If Dogracing Is Cruel, Morally Indefensible, Then What Is Horseracing?

“Those who think they can simply wish away a legal, multibillion-dollar enterprise with a rich history that employees thousands, supports local economies and is enjoyed by millions are fooling themselves. … The reality is that, for now, no matter how many horses stumble to their deaths at Santa Anita; no matter how much protesters shout at racing fans as they pull their coolers through the gates of the Saratoga Race Course; no matter what kind of negative press follows the industry’s safety record, labor practices and administration, the Sport of Kings will see another summer. And another summer after that. Bet on it.”

And so begins a shallow and terribly misleading editorial by The Daily Gazette (Schenectady) editorial board last Sunday. Most glaringly, it utterly ignores the sea changes in the “animal-entertainment” sector over just the past few years: Ringling shuttered, SeaWorld exposed and in decline, rodeo prohibitions spreading, and most relevant to the issue at hand – dogracing in its death throes.

When Floridians voted overwhelmingly to outlaw dogracing last November, they did so because it was rightly deemed cruel, wrong, unethical, or whatever term you care to use. In fact, dogracing is outright banned in 41 states – banned, as in rejected by the people as morally intolerable. The board, I’m sure, is very much aware of this, but lacks the courage to declare what any intelligent, objective person can easily discern – in regard to the welfare of the animals involved, horseracing is dogracing. No need to guess, however, whence comes this cowardice – money, as the board makes clear at the top. Dogracing is seedy tracks, lowlife bettors, hand-to-mouth owners – a two-bit gambling business. Horseracing is Churchill Downs, Tom Brady, Stronachs and sheikhs – “The Sport of Kings.”

Locally, horseracing is the Saratoga behemoth, with its teeming turnstiles and bustling boutiques. Never mind the 14 horses who perish there every summer. There’s cash to be had and jobs to be filled, and far be it from us, a mere local newspaper, to get in the way of that. But here again, the board fails to present a full and honest picture: Relative to the industry at large, Saratoga is an aberration. It, and maybe five or six other tracks – out of about 100 – are financially sound. Most of the rest are being wholly propped up by subsidies, and for a good portion of those – including all of the harness variety – everything said about dogracing above fully applies.

The editorial goes on to cite the latest desperate attempt by the industry to assuage an increasingly uneasy public: the “Thoroughbred Safety Coalition.” “Encouraging progress,” they call it. Again, a bit of homework by the board would have revealed that this is what Racing does each and every time the heat gets hot – Eight Belles in ’08, Aqueduct in ’12, Del Mar in ’15 and ’16, Saratoga in ’17 – promise “reform” and a “commitment to equine welfare,” and all the while the bodies continue to pile up.

As to the aforementioned “shouting,” since it is us (HW) doing the protesting, I deeply resent both the characterization and the imagery it evokes. We are there to educate. We do this by holding fact-based banners and signs; respectfully offering informational leaflets; and, yes, by chanting – which as even a middle-school student could tell you is a time-honored tool of protest employed by every great social-justice movement in our nation’s history. This past summer, any shouting that did occur came at the provocation of patrons – more specifically, men getting in the faces of some of our female protesters and calling them the vilest of names. And I for one will push back on that every single time.

Look, I know there are lots of people out there who think we have no chance, that Racing is too big, too powerful, too entrenched. I know there are others who simply deride us as “extremists.” When I hear this, I think of Dr. King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – “At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.” – and take solace in the knowledge that all social-justice activists who went before were, too, dismissed as crazy (“Gay marriage?” “You must be joking!”). Truth is, once begun, these fights for rights – be they labor, civil, gender, sexual, etc. – go one way. And so it will be with animal rights, including those of enslaved racehorses, no matter how hard the small-minded reactionaries resist. In fact, it’s happening as we speak.

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  1. Right now I’m asking for someone from the other side..to tell me why are you ok with so much loss of life?..for what? a two dollar bet?

