In the wake of 23 dead horses since Christmas, Santa Anita cancelled racing yesterday and is closed indefinitely. But let’s identify this for what it is: marketing-101 damage-control, nothing more, nothing less. After being hammered in the media – practically every major outlet in the country has covered the killing – and after a big HW-sponsored protest there this past Sunday (with more to come), the suits of California Racing are scrambling. But to be clear, this move is not because they think the track (weather) is the culprit or that further “testing” (“Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester” – please) will do any good. Nor is it because they care about the deaths in and of themselves, for if they did, they would have shut down – permanently – long ago.
According to official CHRB statistics, in the 11-year period 7/1/07-6/30/18 Santa Anita averaged 50 dead racehorses annually. And it’s not as if one or two bad years skewed that average: Every 12-month period but one (’10-’11, when “only” 37 died) saw at least 40 corpses. What’s more, they can’t even claim they’re heading in the right direction as two of the three worst years were ’15-’16 and ’16-’17. Now, consider this comment by the board chairman kicking off the most recent annual report:
“The year 2018 was a good one for California racing in many ways, but the clear highlight was the progress we have made in reducing equine fatalities at racetracks and training facilities. Admittedly, even one death of a racehorse is too many, but it is a sign of progress that the industry is finding solutions to a problem that for far too long has perplexed all of us who care deeply about the safety and welfare of horses.”
As I’ve oft-written (Saratoga ’17, Del Mar ’16), this is not a multi-billion dollar industry for nothing. They’re quite adept at controlling the story, assuring an increasingly uneasy public (regarding animal exploitation in general) that they’re on top of this – that “even one death of a racehorse is too many.” Well, facts, as the great John Adams famously said, are stubborn things. And the facts here say, unequivocally, that the current killing season is no anomaly – no “blip on the radar,” as the CHRB’s Dr. Rick Arthur called it. Rather, it’s business as usual, here – and everywhere.
“Progress,” as imagined by the California Horse Racing Board:
2007-08 51 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2008-09 41 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2009-10 42 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2010-11 37 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2011-12 71 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2012-13 43 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2013-14 52 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2014-15 46 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2015-16 62 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2016-17 64 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2017-18 44 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
September 2018-March 2019 31 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
July 1, 2007-March 5, 2019 584 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
Horseracing kills horses. Always has. Always will. And that’s all you need to know.