Dear Governor Hochul:
I am writing today to respectfully request that you not attend, or support in any way, the Belmont Stakes this week. (If commitments have already been made, please consider the following going forward.) For far too long, horseracing has been allowed to cloak itself in words like “sport” and “tradition,” when, in fact, stripped to its core, it is nothing but an archaic, largely nonviable gambling business that exploits, abuses, and kills sentient beings, inherently, and inevitably. In other words, it cannot be fixed or reformed; in other words, it is wrong from the start.
Since 2009, when the Gaming Commission began making such things public, over 1,600 horses have died at NYS tracks – an average of over 120 every year. (Please note: These are only the ones we know about. These numbers do not include the “catastrophically injured” euthanized back on private property or after being acquired by rescues, nor the ones felled at private training facilities.) And to be clear, this is not just a cheap-track problem. Much-ballyhooed Saratoga averages 15 kills per summer; Belmont Park, the site of Saturday’s Triple Crown race, has, in less than half a year, already hosted 27 kills – this after almost 150 over the preceding three years.
Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs, through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, has documented over 8,000 confirmed deaths just since 2014. Our research indicates that well over 2,000 horses are killed at U.S. tracks annually. Aortic rupture, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma, broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments, shattered legs. Over 2,000 – that’s about six every single day.
Then, too, slaughter. While Racing desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, the prevailing wisdom, backed by two independent studies and industry admissions, is that most spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are brutally bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end – some 10,000-15,000 annually.
But the killing is only a part of the story:
– Would-be racehorses are forever torn from their mothers and herds as mere babies. Sold, usually, at the tender age of one; “broken,” an industry term meaning to be made pliant and submissive; alone and terrified, their servitude begins.
– The typical horse does not reach full musculoskeletal maturity till around the age of six. The typical racehorse is thrust into intensive training at 18 months, and raced at two – on the maturation chart, the rough equivalent of a first grader. In our reporting, we see time and again 4-, 3-, even 2-year-old horses dying with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease – clear evidence of the incessant pounding these pubescent bodies are forced to absorb.
– In perhaps the worst of it, racehorses are kept locked – alone – in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day, a cruelty all the worse for being inflicted on naturally social, herd-animals like horses. At a 2019 NYS Senate hearing, prominent equine vet Dr. Kraig Kulikowski likened this cruelty to keeping a child locked in a 4×4 closet for over 23 hours a day. Imagine that. Relatedly, practically all the horse’s natural instincts and desires are thwarted, creating an emotional and mental suffering that is brought home with crystal clarity in the stereotypies commonly seen in confined racehorses: cribbing, wind-sucking, bobbing, weaving, digging, even self-mutilation.
– Racehorses are controlled and subjugated through, among other means, cribbing collars, nose chains, lip chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth bits, and, of course, whips. On that, the public flogging administered to racehorses would land a person in jail if done to his dog in the park. But at the track, it’s simply part of the tradition.
– By law, racehorses are literal chattel – pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide. In fact, the average racehorse will change hands multiple times over the course of his so-called career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious, stressful existence. This near-constant shuffling among trainers, grooms, vets, barns, tracks, and states is a primary reason why almost all active racehorses suffer from ulcers.
The fact is, horseracing is failing, and has been for some time. Just since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 38 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, field sizes, “foal crops,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down, some 50% of what they were just 30 years ago. But even more telling is this: The bulk of the industry is being heavily subsidized, with many tracks wholly propped up by slots and other gaming revenue. In New York, this corporate welfare amounts to some $230 million annually – almost $3 billion since it began in 2004.
Clearly, casinos, the lottery, and all-sports betting are winning the market, but legislators, swayed by industry talk of job loss (note: their numbers are wildly inflated), keep sending lifeboats. This has produced a triple wrong: One, it’s an affront to our free-market principles. The overwhelming majority of NY businesses are expected to subsist on the relative merits of their goods and services alone. (Ask any of them how many jobs they could create with $230 million in state largess each year.) Two, it cheats schoolchildren out of desperately-needed education dollars. (Again, how many inner-city teachers could be hired with $230 million?) And three, it allows for the continued abuse and killing of beautiful, intelligent, and sensitive animals.
(There are joint bills in the senate and assembly – S08485, A08468 – calling for NY’s racing subsidies to be redirected where they belong: education and human services.)
Sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially in entertainment, are rapidly evolving. In just the past few years: Ringling Bros. has closed its doors for good, ending over a century of animal abuse; SeaWorld, after being exposed by the film “Blackfish,” has ceased the captive breeding of orcas and remains in steady decline; there are rodeo bans in cities as diverse as Pittsburgh and San Francisco; both New York and Illinois have outlawed the use of elephants in any form of entertainment, and New Jersey, Hawaii, and California have forbidden all wild-animal acts.
What’s more, and most relevant, dogracing in America is all but dead: By the end of this year, there will be but two tracks left in the entire country; dogracing is outright prohibited on moral grounds in 42 states, including here in New York. Irrefutably, in regard to how the relevant species are treated, there is not a whit of difference between the two forms of animal racing. If anything, horseracing is worse because of slaughter. But while one has lost its social license to operate, the other is allowed to continue along merrily as “The Sport of Kings.”
Please, Governor Hochul, at a minimum we ask that you withhold any public support or encouragement for horseracing. Ideally, however, you might be persuaded to speak out against this cruel, deadly industry – cruelty and death, I remind, that is subsidized by NYS taxpayers. Thank you for your consideration.
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs