With Saratoga 2013 at an end, the summary is (mostly) bad with some good. First, the obvious: Eight beautiful, sentient creatures were sacrificed so that men could gamble and chase pots of gold…

7/18…Black Rhino
8/11…Charmed Hour
8/17…Heading to Toga
8/25…Sarava’s Dancer and Kris Royal
8/26…Ricochet Court
8/28…Ocean Breeze

But on a more positive note, the Daily Racing Form reports that both measures of handle are off from a year ago – all-sources .2%, ontrack 1.9%. Better still, “despite running a record number of races and getting mostly stellar weather for seven weeks,” attendance fell 3.75%.

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Horseracing finds itself in precarious times. While the likes of Saratoga, Churchill Downs, and Santa Anita are surely with us for a while, the more pedestrian venues, with neither storied pasts nor media minions to recommend them, are unquestionably vulnerable. Indeed, if not for the corporate welfare euphemistically referred to as state/track “cooperation” (racinos), much of harness racing, and likely a good number of claiming tracks too, would be dead or dying by now. If the Saratoga numbers are not simply a one-year aberration, but rather the beginning of a trend, take-notice concern will quickly turn to handwringing.

Scott Jagow of the Paulick Report filed this “video postcard from Saratoga”…

From racing patrons in the video:

“And it’s just something so special, that you can take your kids out in the ‘backyard’ with a cooler and have a picnic…and it’s all good.”

“It’s maybe the only place on Earth I know where people actually walk around with smiles on their faces all the time, win or lose.”

“This cocktail of great racing, an enchanting town, the history, it all adds up to be just a great experience every day.”

The mawkish piano music at the video’s end reminds viewers that the bittersweet farewell has arrived once more. Here, though, is my return postcard to all those who long ago succumbed to the rotten bill of goods that is horseracing. The videos below may be called many things, but “surreal” and “calming” are not among them. This is the fate awaiting many, if not most, of Saratoga’s darlings, who upon arrival at places like Bouvry Exports must wonder, in their own equine way, wherever the adoring eyes of summer have gone.

Roughly 30,000 Thoroughbreds die like this each year, a real-life consequence of an enchanting day at the old racetrack…

Finding material for this blog is never difficult. Besides the obvious – naughty trainers, routine breakdowns, slaughtered retirees – practically every time a racing insider opens his mouth, gifts (for me) fly out. On 8/26/13, the Paulick Report relayed the story of a husband and wife training team in a bit of trouble with Pennsylvania racing officials for a Lasix violation. (Although not a vet, the wife was preparing to administer Lasix to one of their horses, and too close to race-time, at that.) While admitting the error, Mike Rogers insists his wife was just “trying to help the horse.” But unable to leave it at that, Rogers goes on to unwittingly indict his entire profession:

“[Strong Resolve] had bled tremendously before. This BS that horses don’t bleed is insane. They actually bleed so much, they’re drowning.”

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Lasix is controversial. There are some who argue that because running horses bleed, “naturally,” it is inhumane to withhold therapeutic furosemide. Others, though, see it solely as a diuretic performance-enhancer, one so entrenched in American racing that attempts to ban it on raceday invariably meet stiff resistance. Either way, racing looks bad: If primarily used to make horses run faster, it’s a superfluous medication, meaning all dispensing veterinarians are breaching ethical standards and should have their licences revoked. But if, on the other hand, what Rogers says even approaches the truth, each and every Thoroughbred owner and trainer in the U.S. should be arrested for animal cruelty.

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In addition to Sarava’s Dancer, Kris Royal, and Saginaw, a two-year-old filly named Ocean Breeze also broke down and died last week in Saratoga. But because the child-horse was only training, attention was noticeably lacking. Still, I believe the Times Union, as a racing apologist, was being less than truthful when it called Saginaw’s “the fifth race day death of the Saratoga meet.” Technically correct, but were not Black Rhino, Ricochet Court, and Ocean Breeze also Thoroughbred “athletes” who perished at the Saratoga Race Course? The 2013 Death Count stands at 8.

When a racehorse breaks down, especially one as popular as former-claimer-turned-stakes-winner Saginaw, the garbage starts to flow. In the Times Union account of Friday’s death in the 3rd race at Saratoga, jockey Junior Alvarado said, with “tears in his eyes,” “It’s very sad, there are just no words to explain it. It’s just very sad for everybody. When there were horses going by him, he tried to chase them. In his mind, it was ‘run, run, run.’ I wish I could have helped him, but there was nothing I could do. I knew it was bad.”


Saginaw, the TU reports, “was visible in the ambulance, his eyes looking out at the applause that followed him down the track.” Mike Repole, a competing owner, “lost interest in the race after he saw the breakdown.” He said: “It’s a tough sport. These athletes are going 45 miles an hour on legs that are the size of my wrist. An NBA player tears his ACL, he comes back a year from now. These horses break a leg, he never comes back. He doesn’t always survive. It’s sad.”

Twice in the past week, the Times Union (“Grieving for Kris Royal”), being a publication clearly sympathetic to racing, has attempted to manipulate readers by underscoring the horsemen’s sorrow. See, they cry when their horses break; their hearts ache when the pink courses; they struggle with their professions. The horse people care. Meanwhile, the utter insanity in “athletes” whip-forced to go, as owner Repole helpfully reminds, “45 miles an hour on legs that are the size of my wrist” gets glossed over, whitewashed. “His eyes looking out at the applause”? Times Union, have you no shame?

To Charlie LoPresti, Junior Alvarado, Mike Repole and everyone else in and around horseracing: Your “sport” is not a sport. These “accidents” are not accidents. And your “love” is not love. Racehorses are slaves and you are their masters. If you truly wish for no more broken sesamoids, cease and desist. Cease and desist.