The good folks at Animals’ Angels produced the following video on the (likely) sad and horrific end for the former racehorse Platinum Ticket. One note before watching, however: Platinum’s final racing owner, Richard Englander, would have us believe that he did all he could to guarantee Platinum a safe landing. He did not. After exploiting him, the only morally responsible action Englander could have taken would have been to take Platinum home with him. As it stands, both he and (of course) his industry are complicit in Platinum’s (likely) exsanguination.

(The following is one of my early posts.)

Up until very recently, knowledge and appreciation of the equine mind has been noticeably lacking. Sure, we’ve learned rudimentary things about horses through the years, but only enough to breed and maintain pliability. Now, though, scientific curiosity is leading some to dig deeper. Biologist Dr. Evelyn Hanggi, co-founder of the Equine Research Foundation, is among the nation’s leading experts on equine intelligence. From her 2005 paper, “The Thinking Horse: Cognition and Perception Reviewed”:

“A review of the scientiļ¬c literature, as well as practical experience, shows that horses excel at simpler forms of learning such as classical and operant conditioning…. Furthermore, horses have shown ease in stimulus generalization and discrimination learning. Most recently and unexpected by many, horses have solved advanced cognitive challenges involving categorization learning and some degree of concept formation.” In short, she says, “Horses, both feral and domesticated, are faced with varied conditions that require an assortment of learning and perceptual capabilities.”

The small-brained horse, Dr. Hanggi points out, is an unkind myth: A horse’s brain is not the size of a walnut (400-700 grams compared to 15); in fact, this “complex organ” has many folds and “more folds, more brainpower.” It is equally untrue that their “flight instinct” (“spook-and-bolt”) is a sign of low intelligence. Dr. Hanggi (Horse Illustrated, 2001): “Horses spook not because they are stupid but because they are smart enough to have survived a few million years.”

Although horses do seem to have a propensity to hurt themselves on doors and fences – seen as “dumb” animal behavior by some – it’s because they are supposed to live on wide-open ranges, not “in small, dark enclosures with sharp edges.” This cruel confinement – for most racehorses, over 23 hours a day – causes mental anguish, as evidenced by “cribbing, weaving, head bobbing, pacing, and self-mutilation.”

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Horses can sort geometric shapes into specific classes and have demonstrated an ability to conceptualize. By virtue of an “exceptional memory,” they can “generalize about things they have never seen before.” Oh, and they can count. In short, Dr. Hanggi says, “…horses possess some learning abilities akin to those of the more accepted animal intellectuals, i.e., dolphins, sea lions and chimpanzees – the result being a far cry from simple conditioning.”

But when questioning the morality of horseracing, the relative intelligence of the horse is largely inconsequential. What matters, what should force introspection, is his ability to suffer. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham: “What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

American Deluxe in the 7th at Thistledown yesterday: “AMERICAN DELUXE suffered a catastrophic injury leaving the first turn and was euthanized” (Equibase). The 5-year-old was under the whip for the 20th time.

In the most recent Stewards Minutes from Los Alamitos, “two equine deaths were reported due to racing injuries.” As usual, the stewards did not identify the victims, but it is likely that one is 3-year-old Bos Dream, an “injured, vanned off” on April 26.

Three more dead animals – this is horseracing.

Through a FOIA request to the California Horse Racing Board, I have confirmed the following deaths at that state’s tracks in 2018. (Please note: The Board redacted the names of the dead horses; any identifications below came via other channels.)

Califo Cat, June 1, Golden Gate R
Severe soft tissue damage, rupture of ligaments and tendons, right foreleg fetlock region, with eroded/ulcerated articular surfaces of bones. Both limbs and the right side more extensively, had degenerative changes with surface damage as well, which may have played a role in the formation of the observed breakdown.”

unidentified 5-year-old, June 2, San Luis Rey Downs T
Horse went down while being walked after working on track. Became agonal quickly and died within minutes. Cause of death, hypovolemic chock with abundant frank blood and blood clots [in] abdominal cavity [and] extensive hemorrhage [in] abdominal wall. Chronic changes of the right forelimb: roughly triangular 1.5 cm long x 1 cm deep slab held in place by a screw; lipping and deep ulceration of articular cartilage and erosion of the articular surface. Chronic changes of the left forelimb: pitting and linear erosion of articular cartilage. Stomach: Chronic erosions/ulcers, multiple. Horse has been gone from racing since Sept 2016.” (again, five years old)

unidentified 3-year-old, June 3, Golden Gate T
“This horse sustained a complete fracture of the medial and lateral proximal sesamoid bones in the right front fetlock, which was accompanied with rupture of tendons and marked bruising and edema of the subcutaneous tissues.”

