The following letter was sent to Bob Costas, host of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage. To date, no reply. The sentiments expressed, of course, are applicable to all at that network, but most especially to Jon Miller, president of sports programming. Since my letter was mailed, an article in Sports Business Journal quotes Miller as saying: “Horse racing is an underappreciated and undervalued property that we were committed to growing and developing, and restoring to its status as a major sport in this country.” At once, repugnant (referring to the wholesale killing of horses for $2 bets as “sport”) and delusional (the U.S. racing industry is not coming back). Anyway, please read on.
Dear Mr. Costas:
My name is Patrick Battuello and I am the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to ending horseracing in America. First, let me say that as a life-long sports fan I have always respected your work. You are knowledgeable, eloquent, and thoughtful – truly one of the finest broadcasters of this or any generation. As a result, your words and actions hold great sway. Most recently, your stance against the NFL’s handling of the brain-injury issue and, more broadly, your detachment from football itself is both weighty and admirable. But your support and enthusiasm for horseracing is, I feel, profoundly disturbing, all the more so because of those aforementioned qualities.
I would like to share some information you may or may not already know. Since 2014, when I began filing FOIA requests with state racing commissions, I have been publishing first-of-their-kinds “Killed” lists – confirmed deaths on U.S. tracks. These annual lists have been roughly 1,000-strong, but after considering various factors (which I enumerate on the website), I have come to conclude that upward of 2,000 American racehorses are killed racing or training every year. Over 2,000. And this is not just a “cheap track” problem: Last summer, 21 horses died during hallowed Saratoga’s decidedly brief meet. The two summers prior, it was Del Mar. Truth is, there are no answers – death at the track is, always has been, and always will be an inherent part of this industry (please see “The Inevitability of Dead Racehorses”).
In addition, countless others, perhaps just as many as those killed on-track, succumb to what the industry conveniently dismisses as “non-racing” causes – things like colic, laminitis, “barn accident,” “found dead in stall.” In truth, however, these animals are no less victims of the business than the ones who snap their legs on raceday. Furthermore, the prevailing wisdom (fully explained on the site) is that most – likely an overwhelming majority of – retired racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered once Racing deems them expended. In short, I don’t think it hyperbole to say that the U.S. horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Yes, carnage.
As an animal advocate, I seek to draw parallels between “us” and “them” – to help people forge connections they may not have previously thought existed. That said, I can certainly appreciate that although we share much with the rest of sentient creation – the most relevant being the capacity for suffering – an exact equality is neither tenable nor necessarily desirable. In other words, I am not saying that a CTE-afflicted former football player and a “broke-down” racehorse are the same things. But the question is not whether dead horses and dead people matter equally; rather, do dead horses matter at all? If they do, what level of destruction must be met before we as a society say, enough? For me, of course, one dead horse for $2 bets is one too many. But what, respectfully, is that number for you?
Mr. Costas, I implore you to dig deeper, to look beyond the juleps, hats, and horns, for that is racing on but a handful of days, at a tiny fraction of tracks. The rest of it, Racing’s very core, is ugly and mean. It’s spirit-crushing isolation and confinement for over 23 hours a day (which, by the way, makes a mockery of the industry claim that horses are born to run, love to run); it’s needles and syringes and injury-numbing chemicals; it’s absolute control and utter subjugation – lip tattoos, nose chains, metal bits, leather whips; it’s anxiety and stress (in the most detailed FOIA documentation I have received to date, the Pennsylvania ’16 report indicated the presence of ulcers – most extensive to severe – in virtually every one of the dead horses); it’s buying and selling and trading and dumping; it’s shattered limbs, imploded hearts, head trauma, and pulmonary hemorrhage; it’s kill-buyers and transport trucks, shackles and butchers’ knives. It’s exploitation and cruelty, suffering and death.
Football may indeed be embarking on a slow, steady decline, and it’s probably just as well. For it is a violent, unforgiving game, with many of the participants’ lives forever altered. But in the final analysis, they, as fully-autonomous human beings, have a choice. Horses do not. In fact, and pardon the inflammatory language, the racehorse is but a simple slave – a thing to be used, a resource to be mined. When future generations cast a critical eye, what is to be our collective defense? That we countenanced the above for entertainment? For gambling? Mr. Costas, your position on football has changed – evolved. We ask only that the same thoughtfulness and caring that went into that be applied to “The Sport of Kings.” Please, for the horses.
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs