As many of you I’m sure know, with the (finally) permanent closing of Suffolk Downs at the end of June, the Suffolk people are trying mightily to pick up at the currently-dormant Great Barrington Fairgrounds next year. And the fight is on. Engaging, I wrote a letter-to-the-editor of The Berkshire Eagle; it was published Tuesday and for that, I am grateful. However, it was slightly altered in wording and significantly altered in facts – all without checking with me first. Here is the letter as it ran:

To the editor:

Regarding the Aug. 11 article “Suffolk Downs likely ‘grandfathered’ at Great Barrington Fairgrounds, but questions remain,” I must object to the characterization of racehorse death as “occasional.” As one of the nation’s foremost experts on racehorse deaths, I can state unequivocally that nothing could be further from the truth.

Through our unprecedented Freedom of Information Act reporting, Horseracing Wrongs has documented — with names, dates and locations — more than 5,000 confirmed deaths on U.S. tracks, just since 2014. We estimate that more than 2,000 horses die while racing or training across America every year. In Suffolk Downs’ last year of regular racing — a five-month period in 2014 — 11 racehorses lost their lives. In addition, hundreds more nationwide die back in their stalls from conditions like colic or laminitis, or are simply “found dead in the morning.” Perhaps worst of all, two studies indicate that the great majority of spent racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered at their career’s end — more than 10,000 thoroughbreds each year alone. Put bluntly, the American horse racing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. That’s not hyperbole: carnage.

Currently, there are no active thoroughbred tracks left in New England. Massachusetts should maintain its status as a moral beacon and keep it that way. Say no to animal exploitation, cruelty and killing. Say no to horse racing.

Patrick Battuello,
Albany, N.Y.
The writer is founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a nonprofit organization committed to ending horse racing in the U.S.

And here is the letter as sent:

Regarding your recent article “Suffolk Downs likely ‘grandfathered’ at Great Barrington,” I must object to your characterization of death at the track being “occasional.” As the nation’s foremost expert on racehorse deaths, I can state unequivocally that nothing could be further from the truth.

Through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, Horseracing Wrongs has documented – with names, dates, locations – over 5,000 confirmed kills on U.S. tracks just since 2014. We estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. (In Suffolk Downs’ last year of regular racing – a five-month period in 2014 – 15 racehorses lost their lives.) In addition, hundreds more die back in their stalls from things like colic, laminitis, or are simply “found dead in the morning.” And perhaps worst of all, two separate studies indicate that the great majority of spent racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered at career’s end – some 12,000-15,000 Thoroughbreds alone each year. Put bluntly, the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Not hyperbole, carnage.

Currently, there is not a single Thoroughbred track left in the whole of New England. Massachusetts, maintain your status as a moral beacon and keep it that way. Say no to animal exploitation; say no to animal cruelty; say no to animal killing. Say no to horseracing.

Okay, so “kills/killed” becomes “deaths/die.” That’s fine, but of far greater importance, two of my numbers were changed: the slaughtered total went from 12,000-15,000 (which I fully explain/defend on the site) to “more than 10,000”; the Suffolk dead went from 15 to 11. It was the latter for which I requested an explanation. The exchange:

On Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 7:40 PM Patrick Battuello wrote:
First, thank you for publishing my letter; it is greatly appreciated. Just a quick question, though: Why did you change the 15 Suffolk deaths to 11? Here is my post with information direct from the Gaming Commission.

On Wed, Aug 14, 2019, 9:40 AM Berkshire Eagle Letters wrote:
We did some research in the editorial dept. and found that the latest figure was 11.
Bill Everhart, editorial page editor.

I answered:

The 11 refers to racing and training, but there were four others who died back in their stalls. In total, 15 horses lost their lives at Suffolk Downs in 2014. Again, that’s direct from the Commission. I have the documentation should you be interested.

As of this writing, no response. But here are the Commission documents clearly showing 15, not 11, dead horses. Accuracy matters, always.

Mass1
Mass2

In June, Dr. Kraig Kulikowski, renowned equine veterinarian, testified (along with me and several others) before two NYS Senate committees. Highlights and video follow:

A two-year-old horse is equivalent to a six-year-old human. A three-year-old horse is equivalent to a nine-year-old human. Yet, the biggest races…are for three-year-olds. They still have their baby teeth. Their bones are not mature. Their brains are not mature. I can just tell you that as a two and a three-year-old, all their body parts are immature at that point and that they’re still developing.

These juveniles are herded out to the racetrack for less than 30 minutes of exercise per day. Then, these juveniles spend the rest of the day standing in a 12-foot by 12-foot stall. A 12-by-12 stall for a thousand-pound horse is equivalent to a four-foot by four-foot closet for a one-hundred-pound child. Most of these juveniles never see pasture or a moment of playtime once they start their racing career. What impact would twenty-three and one-half hours of standing in a closet have on the bone strength of a child? What impact would twenty-three and one-half hours of standing in a closet have on the mental health of a child?

The juvenile racehorse often comes off the track with stomach ulcers from the stress of their work and environment. These juvenile racehorses also leave the track with tendon and ligament injuries which severely impact their comfort… These juvenile racehorses often have evidence of osteoarthritis, even at the ripe old age of four years old. Some of the arthritis is from straight wear and tear. The rest of the arthritis is from chronic repetitive and excessive joint injections with corticosteroids. These juvenile racehorses also often have been mentally stressed to the point where many boarding facilities do not accept thoroughbred as boarders because they are considered dangerous or wild.

Twenty years ago…I learned that two and three-year-old horses are juveniles and should not be stunted for greed. I learned I wanted to help horses stay sound and healthy throughout their entire life, not just until the next race. I actually learned to be a good equine veterinarian. I could not be a racetrack veterinarian.

H. James Bond, $43 million, multiple-graded-stakes-winning trainer, says in a recent Spectrum interview (in which I also appeared) that racehorses die everywhere – i.e., it’s not, as the reformers would have us believe, an “American problem”:

“It’s worldwide…it’s bad. Period.”

Then this: In the 8th at Laurel Saturday, the Equibase writer says Belle Saison “sat down in the gate pre-race, raced in range for about three furlongs, dropped back, was pulled up mid turn and vanned off.”

“Sat down” before eventually being “vanned off” for an undisclosed injury. Perhaps the 3-year-old Belle was trying to tell her exploiters something? But there’s more. Her three most recent times under the whip, all at Laurel:

Jul 13, last of 10
Jun 23, 9th of 10
Jun 2, last of 8

Finally, those same exploiters – trainer Carlos Mancilla, owner Michael Scheffres – had her “For Sale” at $5,000 prior to Saturday’s race. But Racing is loaded with “good people” who care, right? Vile.