unidentified 8-year-old, June 3, Golden Gate T
“Condylar fracture multiple pieces; history of sheath sever[e] synovitis, was lanced and drained four weeks ago. An approximately .6 cm long displaced bone fragment was between the sagittal ridge fragment and medial condyle. There were small fragments of bone pieces scattered throughout. There was marked hemorrhage and edema of the subcutaneous and soft tissues. There was acute, complete rupture of the lateral branch of the suspensory ligament.”

unidentified 2-year-old, June 16, Golden Gate T
Comminuted fractures of the diaphysis with approximately 10 major fragments. The skin is lacerated with bony fragments extending through.

unidentified 2-year-old, June 16, Los Alamitos T
Acute comminuted fracture of the neck. A (chronic) callus located at the distal end of the spine of the scapula was likely the predisposing lesion.” (again, two years old)

Phantom Flyer, June 27, Golden Gate T
Complete, comminuted fracture of the metatarsal. Abundant soft tissue hemorrhage surrounds all portions of the fracture.”

unidentified 2-year-old, July 27, Los Alamitos T
“Complete, comminuted, displaced, open fracture of medial proximal sesamoid bone. Displaced fracture of lateral proximal sesamoid bone Hemorrhage and fraying of medial and lateral branches of suspensory ligament. Rupture of fetlock collateral ligaments. Rupture of collateral sesamoidean ligaments.”

Skidazzle, July 29, Golden Gate T
Fetlock crush injury: Comminuted fracture of both proximal sesamoid bones. Bilateral, apical proximal sesamoid bone fractures into 2-3 fragments with ligament rupture. Severe hemorrhaging, lateral suspensory branch fraying and partial tear, lateral collateral ligament fraying. Focally extensive ulceration of the stomach.”

Unusual Kiddy, July 29, Los Alamitos R
Fell leaving gate paralyzed: Comminuted fracture of the lumbar spine, with extensive hemorrhages in the adjacent musculature and connective tissue.”

As Santa Anita continues to reverberate, NYRA issued a statement last week that in addition to promoting the spring Belmont season, regurgitated the now-standard litany of “safety initiatives” that have (supposedly) been implemented at NYRA tracks. The whole Goebbels-esque statement can be read here, but here’s the gist:

“In addition to accreditation…by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, a variety of initiatives have been put in place since 2013 at all three NYRA racetracks…in areas such as racing surfaces and race-day scrutiny, as well as capital improvements and collaborative efforts…to ensure the safety of all participants. These extensive reforms and commitment to improving the safety of NYRA’s racing operations have led to demonstrably safer races.”

While I’m generally loath to use the word “lie,” to say that NYRA Racing is “demonstrably safer” since 2013 is demonstrably false. Whether it rises to the level of lying, I’ll leave to you to decide. Follows are the death totals (direct from the Gaming Commission) for the three NYRA tracks for 2013 and 2017:

2013 – Aqueduct, 23 dead; Belmont, 38 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 70 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 17 dead; Belmont, 40 dead; Saratoga, 21 dead; total, 78 dead

That’s an 11% increase in horses dying at NYRA racetracks from 2013 to 2017.

Okay, they’ll say, but those totals include deaths from “non-racing” causes (e.g., colic, laminitis). (By dubbing them so, the industry is effectively saying, “that’s not on us”; morally, however, the how matters not a whit – a dead racehorse is a dead racehorse.)

On-track (racing or training) only, then:
2013 – Aqueduct, 21 dead; Belmont, 32 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 62 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 19 dead; total, 62 dead

No change.

Increasingly desperate, I can then imagine them asking for racing totals only. Okay:
2013 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 6 dead; Saratoga, 5 dead; total, 25 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 12 dead; Belmont, 10 dead; Saratoga, 8 dead; total, 30 dead

A 20% increase. But wait. In 2013, the three NYRA tracks had 247 days of racing; 2017, 234. Deaths up, number of races down. Now, to be fair the 2018 numbers did come down a bit: Aqueduct, 15 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 13 dead – for a total of 57 dead. So, after five years of state-of-the-art technology (“ground-penetrating radar”), greater vigilance (multiple “inspection” and “observation” periods), better protocols (“enhanced levels of scrutiny”), the deaths went from 70 to 57. Is this what is to pass for “demonstrably safer”? Is this – only 57 dead animals for, I remind, gambling and entertainment – what we’re to call progress in 21st Century America? Citizens, awake.