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.)

Yesterday was a big day for Horseracing Wrongs and the horses we are so diligently working to liberate. We sponsored protests at Laurel Park in Maryland, Gulfstream Park in Florida, and held a march/vigil for the fallen in California. Thank you to all who came out, especially to the lead organizers: Brando Lee and Jennifer Sully at Laurel, Holly Wilson at Gulfstream, and Heather Wilson and Amanda Lundberg in Pasadena.










The Baltimore Sun (Maryland)
New Times (Florida)
Getty Images (California)

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.