In a recent letter to the editor of The Washington Post, Jim Gagliano, president of The Jockey Club, the most powerful organization in racing, and Shawn Smeallie, executive director of the oxymoronically-named Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, took issue with my recent op-ed in that same paper. I reproduce it in its entirety:
In his Oct. 9 Wednesday Opinion essay, “The staggering toll of horse racing,” Patrick Battuello of Horseracing Wrongs made a flawed case against horse racing, calling it “a cruel pastime,” which demonizes horse racing’s veterinarians, workers, trainers, breeders and owners. This is an example of the group’s agenda to ban any domesticated animals, including food animals and pets.
Horseracing Wrongs seeks to capitalize on the horse fatalities spike at Santa Anita racetrack. No one knows why 30 horses died. Each incident was multifactorial and could have been influenced by preexisting health conditions, extraordinary amounts of winter/spring rain, the misuse of drugs or other factors.
But the industry has taken significant steps to reduce fatalities. Santa Anita has instituted changes, including a new track drainage system, prerace veterinary inspections, strict medication rules and enhanced training protocols. After the new rules took effect in March, the number of fatalities fell by 58 percent.
Thoroughbred racehorses receive the most extensive medical care of any domesticated animal, but more can be done. The industry has responded, including support for the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would reform medication use and establish a national anti-doping authority overseen by independent equine experts and the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the group governing medications for America’s Olympians.
Horse racing can become safer, but Horseracing Wrongs’ agenda does nothing to address real-world issues affecting equine health.
It would appear we’ve got their attention, and as well we should as our movement gets stronger every day. As to their “points,” well:
“A flawed case against horse racing.” Facts, good sirs, are stubborn things. Are 2,000 horses not being killed on American tracks each year? Are hundreds more not dying back in their stalls? Are the majority of spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses – multiple thousands annually – not brutally and violently bled-out and butchered at racing’s singular “retirement” facility, the slaughterhouse? Facts. Facts. Facts. And yes, all those industry folks you reference are absolutely complicit in each and every kill.
“Horseracing Wrongs seeks to capitalize on the horse fatalities spike at Santa Anita.” First, for you to claim that any animal activist is “seeking to capitalize” on the suffering and death of exploited animals is, in a word, obscene. You ought to be ashamed, though I’m sure that by this point you are impervious to that emotion. Second, ’twas no “spike” at Santa Anita – and you very well know it: Santa Anita averages 50 dead horses annually; in just the past three years (not including this one), 148 horses have been killed on (racing or training) the SA track.
“No one knows why 30 horses died.” Please. From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until 6; the typical racehorse begins training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to “race” at an unnatural rate (breakneck), in an unnatural way (always counter-clockwise), through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans); to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold several times over the course of his “career,” making his long-term well-being of no concern to his current people) – horseracing guarantees a certain level of killing. Guarantees. And again, you know that.
“But the industry has taken significant steps to reduce fatalities.” This is the same worn drivel we hear each and every time the industry gets hammered with negative coverage. Whether it’s Del Mar, Saratoga, Churchill, Turf, Santa Anita, or now, Belmont, it’s always the same: We’re working diligently on this; no stone is being left unturned. Which of course raises the question: Where was this zeal when no one was paying attention and dead horses were piling up year after year after year?
As Mark Twain said, facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable. Any track, any state, any industry organization can cherry-pick time frames to “demonstrate” improvement (or they can simply lie). But here’s the thing: Horseracing is a single entity; you can’t separate out the various tracks. A horse can be raced into the ground at one, moved to another and “break down,” and the kill only counts against the latter. Bottom line, while the numbers will fluctuate from meet to meet, track to track, state to state, death for the industry in the aggregate is unfailingly constant and, more or less, consistent (see our annual killed lists). A single entity, one league, so to speak.
“Thoroughbred racehorses receive the most extensive medical care of any domesticated animal.” So what? “Extensive medical care” means nothing to a naturally autonomous being who has had all of his autonomy stripped away – lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, whips, extreme and unrelenting confinement and isolation, commodification, etc. No socialization for innately social animals. No free movement for inherently mobile beings. No simple grazing for creatures who love to graze. Nothing, but negation.
And what good is being up on all your shots when you are lying in the dirt with your cannon bone protruding through your blood-soaked skin? What will it matter if your body is a finely-tuned machine, if you are a “world-class athlete,” when you are hanging upside down by a chain awaiting the butcher’s knife?
“Horse racing can become safer, but Horseracing Wrongs’ agenda does nothing to address real-world issues affecting equine health.” Horseracing will only be safe when that last betting window closes – and once again, you know it. As to our agenda, it is we, not you, who are the true equine advocates, for we advocate from mercy and compassion, you from your wallet. As the old saying goes, America, follow the money.