Save Us or Healthy Horses Will Be Slaughtered

Fact: If not for the corporate welfare it receives in the form of slots revenue, much of American racing would collapse. Particularly hard hit would be the harness end. Currently, there are 14 harness tracks in NY, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In my estimation, all 14 would vanish – virtually overnight – without their subsidies. Simply put, the good old days of the 20th Century when racing enjoyed a practical monopoly on legalized gambling are gone forever. The competition (full-service casinos, state lotteries) is killing them. In Illinois, horsemen have been crying for a legislative lifeline for years – to no avail. I have twice previously written on this:

“Illinois Should Let Racing Fail” (October ’13)

“Illinois, Let Racing Fail” (October ’14)

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And now, it appears my hope is coming to pass. Almost 70 years after it first opened for business, Maywood Park shuttered its betting windows this past Friday; Balmoral, Illinois’ only other harness track, is slated to close by year’s end. Good news, indeed. Predictably, not all feel the same. In an NBC Chicago article from last week, the horse people warn of terrible things to come. Some excerpts:

Trainer Angie Coleman: “They [families who live on the backstretch] are going to lose their home. These kids are not going to have school. They are going to be displaced.”

Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Kathy Byrne: “It’s a crisis of decency. These people need to be treated decently.”

Coleman: “It’s very much a reality [that some horses will eventually go to slaughter].” Worse, says Byrne – “sound, healthy horses.”

“Worried” trainer Hosea Williams is even more definitive: “Yes, yes there will be horse slaughter involved.”

Although the article adds the perfunctory counter at the end – “executives at the Illinois Racing Board strongly disagree that any horses will go to slaughter” – the damage had already been done. To read this piece of (what now seems the norm) media sensationalism is to comprehend a terrible injustice perpetrated by the Illinois government, an injustice that will leave families homeless and horses butchered.

First, as unfortunate as it is for people to lose their jobs, this is America; businesses and industries come and go all the time. It is not up to government (the taxpayers) to artificially prop the losers – in this case, Illinois Racing (including increasingly precarious Arlington and Hawthorne). Move on. Second, and most abhorrently, the racing industry – both in Illinois and across the nation – has been intentionally sending horses to slaughter for decades. The battered? Sure. But healthy ones, too.

So spare us the inflammatory rhetoric, the deceptions – the lies. For racers to conjure up images of slaughterbound Standardbreds this way, for this reason, is obscene. In truth, it’s but one final exploitation of these hapless animals. Shame, too, falls to the news station (full article here), for this “report” is more than just poorly researched and unbalanced, it is irresponsible.

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  1. It is obscene and reckless to force the taxpayers to fund the business. Because it can’t compete. To throw in “oddball” statements threatening the horses will go to slaughter is nauseeatingly outrageous. The public, a dyed in the wool idiotic population of self focused superficial thinkers, will believe their gestures of caring. Has anyone ever seen the backstretch of the modern racing venues? It is not pretty and does nothing to imbue one with the soul touching presence of the horses quiet workings.

    If the issue comes to my state, and the sooner the better, I will be campaigning to shut it down.

  2. Brilliant reporting as usual. I do not understand why horse racing thinks it is entitled to stay open despite lack of interest and with an “entertainment” form that has become repulsive to compassionate people. You won’t find companies still in business that rely solely on sales of 1950s’ style portable record players. It’s over. Let the breeding end which will stop 20,000 horses a year from the racing industry from going to slaughter year after year after year.

  3. A big sticking point with me is that shutting down all the tracks WOULD lead to the immediate deaths of thousands of racehorses with nowhere to go. Saying horse racing kills many horses every year already may be true, but doesn’t directly address the issue of what would happen with all of these suddenly displaced racehorses. I would appreciate Patrick’s thoughts on what would or should happen to these horses, rather than the vague answers that are usually provided. I know the horse racing industry is similarly vague in their responses, but would appreciate some clarification here on what you envision

    • You have to wonder why slaughter is even mentioned, right? I mean – there are expected to be over 97,000 TB foals born this year, over 100K QHs, etc etc.. There is plenty of room to adsorb however number of horses are displaced (and I expect it to be gradual).

