An email attached to a recent donation:

“Thank you for your incredible work. I used to bet on horses (haven’t in 30 years) but I do feel a need to make my amends to these wonderful animals. I bet on a horse named Tarport Hap and Tarport had a heart attack and died on the first turn. All I cared about was the money I lost. No conscience, no pity for him. I am grateful to people like you who allow me to give back. I love horses and all animals. I am telling guys in my Gamblers Anonymous room about your organization. Thank you!”

Mike Kramer
New York

Thank you, Mike. Stories like yours help us to press on.

Whipping a racehorse is the most conspicuous form of animal abuse this side of bullfighting and basically every rodeo “competition.” No need for undercover cameras here. Because of this – or to be more accurate, because of Santa Anita thrusting all things racing into the spotlight – the industry is desperately scrambling. What to do about something that has been a fundamental part of racing since time immemorial.

For most in racing, however, whipping is but a problem of perception. Indeed, at the monthly CHRB meeting just two days ago, new board member Wendy Mitchell said this: “The optics on it [whipping] are bad.” The “optics.” Not that we agree it’s cruelty, mind you; it just looks bad. Well. Back in ’15, the ABC (Australia) ran a piece on this very subject. The whole thing (below) is worth watching, but a couple quotes stand out.

Dr. Lydia Tong, veterinary pathologist, on the relative skin thickness of horses and humans: “The really interesting part is that right up in the epidermis, which is the top layer and that’s where the pain-sensing C fibres are, in the human specimen that’s thicker than the horse’s. So by the old argument of horse’s skin is thicker and they feel it less, actually you could argue human’s skin is thicker.” So have someone take a horse whip to your leg (which was done in the show) and report back.

Then this on horse nature: “If a prey animal shows its pain very overtly, they are more likely to then be noticed and picked out by a predator. So actually often prey animals they kind of shut up and put up.”

And finally, this from Australian Racing’s Peter McGauran: “That [not shifting from pain] would have been learned behaviour, agreed. Under the old days [prior to new whip/whipping rules] I concede that the horses learnt to absorb the punishment afforded them.”

The “old days”? 2009. Yes, that’s right, here we have a prominent racing executive admitting that as recently as five years prior, his jockeys inflicted “punishment” on his horses – punishment, by the way, seemingly well-“absorbed” due to learned helplessness. Imagine that. Yet I wonder, Mr. McGauran, does this mean that back in the “old days” you were sharing that opinion far and wide, or were you, like the rest, singing that decades-old industry line of the whip as “painless guide”? Please.

Oh, and one final note, Mr. McGauran: There is no past tense about this (“it was broken, so we fixed it”); as the piece (science, common sense) makes abundantly clear, a whip in the hands of a racehorse jockey will always be an instrument of intimidation, conveyor of pain. Put another way, your kinder, gentler whipping is a lie. To steal a line from Clinton ’92, it’s animal cruelty, stupid. And ever it will be.

From the Equibase chartwriter at Penn National (one of the more honest) Thursday:

race 1: “SULLEYS BOO had position between rivals to the far turn, was put to whip and stopped.” Sulleys Boo finished last, some 30 lengths back. She is three years old and has been put to the whip 10 times in total, the last 9, including yesterday, at the “maiden claiming” level – as low as there is.

race 5: “BEALESTREET DANCER came well out from the rail early on the backstretch, failed to respond to whip midway on the backstretch and was eased up.” Bealestreet Dancer finished last, some 45 lengths back. He is six and in this, his 33rd race, he was “For Sale” at $4,000 prior to. In other words, he’s utterly expendable.

This is horseracing.

The 1st at Laurel yesterday: “Aikenetta set the pace along the rail, dropped back through the stretch, was unsaddled, collapsed and perished walking back to the barn” (Equibase).

“was unsaddled, collapsed and perished walking back to the barn”

First things first: Aikenetta was just five years old, still growing – collapsed and died. That collapse, by the way, came after she was mercilessly whipped down the stretch.

Aikenetta is the 5 horse…

Second, Racing’s answer to its current media crisis (it’s a crisis only because they’re getting hammered in the press) is endless babble about what they’re doing to reduce “musculoskeletal breakdowns” – state-of-the-art surface testing, more vets, better screening (MRI machines coming soon!), etc. The clear implication, of course, is that these “sudden deaths” are freak things, that they don’t – or shouldn’t – count. Indeed, whenever a track or state touts its “improved safety” record, it’s almost always relayed as a “catastrophic injury” (musculoskeletal) ratio – the hundreds of prime-of-life, supposedly finely-tuned “athletes” just dropping dead every year be damned.

Finally, this was the first of nine races at Laurel yesterday. In other words, the rest of the day’s card – entertainment – continued with nary a moment of silence for the dead “athlete.” The obscenity of horseracing-as-sport laid bare, yet again.