The Truth: Saratoga Can’t Stop the Killing

First, the good. In addition to three separate Albany-area TV interviews (CBS6, CBS6, WNYT) over the past two weeks, Horseracing Wrongs has been cited in this area’s – the Saratoga Race Course area, that is – two largest newspapers, the Times Union and The Daily Gazette. The most recent came in the latter’s August 2 edition (front page), in an article entitled “Flurry of horse deaths at Saratoga raises concerns”:

The organization Horseracing Wrongs, whose mission is to see horse racing abolished, held a protest across the street from the track on the first Saturday of the meet, July 30. In a blog post on the group’s website, they cite a Daily Racing Form account of two of the equine fatalities: “‘Two horses suffered fatal injuries while training over Saratoga’s main track Saturday morning, while another horse suffered a non-life-threatening injury during Friday’s Curlin Stakes, leaving horsemen and racing officials searching for answers.’ Allow me to save them time: Horseracing kills horses, lots of them; what’s more, there’s nothing they can do to stop it.” (and the paper’s online edition graciously provided links to my site)

The article goes on to recap the seven deaths (up to ten as I write). Good, yes. But while I appreciate the coverage – which in Saratoga country was practically unheard of just a couple years back – the industry, as is usually the case with these stories, is afforded ample space (much more than us, of course) to peddle its propaganda:

NYRA, which operates racing year-round at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack, reiterated its commitment to human and equine safety. “We take the health and welfare of our equine athletes and jockeys seriously,” NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said. “That’s why we’ve made significant improvements and enhancements to the facility with an eye on improving the quality and safety of our racing operations.”

Recent improvements at Saratoga — which is through 11 racing days — include upgraded drainage to promote an even, consistent surface, a widened Oklahoma training track to reduce traffic congestion for horses and alarm systems to alert people of a loose horse.

According to the gaming commission, “any time a horse dies on the track during a race or because of an injury sustained during a race (e.g., later euthanized because of that injury), an Equine Safety Review Board (ESRB) — consisting of track management, trainers and jockeys of horses involved, veterinary professionals, stewards, the state’s equine medical director and more — thoroughly reviews every aspect of the horse and the race, including the horse’s training regimen, its history, any medications it received or previous health issues, as well as any other issues that may be considered a risk factor.”

“The commission consistently re-evaluates its efforts and makes necessary amendments as needed in order to best reflect the research of the industry,” state Gaming Commission spokesman Lee Park said in a written statement. “We apply a quality control approach in our work and continue to identify risk factors, circumstances and trends that may contribute to equine fatalities. We go to great lengths to educate the industry’s participants on best practices and guidelines to reduce and/or eliminate such risk factors.”

Sounds so very impressive, doesn’t it? Thorough, thoughtful, antiseptic. It conveys, they’re on this – no stone has been/shall be left unturned. Which of course begs the question: Why only now, after 150 years of racing at “the oldest sporting venue in the nation,” are they so intensely focused on kills? Well, it’s not because they haven’t been happening all along. They have; the public database is only eight years old, and I’ve only been doing this for four years. Rather, it stems from groups like ours – with facilitation from an increasingly cooperative press – casting a bright, hot, searing light on the nastiness. And the racing people are running scared.

But even more to the point, we the public should view the above as nothing more than a slick ruse executed by men well-schooled in plying their craft. The thing is, every time a spate of deaths garners unwanted attention (Aqueduct ’12, Del Mar the past two years, Saratoga ’16, etc.), the industry promises improvements, ramped-up vigilance – more vets, tighter testing, better surfaces. And yet, horses continue to die. They do because the killing is inherent to the “sport,” built-in to the system. I cannot be any clearer, dead racehorses are inevitable.