      It is just laziness and a willingnbess to allow the animal to bear the brunt of that laziness. And as the horse who earned over half a million in purses and was forced to run in claiming races until he broke down reveals – there is no other reason for slaughter except laziness and carelessness. Each one of us has to stop giving permission for abuse (which slaughter allows once the animal is on that slippery slope) and demand their rights be vitalized as partners.

      • janwindsong,

        where did you see the stats of 90.000 foals. i heard it was 40,000 TB foals. if you have those stats, i would like to see them.

    • Thank you for the comment, Suzanne. While I have no doubt that Racing will go, it’s more likely to be a gradual demise, meaning breeding will slow as the number of races, race dates, and tracks decline. But say there was a sudden glut of unwanted, relatively healthy horses. In this scenario, since the (breeding) pipeline was being shut down, I believe some big-money philanthropists could be persuaded to fund existing rescues/create new ones, with the understanding that the need would only be temporary. I myself would enthusiastically support (with money) such an undertaking. Again, no more breeding. The domesticated racehorse would end with the current generation. Short of that, humane euthanasia. Slaughter is not now nor will it ever be “a necessary evil.”

  4. Here here. Couldn’t agree with you more – same thing happens in Canada.








    from Article

    “He’d been standing on an injured limb for 10 days … he was in bad condition, he was in pain,” and the veterinarian recommended euthanasia, she says.”

    Parx enforces zero tolerance policy on slaughter
    Susan Salk Oct. 9th 2015

    “A Parx Racing official announced this week that the racetrack has imposed sanctions against a racehorse owner in accordance with the track’s zero tolerance of horse slaughter.

    Sam Elliott, director of racing/racing secretary, announced that stabling privileges were revoked from the last owner connected to 4-year-old Thoroughbred Wolf King, who died shortly after he was discovered at the New Holland auction earlier this summer.

    The owner, Mario Arriaga, who stepped forward to pay the $900 “bail” to purchase the animal back from meat buyers after the horse was discovered at the New Holland auction on Aug. 3, has appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Racing Commission. He was granted a “stay,” which allows him to continue to run horses, but stabling privileges remain revoked, Elliott says.

    The decision to invoke the racetrack’s zero-tolerance policy— which reserves the right to revoke backstretch privileges to horsemen found responsible for a horse winding up at an auction where they could be purchased for meat—was made by racing and re-homing officials at Parx after an investigation into Wolf King’s circumstances, Elliott says.

    Wolf King, the son of multiple graded stakes winner Rock Hard Ten, last raced at Parx on July 6. Finishing third that day, he pulled up lame and was vanned off. It was later learned he suffered a fractured sesamoid, according to Danielle Montgomery, program administrator, Turning for Home.

    On July 20, Wolf King was shipped off the racetrack property. On Aug. 3 he was discovered at the New Holland auction, says Montgomery, who adds that meat buyers were bidding on him at this point.

    Montgomery says she received four or five phone calls alerting her to Wolf King’s predicament, but by the time the Thoroughbred was acquired and shipped to a veterinarian for evaluation, his injuries were deemed beyond repair. “He’d been standing on an injured limb for 10 days … he was in bad condition, he was in pain,” and the veterinarian recommended euthanasia, she says.

    Meantime, Parx racing officials were deliberative and thorough in tracing every step the horse took since he left the track, according to Elliott, who notes that the owner was found to be ultimately responsible for “not adequately protecting his horse,” Elliott says.

    Montgomery adds that though the owner says the horse was supposed to have shipped to a friend’s farm in Maryland, the owner did not produce a bill of sale. And in a short span, the horse was on the precipice of the slaughter pipeline.

    Saying that no horse from Parx Racing should wind up at slaughter, Montgomery explains that the racetrack and horsemen fund their own in-house rehoming organization Turning for Home to safeguard horses. “Our program is built in in such a way that it should never happen,” she says. “We have dedicated a tremendous amount of thought, money and effort into this program to avoid a situation like this.” She adds that over 1,700 horses have gone through Turning for Home.”

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