him…then euthanized with the caring volunteer at his side, releasing him from his agony. Royal Finder, having run in 17 races and earning $75,000, was dead at the age of four.

Fast forward to July 2012. Multiple reports from racing media outlets, including BloodHorse, the Daily Racing Form, and the Paulick Report, told of 10 broodmares found at the Round Mountain horse auction. Located in Marble Falls, Texas, the auction is known to be frequented by kill buyers. The presence of broodmares at any horse auction is a common occurrence, so why did these particular mares make the headlines? Because of the man who sent them there: Keith Asmussen, patriarch of the prominent Texas-based Asmussen racing family and father of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen.

Only months earlier, many of the mares had delivered 2012 foals, and 8 of the 10 were bred back. Now, 9 were rescued from likely slaughter by businessman and Thoroughbred owner John R. Murrell. Keith Asmussen claims he was unaware kill buyers (purchasing for Mexican slaughterhouses) are present at the Round Mountain auction. Asmussen: “I didn’t even know there were any slaughterhouses left.” Amazing…to be oblivious to the slaughter of horses when his own website – the Asmussen Horse Center – exclaims “Horses are, and always have been our ONLY business!” and, by the way, “Starting our 52nd year…”

The Asmussens – Keith and Steve – were the breeder/owner/trainer of the ill-fated Royal Finder. And much like the 10 Asmussen broodmares dumped at the auction, Royal Finder was unloaded into a claiming race. Less than 3 months later, he was dead.

At least 3 racehorses died yesterday on American tracks: 3-year-old Sixes Slinky Secret fell in a $3,500 claiming race at Evangeline Downs (he had been claimed, by the way). 4-year-old She’s a Listener broke her cannon bone during the 2nd race ($4,500 claiming) at Finger Lakes. And at Belmont, 2-year-old Witchofwallstreet, who had yet to run a race, broke her tibia “while galloping” on the training track and was killed on the spot. The last two bring NY’s 2013 death toll to 105. This is horseracing.

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

Tuesday:
2-year-old Dirty Lil Secret, Mountaineer, race 3 (broke down)
2-year-old Tiz a Jungle, Parx, race 6 (“in apparent distress,” vanned off)

Wednesday:
3-year-old Miss McKeown, Aqueduct, race 9 (confirmed dead)
6-year-old Tobes the Man, Churchill Downs, race 7
5-year-old High On Ruston, Delta Downs, race 6
3-year-old Bunny La Jolla, Delta Downs, race 9
3-year-old Excusemeplease, Remington, race 2 (“in distress,” vanned off)
3-year-old Bling Time, Remington, race 6 (“in distress,” vanned off; her 3rd DNF, including 1 prior van off, at Remington in last 14 months)
2-year-old Regal Tam (1st career start), Turf Paradise, race 9

Thursday:
6-year-old Bringingdown Babel, Aqueduct, race 3
6-year-old Clever Shoes, Delta Downs, race 7
3-year-old Sixes Slinky Secret, Evangeline, race 7 (confirmed dead)
4-year-old She’s a Listener, Finger Lakes, race 2 (vanned off, confirmed dead)

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