You know it’s bad when even your staunchest supporters are calling you out. John Cherwa is, of course, an unabashed racing apologist and, not unrelated, the paper he writes for, the Los Angeles Times, is a decidedly biased source of information on all things racing. (I have twice submitted editorials offering the activists’ perspective, to no avail; I and others have repeatedly reached out to Times staff in an effort to correct the record and/or lodge objections to Cherwa’s reporting, but again, nothing.) So imagine my surprise when Mr. Cherwa’s Tuesday column began thus:
“We’ve often said that statistics can be used to prove whatever point you are trying to make. For example, Santa Anita likes to use one about the number of horses that have been on the track, racing and training, to prove that the horse fatality rate is much lower than what people think. It’s in the tens of thousands of horses for this meeting. While it is true horses have been on the track, as they are several days a week, if only for a jog, it’s a made-up figure. The track just extrapolates the number of horses it has and comes up with an average. It would be shredded by an auditor. When you’re going to give a number is [sic] the thousands or even millions of a percent, you better be 100% correct. It’s why I don’t use that figure.”
And what exactly are the numbers Santa Anita is reporting? On their “Horse Care & Safety” page, under “Statistics,” this: “Home to 2,000 horses over ten months of the year, Santa Anita Park is one of the largest equine training facilities in the world. Horses raced or trained at Santa Anita Park over 420,000 times in 2019 with a 99.991% safety rate.” But it gets worse: “407,578 HORSES HAVE RACED, WORKED, OR GALLOPED THE PAST YEAR AT SANTA ANITA PARK.” Factually incorrect: There aren’t even 400,000 active racehorses in the entire country – not even close.
More “statistics,” of course, follow – a barrage of numbers meant to distract and deceive. Overwhelmed, the average person (and much of the media) will likely retain but one: “99.991%” – or, exactly as intended. (In addition, you have to scroll through all the “good news” to get to the bad – the “incidents,” as they call them. How many give up long before then?) But even if that “safety rate” were true, what would it matter? Here’s what we do know with absolute certainty: (at least) 8 horses have died at Santa Anita just since the first of the year; 43 dead in 2019, 48 in 2018, 46 in 2017; since 2007, over 600 dead racehorses at Santa Anita. Each of those lives had inherent value; to reduce their unequivocally wanton deaths to a percentage or ratio (see also The Jockey Club’s celebrated “Equine Injury Database”) is as callous as it is sad.
Then there’s this: Two separate studies have shown that the majority of spent American racehorses are brutally and violently bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end. In fact, the industry itself has even admitted as much: Last fall, Alex Waldrop, head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, told USA Today that 7,500 Thoroughbreds are going to slaughter annually. Let me repeat, one of the most powerful people in racing acknowledges that multiple thousands – it’s actually more in the 10,000-12,000 range – of his industry’s erstwhile “athletes” land in equine hell every year. This fact alone not only guts their vaunted “safety rate,” but renders their declarations of the “primacy of equine welfare” positively obscene.
But Cherwa’s generous spirit had not quite run its course. Reinforcing the unassailable truth that this is a failing industry, Cherwa went on to compare the numbers from this year’s President’s Day at Santa Anita to the one in 2000:
attendance, 2000: 20,450 (and, he notes, it was raining that day)
attendance, 2020: 7,003
That’s a 66% decrease.
handle, 2000: $10,569,081
handle, 2020: $6,213,445
That’s a 41% decrease.
number of races, 2000: 10
number of races, 2020: 8
That’s a 20% decrease.
number of starters, 2000: 63
number of starters, 2020: 48
That’s a 24% decrease.
With demand for the racing product in steady decline, and the cruelty and killing at long last laid bare for the whole world to see, can the end, then, be far off?