  2. If voters have become convinced of the cruelty of dog racing, wait til they see a REAL racehorse breakdown; the ghastly, grisly, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching struggle of a panicked, broken thoroughbred in the dirt would turn anybody and everybody against this horror show.
    We all understand that the next one is coming, any day now. It’ll be the one that the industry won’t be able to cover up. Because there’s no green screen wide enough to shield the enlightened public from the absolute horrors of these “accidents.” At least in that regard, dog racing had NOTHING on horse racing — but the voters still dispatched it in short order.
    In the U.S., horse racing folks better get ready to “GO GREYHOUND” in more ways than one.

  3. Racehorses are taken away from their mothers at a very young age; maybe not all of them. As far as I know, all of the mares that are used for nurse mares to Thoroughbred foals have to be ripped away from their own foals in order to become a nurse mare/mother to a Thoroughbred foal. So what happens to the foals that were taken away from the nurse mares? All of this emotionally gut-wrenching, heartbreaking mistreatment of horses reminds me of the elephants that were taken from the wild and the babies taken away from their mothers. Finally, the circus no longer uses elephants for exploitation and entertainment. Finally, the so-called Greatest Show on Earth no longer exists in the present time.

    The so-called Sport of Kings needs to no longer exist. It is very cruel in so many ways on so many levels.

    The abuse of horses for $2 bets and entertainment needs to be suspended permanently.

    The trainers drug their horses and the fines and suspensions are not severe enough. There is no death penalty for causing the death of a horse. There is what some refer to as a slap on the wrist for those who violate the rules of racing.

    I just read an article today about Steve Asmussen. Some are referring to his punishment and suspension as a holiday vacation considering the timing of the 30-day suspension. He has had several violations as far as I know and yet he is in the HALL OF FAME which, if you had a conscience, you would call it the HALL OF SHAME.

    • Wanda,what about the baby calves taken from their mothers,so assholes can eat veal. Too many humans are a MENACE and EVIL to animals.

    • Bonnie, I have known about the baby calves being taken away from their mother cows. It is horribly disturbing to see how they are abused in the videos on YouTube! It is so bad that I cannot watch the whole thing! Hopefully, not all baby calves are beaten but it is still abnormal to take babies away from their mothers.

  4. Patrick,you should write a rebuttal to that dinky little paper. I’ve been to Saratoga before….soooo overrated. It’s all OLD people.

    • Bonnie – While I appreciate your passion, your comment about OLD people is quite offensive and not at all helpful. I’ve got two rescued OTTBs in my backyard who are pasture ornaments yet I spend thousands annually to keep them fat, healthy and happy. I’ve helped many ex-racers transition, support people doing the same work and actively lobby my friends and acquaintances to do the same. I’m OLD and EVERYONE I know doing the same things to help the horses is OLD. We have a monumental task ahead of us, fighting people with deep pockets who know their survival is in jeopardy. I know how people on the backside look at activists, and when we serve up insults and foul language rather than well-reasoned arguments, it makes us look like deranged lunatics. The people at Saratoga might be OLD, but the drunken partiers in the infield at the Kentucky Derby are young as are the frat boys and sorority girls I’ve seen at Keeneland. Evil people come in all ages, genders and colors. Singling out one group because of our birthdays is disrespectful. I hope when you get OLD you aren’t disrespected.

      • Mac, I did not like at all the terms,language,they used in what I read in that loser idiotic opinion piece…I mean “sport of kings” first of all it’s not a sport!! a sport is a human giving consent,who has a CHOICE!! Horse racing is cruel abuse followed by SLAUGHTER. For what?,bored humans “entertainment “ SICK. Why did they have to go there,with that corny ass bullshit? It’s morally wrong…end of story.

      • Why does everyone have to be the victim? You can’t call anyone anything without someone getting their panties in a twist. Disrespectful would be calling someone who is, er, beyond a certain age bracket a burden to society or better off in a nursing home or just automatically assuming they’re senile.

      • Mac, I too am old and I too found that comment offensive. Thank you for the real difference you make for the horses. I am sure your rescues appreciate your age and the true compassion, kindness and wisdom that comes with it.

    • Millennials are not playing tennis, golf, skiing, or going to the races. I went to US Open in September and the ticket price, through Stub Hub, was OFF THE CHARTS. I may opt to watch on TV next year. Saratoga is also expensive, compared to many tracks as far as admission, parking, etc. The drunken partiers at Churchill Downs for the KY Derby or at Keeneland are not regular race fans. They are there for the “happening” on a particular weekend. You used to see “Senior Citizens” as owners of famous racehorses quite often but that’s probably because through a lifetime of work they have a lot of money to be “owners.” Not as common nowadays, ‘tho. Sport of Kings moniker refers to the money required to participate. Not cheap. Some of these 2-yr olds sell for many hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. You do the math.

    • I’m puzzled, old is not derogatory. One of the biggest problems facing racing (and they’re well aware) is their aging fan base without new fans to replace them. Young people aren’t interested.

  5. This post gets to the “wrongs”–greed, cruelty, cover up, etc.–and other incentives of horseracing; it’s very moving on many levels. Including rodeo as one of the entertainment “sea changes” is greatly appreciated. We have a long way to go, and this post (as well as ALL other HW’s) will help us get there. Thank you.

  6. I think to a lot of people, dogs are pets, companions, while horses are still considered livestock, so there just seems to be different rules – not that there should be, a sentient being is a sentient being no matter the size. All you have to do is look at the way rodeo animals are treated to see the sick mindset of those asshats. Now that animal abuse is a federal offense, horse racing, rodeos, and the rest of these disgusting antiquated death shows should be obliterated. And to those people who say that these are American traditions being preserved, well traditionally my ancestors would scalp their enemies, but can you imagine what would happen if I decided to snatch a few scalps in the name of tradition? If something is morally or ethically wrong – and these animal abusers know full well that it is – then why would you even want to preserve a tradition like that? I thought we’re supposed to improve and evolve, not keep dragging the same shit along with us as we go.

  7. I’m shocked they buy into the “employs thousand, supports local economies” BS. The latest figure I can find for NY is $7B in direct subsidies and casino share over the last decade. Do they realize this comes at the expense of the overwhelming majority of taxpayers who don’t go to the track and might prefer something like education for their kids, health care, maybe roads? Without taxpayer support, the entire racing industry would be bankrupt tomorrow. It was on the verge of death in Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, NY, and most other places until support. It died in Michigan and would quickly be gone everywhere else without that money. Disgraceful.

    • Alan, amen! For some reason, the racing supporters are unable to grasp that racing, at least in some states, is subsidized with taxpayer dollars. And the subsidies run into the millions….no small change! Somehow, we need to get that message to the government officials, and the taxpayers, in those states that are effected, including Ohio.

  8. I’m always impressed and wonder how many writing courses you took. Once again, nicely written.

  9. Horse racing’s days will be over because today’s young people have been raised with Animal Planet on tv,which has been a blessing in teaching youth to love and respect ANIMALS. My godson is into “wraslin’” because he loves the “babes”,as he likes to say. My point is today’s young adults are more Aware,because of wonderful programming like Animal Planet. They are also more health conscience (VEGANISM) I love what I’m seeing and hearing from today’s 20 somethings and even younger,they get it. Won’t it be great when people don’t HAVE to RESCUE horses. No horse should DIE for boredom of MORONS. It’s not like there’s not a million other ways to lose (bet) your money. People, get a life!,leave animals alone.

  10. They also rescue dogs and cats rather than purchase. You make a good point, Bonnie. In Boston at Starbucks you can no longer buy bottled water. Single-use plastic is on the way out. A sea change is coming. Young people today are different than we were.

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