For the second time in less than two months, The Washington Post’s editorial board has decried the U.S. horseracing industry. While the first, back in January, left the door ever so slightly ajar – “Does a sport that gambles with the lives of horses really belong in our world?” – this one, published yesterday, leaves no doubt as to the feelings of this esteemed board: “Horse racing has outlived its time.” My highlights follow. (Note: I spent quite a bit of time with one of their writers Wednesday. I’d like to think the influence of our work, our message, is apparent.)

“IN THE aftermath of federal indictments that charged more than two dozen people in or associated with horse racing in ‘a widespread, corrupt’ doping scheme, the industry rushed to put on a good face. The arrests, said the head of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, show that the system works, and that will have ‘a cleansing effect’ on racing. ‘Let’s face it. It’s like any sport,’ said one leading horse trainer. ‘We’re no different.’

“Let’s be charitable and chalk up such comments to self-delusion, because anyone who thinks horse racing is like any other major sport is lying, ignorant or kidding themselves. No other accepted sport exploits defenseless animals as gambling chips. No other accepted sport tolerates the cruelties that routinely result in the injury and death of these magnificent animals. The rot in horse racing goes deep. It is a sport that has outlived its time.

“That one of those indicted, trainer Jorge Navarro, openly embraced his nickname as the ‘Juice Man,’ speaks volumes about the indifferent attitude of racetrack operators and regulators who allowed the abuses to flourish. That some of the conversations caught on the federal wiretaps are eerily similar to the callous way horses are discussed and discounted on an undercover video taped by PETA in 2014 make clear that for all the talk about the love of horses, they are just commodities that are used and abused until they are sent off to the slaughterhouse.

“Increased attention to the deaths of racehorses, on average nearly 10 horses a week [our data, of course, says it’s five times as many], has shined a spotlight on horse racing’s dark side that is changing public attitudes. Activities involving animals that used to be tolerated — even revered — like circus elephants or killer whale shows ended as people learned of their terrible toll. Horse racing awaits a similar reckoning.”

My heartfelt gratitude, Washington Post. This is bold, courageous, and most important, right. Thank you. Thank you.

Some good news to share:

This morning, Horseracing Wrongs was cited and quoted in a Washington Post editorial – but not just any editorial, this comes right from the Board. The title alone is cause for celebration: “Does a sport that gambles with the lives of horses really belong in our world?” Our mentions:

“Horseracing Wrongs [link is provided], a nonprofit committed to ending U.S. horse racing, has counted 26 horses as having died so far this year at U.S. tracks, including four thoroughbreds who were euthanized over a span of six racing days at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.

“‘The killing is built into the system’ is the blunt assessment of Patrick Battuello, founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, who has spent the past five years tracking public data on racehorse deaths at the 100 racetracks in 35 states. He has confirmed 1,000 deaths annually but says the actual number is much higher.” (My own Post editorial from October was linked at the bottom of this one.)

Asking “whether the proposed reforms go far enough,” the Board replies: “We have our doubts and think animal rights activists make a powerful case that the fundamental problem is with horse racing itself.” It closes thus: “It is long past time to stop viewing horse racing through the prism of its past glories and answer the question of whether a sport that gambles with the lives of horses — animals we profess to love — has a place in the modern world.” Thank you, Washington Post.

Our activists were out in force at Gulfstream Park yesterday, there to not only protest the Pegasus, but the cruelty that happens at Gulfstream – and, of course, at tracks across the nation – every single day. Holly Wilson, our Florida coordinator, conducted several interviews, most prominently this one with Fox Miami.

And finally, we have partnered with the non-profit Lady Freethinker for a brand-new billboard in Los Angeles; it will run through mid-March:

The momentum is all ours.

While I was skeptical at first – having frustratingly seen the media’s attention come and go over the years – it is clear now that when that final history is written, Santa Anita will go down as the tipping point, the moment when Racing truly began its inexorable slide toward oblivion. Here are three of the latest indications of that slide…

In a board editorial last Thursday from the Los Angeles Times – a paper that hasn’t exactly been sympathetic to our cause – this:

“A total of 38 horses died at Santa Anita in the past year [it’s actually 44, as the paper conveniently ignored the six who perished back in their stalls]. Even with more vigilance and more veterinarians on site and the new drug reforms instituted during the course of the year, the deaths continued. … If things don’t change [which, of course, they won’t] …if death from racing cannot be made rare, the question that will loom large is whether the sport should continue at all.”

