In a Los Angeles Times article from April 4, David Wharton writes: “[The Jockey Club’s] statistics equate to 6,134 deaths in the last 10 years.” While Wharton does note that that figure is only for “participating” tracks (not all submit data to the JC) and does not include training kills, the 6,134 is still, of course, massively understated (see here, and here for a better understanding of the database’s disqualifying flaws).
On the same day, the paper’s editorial board also weighed in, writing, “On Sunday…Arms Runner fell…broke his right front leg and was euthanized. He was the 23rd horse to die while racing or training at the park in a span of three months. By contrast, there were 37 deaths there during seven months of racing in 2017-18.” The implication there is obvious. So, I thought, some record straightening was in order. Accordingly, I wrote and submitted an op-ed; for whatever reason, it was rejected. I reproduce it here…
The recent string of racehorse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California has attracted widespread national attention and, in the process, left the racing industry scrambling. Part of their strategy of distraction is to use words like “spike,” “spate,” and “anomaly,” implying that this – in the words of CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur – is but a “blip on the radar.” As the nation’s foremost expert on racehorse deaths, I can state unequivocally that nothing could be further from the truth.
According to the CHRB’s own statistics, in the 11-year period 7/1/07-6/30/18 Santa Anita averaged 50 dead racehorses annually. 50 dead horses every year. And it’s not as if one or two bad years skewed that average: Every 12-month period but one (when “only” 37 died) saw at least 40 corpses. And 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.
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-April 2019 35 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
That’s almost 600 dead horses at Santa Anita since July 2007. An anomaly? Please.
To those who may take issue with the inclusion of “stall deaths” in the above (though they shouldn’t: two-thirds of soldier-deaths in the Civil War were non-combat related, yet no one would dare say that those men were any less casualties of the war than the ones who died in the fields), consider this: In the three most recent fiscal years – not including the current meet – there have been 148 track-related (racing or training) kills at Santa Anita – almost 50 per year. Again, that does not include the current 23. At all California racetracks, 435 kills – in just three years. Imagine that.
Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs, primarily through our seminal FOIA reporting, has documented over 5,000 confirmed on-track deaths since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed on U.S. tracks annually. Over 2,000. Pulmonary hemorrhage, head trauma, “sudden cardiac event.” Shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines. What’s more, countless other still-active “equine athletes” succumb to colic, laminitis, “barn accidents,” or are simply “found dead” in their stalls.
Then, too, slaughter. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its hollow zero-tolerance policies and drop-in-the-bucket aftercare initiatives, the truth is, the vast majority of spent racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered – over 15,000 Thoroughbreds alone each year. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Again, not hyperbole – carnage.
Sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially regarding entertainment, are rapidly changing. In just the past few years:
– SeaWorld, owing mostly to outrage over the film Blackfish, has ended its captive-breeding program for orcas and remains in a slow, steady decline.
– Ringling Bros. has closed for good, ending 146 years of animal abuse.
– Illinois and New York have become the first two states to ban the use of elephants for entertainment.
– The National Aquarium will release all of its remaining performing-dolphins to a seaside sanctuary by 2020.
– Los Angeles stands poised to ban the rodeo within city limits.
– And just this past November, Floridians voted overwhelmingly – by over 2:1 – to outlaw greyhound racing in that state by the end of next year, a monumental win for animals that will in one fell swoop shutter 11 of the nation’s final 17 dogtracks, leaving that industry in America all but dead.
So the question becomes, why should horseracing be exempt? Why is it allowed cover under the banner of sport when in fact it is nothing more that an anachronistic gambling business? In a landscape that abounds with plenty of other options – casinos, lotteries, real sports involving autonomous human beings – hasn’t the time at long last arrived to stop wagering on the backs of suffering animals?
End the cruelty. End the killing. End horseracing.
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs