Just before midnight this past Monday, Standardbred Southwind Tabor died after breaking a fetlock in the 12th race at Yonkers. He was driven by Brian Sears and trained by Michael Sorentino. NY’s 2014 Death Toll: 26.
Facts, as the great John Adams once said, are stubborn things; J.R. Anderson’s new book, The Fancy Hat Veneer, is teeming with stubborn things, none of which are good for the industry at the heart of her probe – horseracing. Using expert testimony, hard numbers, and cold logic, Anderson, a first-time author but long-time advocate, presents yet another indictment of the Thoroughbred game – from the unrestrained breeding to the callous, often violent endgame, and everything in between. It is, as the author notes, the dark underbelly that the industry wants desperately to keep hush.
The Fancy Hat Veneer would make a fine addition for the well-versed and uninitiated alike. For the former, the 200-odd pages offer a sweeping overview, a handy reference book of sorts; for the latter, a horseracing primer. Ordering information can be found here.
Abuse arrives in various forms:
On January 10th at Turfway in Kentucky, trainer David Hunt (for Wanda Ward) took his 6-year-old mare Pass Me a Drink into battle, battle, in this case, being a horserace worth $7,500. Four days later at Beulah in Ohio, Pass Me a Drink was run again, this time for a purse of $7,100. Perhaps not coincidentally, both races paid first through last. (Pass Me a Drink finished second-to-last both times.) Two races in two states in 91 hours.
On April 17th at Sam Houston, 2-year-old (barely, at that) Quarter Horse Lm Cold Piece, trained and owned by Levi Mays, ran his very first race. Finishing 6th (of 8), Lm Cold Piece’s official line was “no menace, bled.” An equine babe bleeds from his lungs because some men thought it acceptable to whip-race him at breakneck speed. This is horseracing.
“Believe it or not, I am by nature not someone who likes to argue…in fact, I don’t even like confrontation. Unfortunately in my position at the hospital, confronting and working out differences between two or three different parties is something I must do. This applies to choosing to involve myself with animal welfare issues, as well. Arguing is ridiculous, yet I find myself doing it. Are there times I could choose to say things differently?..without a doubt and it is no one’s fault but my own.
That being said, I have no motives – none – to choose to align myself with those who are anti-racing. I’m not certain if I’ve ever said this here on HW, but I used to love horseracing. I could elaborate, but I won’t for the sake of time. Then I saw what really is involved. I realized the majority of horses do not go back to their own farms and loving families after ‘the race’ (I knew nothing about claiming races). I came to see the drugs and joint injections…the injured horses continuing to train and race…the unnatural living conditions…the attitudes that horses were simply money-making or money-draining machines…and much more.
You say we choose to believe what we want to believe, with hands over eyes, and there is no reason for truth to get in the way. AC [a pro-racing reader], my eyes are wide open. If I could go back to ignorance, some days I truly think I would. And what I believe and what I choose to do with that goes back to what I said one paragraph back…I have no motives to believe what I do, to speak what I do, to advocate what I do. WHY would I choose to spend time and money speaking out against the racing industry? It’s simply this…I love the animal; I have seen what so many of them suffer and endure, and I feel a responsibility to them NOW THAT I KNOW. And what I share isn’t for those who are employed or involved in the industry…not at all…because I feel there is nothing I could say or do that is going to change their thinking.
I believe we have different value systems…right or wrong, it is what it is. I value the horse for simply who he is; the trainers/owners/breeders value him for what he can do for them. I see this value system with my own neighbors. Their dogs live in dirty outdoor kennels. Their horses live in a paddock the size of my living room, with one strand of barbed-wire at the level of their knees. They are thin to emaciated, with feet over-grown and coats dull and dirty. For them, this is ‘normal,’ and their children are raised to believe the same.