Finally, I also need to address another less-than-the-truth being promulgated by NYRA and, unwittingly I’m sure, by many in the local press. The article states that “there were 16 fatalities at Saratoga last year.” Now perhaps we can forgive journalists for not looking beyond the preposition “at,” but NYRA knows full well that in addition to the 16 who perished on track grounds, 3 others were clear and unequivocal victims of Saratoga Race Course last summer, especially given that two of the three were VIHs (almost $1 million earnings between them):

Wheels Up Now, injured training August 5, subsequently euthanized at a clinic

Recepta, also injured training August 5, euthanized in November after – because she was a still-valuable (in the breeding shed) asset – an extended period of suffering and, eventually, infection

Stradivari, injured training July 22, euthanized in December (same general story as Recepta)

So here, the true Saratoga ’16 Kill List:

Hadeed Fi Hadeed, May 30, training
Squire Creek, July 16, training
Stradivari, July 22, training (euthanized December)
Zamjara, July 23, race 1
Rootformejustin, July 23, race 5
Indian Nobility, July 27, race 3
Domestic Warrior, August 1, race 4
Lebowski, August 2, “found dead outside stall”
Jonrah, August 3, training
Midnight Visitor, August 4, prior to race 4
Wheels Up Now, August 5, training
Recepta, August 5, training (euthanized November)
Prince Corredor, August 20, training
Elusive Neko, August 24, training
Bob Le Beau, August 25, race 1
Ring of Truth, August 25, race 10
Desert Trial, August 28, training
Its Only Fair, September 9, training
Core Competency, September 19, training

Let the above numbers game serve as a (further) lesson in industry subterfuge. 16, bad; 19, 20% worse. Fact is, the oft-celebrated but already-discredited-here Jockey Club “Equine Injury Database” only counts horses who die or are euthanized within 72 hours of a race-related (the JC apparently has no interest in training kills) injury; I imagine the NYS Gaming Commission employs a similar parameter. In addition, how many more injured Saratoga runners through the years have been euthanized in anonymity back at a private farm? After being acquired by a rescue? In short, it – the killing – is worse than what they tell us. Extended nationwide, it’s carnage. Carnage.

(full Gazette article)

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  1. Before I even start to respond to this post I must thank Patrick Buttuello, Nicole Arciello, all peaceful demonstrators, and all supporters of this blog.
    We are getting there as we continue to be a collective voice for these racehorses who are dying in the dirt for this vile business.
    It’s going to get much worse for the racehorses I believe with the dying only increasing.
    This industry has done little to nothing to curb the extensive drug cocktails going into these racehorses, nor have they done anything to the repeated drug violators (Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Doug O’Neill, Bob Baffert etc.) who have MULTIPLE racehorses die under their direct care. and they are still handed a license every year to continue their macabre charade.
    In fact, they continued to support them which has resulted in a current crop of racehorses, in most probability, that are weak, and vulnerable to breakdowns from the minute they are born – a built-in weakness.
    Throw into the mix the hard training/racing on underdeveloped muscoskeletal systems (2 y.o’s), the lack of rest between races for the pursuit of big money casino-fueled purses WatchList), self-regulated support systems whose primary goal is to fill races, and to increase wagering profits at the detriment of the racehorse despite what they say.
    There is no turning back for this industry- it will get worse for the racehorses.
    They can change the track surfaces, they can increase vet presence – all facades to the public, but they can’t change the massive destruction done to the American racehorse as a result of liberal drug policies, and liberal rules that didn’t rein in these drug violators.
    They blame PETA, they blame animal rights activists, whistle-blowers like me, the surface, blogs like these while racehorses continue to die, and get dumped at kill auctions across the country.
    This is an entire cesspool of an equation summed-up by lots of racehorses dying.
    If they make it out alive, there are little to no grassy paddocks waiting for them as the industry would like you to think.
    The industry-funded aftercare programs are FULL, and can NEVER put a dent into the unwanted racehorse problem because they must breed about 30,000 racehorses per year in order to fulfill this insanity.
    Furthermore, the environmental destruction which is rarely addressed is an entirely other issue.
    With a finite planet, lack of green spaces, and with companies being held accountable for their environmental destruction this business continues to operate under the radar, and is rarely held accountable for their methane gas emissions and e-coli refuge going into the water systems that are located in densely populated areas.
    The slaughterhouse here in Canada is an environmental disaster with cesspools of blood/bones/waste material seeping into the ground water that you can smell for miles.
    Put this all together and what you have is a rotten industry from start to finish with no redeemable factors.
    It has no place in the 21st century.
    My heart goes out to all racehorses who died in the dirt for this vile, and legitimized animal cruelty.

  2. There isn’t one track in this country that can stop the killing of the racehorses. Horses dying in the dirt is synonymous with the racing industry. Always has been and always will be and that is EXACTLY why racing must cease to exist.

  3. If this doesn’t break you heart, I don’t know what … … — until these horses are treated with love, care & respect, these facilities exploiting animals for entertainment & profit MUST be SHUT DOWN permanently! — These animals who in fact are used as “employees” MUST be protected — they are vulnerable, innocent and always at the mercy of humans — we must ensure these humans are horse-loving humans — anything short of this, is NOT acceptable. —- Keep in mind, horse racing first began decades ago as a “fun” event — fun for all, horses and humans alike — then, slowly, it morphed into this cruel horror show — my heart breaks for the horses.

  4. The reason management cannot stop horses from breaking down in races…is because it really is not a surface issue. Trainers run sore horses, it is an easy excuse to blame management and track surface, when a horse breaks down. Time and again we are made aware of trainers doping their horses, only to receive a slap on the wrist or nothing at all. Even the National HBPA is backing Rojas (going as far as having a gofundme set up for her legal fees). This is an industry that protects it cheaters at all costs.

    • “Trainers run sore horses,” – 100% correct, and it happens at ALL levels.

      Take, for example, MEPIVACAINE.
      For a trainer to use this (Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen refer to above article) is blatant evidence that they have total disregard for the health, and welfare of both the racehorse and the jockey.
      This drug completely blocks the nerve sensations in the leg which can result in a horrific breakdown such as snapping their leg-off.

      The HBPA , from what I saw/experienced, is the most corrupt entity on the racetrack.
      They usually protect trainers (Rojas) who have drug positives.
      They virtually control the Interstate Horse Wagering Act which gives them a total monopoly on gambling which allegedly extends into the Caribbean and/or offshore accounts.
      They are making billions with NO TAX accountability while using taxpayer funded entitles to carry on their business from what I was told by people who tried to alert the government to no avail.

      Almost every single entity on the racetrack is designed to bring in wagering profits at the expense of their profit slaves: the racehorses.
      Their claim that track surfaces are the culprit is just another smoke screen.
      This is the dirty world of horse racing.

    • Amen, 20yr+ industry insider. Although there might be a few exceptions, normally it isn’t the track. Running injured horses is the norm in racing. Even the Program Director at the largest racehorse adoption program in the country told me that she would guess that 80% of the horses that ran at Beulah Park were racing with injuries. Truly a horrific percentage yet she, and her family, still support the industry. I struggle with how so many people, who profess to care about their horses, continue to be morally and ethically bankrupt.

  5. A lot of this happens because horses are raced at two years old before their bones and other structures are properly developed. Waiting until 4 yrs. old when the horses are (mostly) developed would prevent most of these deaths.

  6. I heard a radio announcer say today that the owners and trainers love their horses. If you love them so much, then why do you drug them, race them in the heat and let them die? I don’t know about you but what I love, I try hard to protect and keep safe. This is all about money. Is this any better than an athlete using steroids? It’s all about building up, trying not to get caught and then trying to justify the wrongs that you’ve done. It is so sad that innocent animals have to die because of people and greed. “When humans act with cruelty we characterize them as “animals”, yet the only animal that displays cruelty is Humanity”

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