Horseracing, if not with its back against the wall, is certainly in retreat, and has been for some time now. (The reason for this is twofold: exposure and public engagement, both of which, I write proudly, HW has been a driving force behind.) As such, industry rhetoric has grown increasingly desperate; in the face of facts and truth, their “arguments” have been rendered hollow and specious. Follows are some of those arguments, and our responses. Consider it a cheat sheet, if you will, for the next time you find yourself confronted with apologist inanity.

On “reform,” “safety,” “striving toward zero deaths”:
Horseracing kills horses, inherently. From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs, fragile ankles), to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until six; the typical racehorse begins training at 18 months), to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning), to forcing them to run at an unnatural rate (breakneck) in an unnatural way (always counter-clockwise) through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans), to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold multiple times, making long-term health of little concern to current “connections”), horseracing guarantees killing. Guarantees.

On “our horses are part of the family,” “like our children”:
Nothing says “love” like I own you and won’t hesitate to sell you. Nothing says “care” like I will keep you locked, alone, in a tiny room, pump you with drugs, and have you flogged. Nothing says “part of the family” like the slaughterhouse.

On “isn’t it better that these horses were given a chance to live, have a job?”:
Subjecting a sentient being to a life of abject suffering and often gruesome death is evil. Never having created that life in the first place is nothing, neutral, victimless.

On “what will happen to all the horses if racing is banned?”:
Racing will not suddenly come to a close overnight. It will contract, or to be more precise, continue to contract: Since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 38 tracks. The annual “foal crop” – new Thoroughbreds entering the system – is roughly half what it was in 1990. All other relevant metrics – racedays, races, “field sizes,” etc. – are also down. As this contraction continues, so too will the breeding; when that last group of tracks closes, there will be ample space and funding to care for what’s left. But more to the point, where do spent racehorses go now? For most – thousands annually – the slaughterhouse. In other words, this query is grossly misdirected.

On the “pampered athlete”:
Racehorses are confined (alone, to tiny 12×12 stalls, for over 23 hours a day), commodified (tattoos, auctions, “claiming” races), controlled (cribbing collars, lip/nose chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth bits), and cowed (whips). Bought and sold multiple times over the course of his so-called career, the typical American racehorse lives a stressful, tenuous existence that in and of itself causes pain. In fact, studies show that up to 90% of active racehorses suffer from chronic ulcers.

On jobs being lost as tracks close:
First, the pari-mutuel employees can easily be transitioned to jobs in the burgeoning casino and sports-betting industries. Second, racetrack properties are extremely valuable; they can and will be redeveloped – office, retail, industrial, restaurants, parks, desperately needed housing – creating new jobs (and opportunities for other workers, like those on the backstretch) and new tax revenues. For proof, see this list of shuttered tracks that have been, or are in the process of being, reimagined.

Wednesday, says the CHRB, Music Babe, seven, died while training at Golden Gate – “sudden death,” they’re calling it. Next day, same track, Snazzy Cazzy perished – again, “sudden death.” Snazzy was just three. This makes 14 dead horses at the Stronach-owned Golden Gate this year. The writing is on the wall, Belinda. Close this death camp and sell. Get out while your reputation is still intact.

In the 1st at Mountaineer Wednesday, B’s Wild Man “hit the gate coming out then bolted nearing the turn jumping the outside fence losing the rider in the process, was vanned off.” Here is what that looked like:


This was B’s 11th time under the whip. In his previous 10 races – all but two under trainer/owner Karl Meeks – he finished a combined 222 lengths back, or an average of 22 per race. Perhaps the above was this poor animal crying for relief the only way he knows how. (While I’ve yet to ascertain condition, being “vanned off,” especially at a bottom-feeder track like Mountaineer, does not bode well.)

Back in March, I reported that Churchill Downs Inc. is accepting bids for the property that houses Arlington Park – with zero intention of selling to other racing interests. The short of it: Arlington, one of the nation’s historic tracks, will be closing for good this year. Sunday, Tim Sullivan of the The Louisville Courier-Journal turned his keen eye on the impending closure. Excerpts follow (full piece here).

Though the move [closing, selling] might seem mystifying for a company whose roots are in racing and whose best-known product is the Kentucky Derby…there is nothing counterintuitive about CDI’s pursuit of profit. And, indisputably, there is quite a lot to recommend it. While shifting its emphasis from racetracks to casinos, Churchill management has rewarded investors with a 10-year total return of 1,334% through Friday’s market close…. Moreover, if Arlington is destined for the dustbin of history, as was Hollywood Park following CDI’s 2005 divestiture, this is in keeping with the industry’s trend toward contraction and, arguably, with Churchill management’s fiduciary responsibilities to its stockholders.

“Make no mistake about it, Churchill Downs is a gaming company. Horse racing, except for that day of the Derby, is listed in the ‘other’ category in their corporate reports. That tells you how relevant racing is to Churchill Downs,” said Mike Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

With politicians such as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wondering about the wisdom of continuing to subsidize a sport susceptible to allegations of animal abuse and operators eager to decouple their casino investments from a business long in decline, relying on racing as a core enterprise entails considerable risk. [Gaming analyst] Howard Jay Klein has repeatedly urged CDI to distance itself from underperforming assets, claiming the company was “too deeply committed in legacy businesses” with terrible long-term demographics.

Churchill has since shed Florida’s Calder Race Course from its portfolio…. The final race at Calder…was run last November. Barring a sudden reversal, Arlington is next.

Good news, indeed.