We and our work were featured in a recent Journal News (USA Today Network) piece on the killing at Belmont (53 dead horses last year) and beyond. (The article is on the paper’s subscription-only page, but here is a pdf: Belmont Article.) To clarify, when I say our work I simply mean exposing the truth – reporting the facts. As is its wont, when confronted with these facts the New York Racing Association dissembles, distracts, deflects, and deceives. Like no one else. The article opens:
“Last year was the first in the decade since 2010 that the death toll topped 50 at the Elmont, Long Island, park, best known for hosting the Belmont Stakes. And 2020’s total was seven more than the number of horses that died at Belmont in 2019 – even though COVID-19 stopped racing for over two months last year.”
Racing down, killing up. So how did NYRA respond? Spokesman Patrick McKenna: “This was an unprecedented interruption and we are still analyzing the full scope of its impact, especially as it relates to younger horses.” More horses were killed – because of covid. Now that is really getting creative.
Later, whipping is broached. As the Gaming Commission considers rules changes, McKenna makes clear NYRA will not support a ban, saying: “Skilled and experienced riders do utilize the crop as a primary mode of communication in training and competition, and any new rule should acknowledge that reality in a way that protects riders and preserves the integrity of the sport.”
The whip as “a primary mode of communication”? Why yes, but certainly not in the way McKenna means. Not that this should be necessary, but here is Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board and no one’s definition of anti-racing, explaining how that “communication” works: “There are those who argue that whipping doesn’t hurt horses, but that’s nonsense, and we all know that. Whips are noxious stimuli; they hurt, that’s why they’re used. Run fast or I’ll hit you again.” Which, of course, is something only the ignorant or mendacious would deny.
The News followed with an update Tuesday. Belmont, the paper explains, actually killed more than what was originally reported, as one horse was “temporarily left off” the Commission database. (This, by the way, came from me, as I tipped the writer, Mark Lungariello, that Blackjack appeared then disappeared back in October; told that I had independently confirmed the death, he then pressed the Commission.) And while this latest piece notes that “the number of deaths at all three NYRA tracks combined also hit a 10-year high in 2020,” it still gives McKenna and NYRA the last (specious) word: “As always, NYRA continuously evaluates all aspects of the operation to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for training and racing; [the health and welfare of the horses] stands above all other considerations.”
Look, I get why the racing people say what they say. To paraphrase an old legal adage, when the facts are bad – your (gambling) business kills innocent animals as a matter of course – pound the table and yell like hell (dissemble, distract, deceive). But I’ve grown quite weary of the coverage racing receives. Because of our work, the truth is there for all to see, yet the media – with a few notable exceptions – continues to give this industry the benefit of the doubt, allowing the slick and polished Patrick McKennas of the racing world to, for the most part, control the narrative. Well, enough. It’s high time the media starts calling horseracing what it is: animal exploitation, animal cruelty, animal killing – not a whit different than its cousin, dogracing, which has been outright prohibited on moral grounds in 41 states. It is absolutely bewildering to me how this is not crystal clear and, more to the point, why it is not reported as such.