Same day, from the pro-racing publication Horse Racing Nation:

“[ESPN] once went all-out on horse racing, too, especially when [it] aired major races plus a half-hour weekly recap with interviews and replays.” But now, “ESPN afforded horse racing all of five good seconds, give or take, in a highlights package from the sports decade just ended.” And then this: “It’s not good when the only horse-racing item crawling across your TV set concerns equine fatalities, fueling the fire of the Carry Nations [had to look that up!] who would shut down the sport.”

And finally, in an open letter the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association complains bitterly about Churchill Downs (the corporation, not the track) showing dwindling interest in horseracing. Preferring the much-more-lucrative casino gaming – Churchill is, after all, a publicly traded company – the future of Churchill-owned Arlington Park is very much in question; hence, the handwringing:

“[In] Illinois – as elsewhere in the country, from Hollywood Park to Calder Race Course – Churchill is rapidly abandoning any meaningful commitment to racing. Churchill, in its unconditional pursuit of corporate profit, has worked methodically to reduce the scope of live racing, diminish overnight purses and undermine the efforts of thoroughbred owners and trainers….”

Progress. Every day.

“After a thorough investigation and review of the evidence, the District Attorney’s Task Force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park.” – LA County DA Jackie Lacey’s report on Santa Anita

And so ends the much-ballyhooed investigation into the now-infamous Santa Anita spring (while the report covered fiscal year ’18-’19, it was prompted by the 36 deaths earlier this year). Nothing – but some safety “recommendations.” And we should not be surprised in the least. The key words above are “criminal” and “unlawful,” as in nothing to see here, according to California law. And technically, Lacey is right: These cruelty laws, woefully inadequate as most are, are designed to protect only some animals (i.e., our pets), while the others, unconscionably, are left to twist in the wind.

Regarding the treatment of animals in animal-exploitative industries, the law almost invariably defers to “common industry practice.” It’s why factory-farmed animals can be dehorned, debeaked, docked, branded, and castrated without anesthesia. It’s why breeder dogs can be kept in tiny cages for their entire lives. It’s why grisly scientific experiments can be conducted on primates. It’s why, for fear of the fully legal instrument of torture, the bullhook, Ringling elephants were known to defecate upon hearing their trainers’ voices. It’s why perhaps the most public form of animal abuse – the rodeo – merrily persists with impunity. And it’s why you can whip a horse at a racetrack but that same act done to a dog in the park would land you in jail.

What this report is really saying is that horseracing has a license to kill because one, it’s a legal enterprise, and two, because a certain level of death is understood (and accepted) by all. Indeed, the DA said as much: “Horse racing has inherent risks but is a legally sanctioned sport in California.” Risks, like the risk of a snapped neck, severed spine, or shattered leg. Risks, like the risk of “cardiovascular collapse” or “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.” Risks, like the risk of terrifying colic or excruciating laminitis. And risks, like the high risk of exsanguination at career’s end.

Lacey added: “The District Attorney’s Office lacks legal jurisdiction to regulate the horse racing industry.” So right back to the industry (as represented by the CHRB) it goes – the fox guarding the henhouse, just like those other animal industries.

On another note, I think it high time that every person and every organization – PETA, HSUS, et al. – be made to answer this simple question: Is horseracing wrong? Not are some parts of it wrong, but is it fundamentally wrong? If the answer is no, fine, at least we know where you stand (but please dispense forevermore with your hollow declarations of equine love and specious claims of “advocacy”). But if yes, then act like it. Stop issuing equivocal, confusing statements; stop “partnering” with industry interests; stop debating the relative merits of various “reforms”; stop compromising what are supposed to be your core values. If you deem horseracing animal cruelty, then get off the proverbial fence and say so. Enough already.

(One final note: In the report, the DA cited this passage from California’s penal code: “[A]nimal cruelty exists when a person subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal.” Well, if $2 bets and entertainment does not meet the definition of “needless” or “unnecessary,” I’m not sure what does.)