In its August issue, the Hill Country Observer did a long cover story on Saratoga Race Course – and us: “For the love of horses: Animal rights activists target Saratoga’s crown jewel.” The full piece merits your attention, but before you read, a thought.
The journalist, Stacey Morris, who I feel was exceedingly fair, of course went to the other side for comments/retorts. NYRA, as expected, just dished more of the same, old, tired subterfuge they’re famous for:
“NYRA is committed to implementing science-driven best practices to establish and maintain safe racing surfaces and facilities for the equine and human athletes who race and train at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct. To meet this goal, NYRA has made significant capital investments in recent years to upgrade and modernize the facilities where we operate.” (I’ve addressed this ad nauseam, but consider just one recent fact: 53 horses died at Belmont last year, one of the highest tolls in the nation.)
It was the other interview subjects, however, that got me thinking. Diana Pikulski, formerly of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation: “I think the industry is responding in many ways to the welfare of the horses. They may not be doing it as quickly as everyone would like, but the balance will come out in favor of the horses as long as it continues.” On whips, which used to be (still are in many quarters) spun as “harmless guides”: “People are getting it. You don’t need whips for horseracing, and no one wants to watch horses getting hit.”
JoAnne Pepper, former racehorse owner: “There will always be bad apples, and it’s a big industry. But Horseracing Wrongs doesn’t look at how hard others are working to make things better.”
Yes, “we’re on this,” “equine welfare is our highest priority,” “nothing is more important than the safety of our horses.” But doesn’t this demand the question: Where was all this zeal prior to the relatively-recent negative coverage and the exposure provided on these pages? In short, it didn’t exist. Yes, of course there has always been a tiny subset of “reformers.” But they accomplished nothing – indeed, it could be argued, things have gotten worse – in the decades that preceded all this “welfare” talk, decades in which horses were being abused/killed/slaughtered in utter anonymity. Only now that they’ve been caught is there an industry-wide pretense of care. And I cannot think of a single greater indictment of this nasty business than that.