I’ve seen this value system at the Shipsy auction, where horses are whipped into the loose-horse pens, left to fight for space, some with broken legs trying desperately to stay upright. The little kids who tag along with Dad to drop off their spent work-horses see nothing but normalcy amid the abuse and horror. Once, we witnessed a tragic, skinny horse standing the entire day (we were there at least 12 hours) tied to an outside hitching post, shivering from head to tail in the freshly fallen snow. Normal for that place and those people. Different value system. I’m not saying that you, AC, condone that type of treatment. I’m just saying there is no amount of talking that is going to change those folks’ minds…they simply don’t value the horse for who he is. For if they believed that those horses were suffering and did nothing to stop it, it makes them monsters.
So what I say here on HW is not for those immersed in the industry. Nothing I report from my experiences will change a person’s value system. Rather, I hope to share with those who are where I once was…totally ignorant. You think we want to ‘one-up’…it has nothing to do with that. But when a racing supporter claims that a horse cannot live a week with colic, it needs to be challenged; otherwise, a non-horse person might accept it as true. Lastly, no one lives a perfect life. Yet I’m grateful to those imperfect humans who speak when they see a wrong. This world is already so cruel to animals and humans alike…I cannot imagine the cruelty if we chose to remain silent simply because we are not ‘good enough.’ The abused and oppressed need all the voices they can get.”
From Wayne County, NY comes word of an animal cruelty seizure involving, among others, 16 horses in various debased conditions. Wayne County Investigator Tom Littlefield (WHAM): “Faced with that [bad hay and moldy corn] the horses have nothing left to eat but trees, the bark off of trees and fence posts and things like that. They’re really in bad shape, the lucky ones are just the emaciated ones they have others with serious, serious injuries.” The alleged abuser, Cindy Denninger of Sodus, is a licensed Thoroughbred owner who has stabled horses at Finger Lakes Racetrack; reportedly, most of the victims were Finger Lakes castoffs.
First, in the abstract: We cannot protect horses from being tortured to death (yes, there were two dead horses found on Denninger’s property) when anyone can acquire horses, and when there exists no serious deterrent to torturing them. Anyone can acquire horses because horses are things to acquire, and there is no serious deterrent because serious deterrents are reserved for violations of others’ rights. Horses are not “others”; they have no rights. Vicious circle defined.
Worse, horses are chattel of the lowest order, manufactured, traded, used, and trashed purely on a human’s whim. There are no agencies regulating their titles and no safety nets monitoring their care. And if found abused, the victims of cruelty as defined by the law, there are no prosecutorial crusades initiated on their behalf and no sentencing messages from the bench. There is no justice, not even a pretense to justice, because there is no will within society – not at the legislative level, not at the enforcement level, not at the judicial level, and most importantly, not at the people level – to (seriously) punish property owners for committing wrongs against their property.
(One of Denninger’s neighbors writes (WHAM): “I am her neighbor and YES everyone complained every year for years to do something for these poor animals… They came and did NOTHING!!!” And a former neighbor: “I used to live right around the corner 10 years ago. The cops were called quite often way back then about the condition of the animals she had. It was horrible then.”)
On the present case, Paul Ubbink of the Ubbink racing-family vehemently defends both his track (FL) and his industry. While he concedes that there are “bad apple” trainers/owners delivering their “retired” into wicked hands, it is grossly unfair to paint all with the same brush. From the WHAM story: “It’s uninformed filth that spills from people’s mouths that makes the racing industry look bad. Just like every business in the world there are of course going to be bad people, not everyone in the racing industry is bad.” (For proof, he says, come visit Team Ubbink’s happy stock.) For its part, Finger Lakes is “horrified” and promises cooperation.
But here’s the problem: Ms. Denninger’s vile ways couldn’t have been a secret around the track. Ubbink: “Trust me, she is perfectly fine and this has been going on for a long time.” But only now, with a red-hot spotlight, is there talk of action: Robert Ubbink: “And as far as the racetrack having responsibility in this—they don’t. But you better believe they will never let her on the grounds again. Or ever allow her to ship one through the stable gate.” What I hear is that Finger Lakes could have intervened a long time ago, but did not. And the “good horsemen” could have applied some pressure toward that end, but did not. In my book, that makes them complicit. A “few bad apples”? Folks, the entire orchard is rotten.