Earlier this month, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial criticizing the subsidization of the Pennsylvania horseracing industry. Good, yes. Unfortunately, it did not go nearly far enough. So, in the interest of presenting the full picture, I wrote a letter to the editor, to which I received no reply. Thus, I publish it here:

I would like to thank you for your recent editorial decrying the corporate welfare to the Pennsylvania horseracing industry. As the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to ending horseracing in America, I am certainly aware of this sadly under-reported issue. As you so accurately point out, racing is indeed in decline; the subsidies propping up Keystone State tracks is an all-too-common theme across the country. Here in New York, for instance, it is no exaggeration to say that without the largess from Video Lottery Terminals, all seven harness tracks and likely two of the state’s four Thoroughbred tracks would have been shuttered by now. But there is another element to this story – that is, the moral one.

In each of the past three years, I have placed FOIA requests with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture seeking information on racehorse deaths. What I have found, and reported – in gruesome detail – on my website, is that from 2015-2017, 290 horses died on or at Pennsylvania racetracks. 290. (Nationally, I estimate that there are over 2,000 track-related kills every year.) And that’s almost surely understated, as countless other “catastrophically injured” horses are euthanized back at private farms or after being acquired by rescue groups. Even worse, scores more (indeed, most) of the “retired” are brutally and violently slaughtered once this industry deems them expended. So in addition to diverting funds that could be used for the public good to an archaic business, the commonwealth is also sanctioning the killing of beautiful, intelligent, sensitive creatures – and all for nothing more than $2 bets.

Sensibilities on animal matters are clearly changing: Ringling is dead, SeaWorld, owing mostly to the movie “Blackfish,” is desperately hanging on, and greyhound racing is on life support (currently being kept alive by, you guessed it, subsidies). End the welfare, yes. But also end the exploitation; end the cruelty; end the killing.

End horseracing.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs
New York

This article by racing writer Art Wilson appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News on December 14. In it, he chastises PETA for not offering money/help in the wake of the wildfire that killed 46 racehorses at San Luis Rey Downs earlier this month. I followed with a letter-to-the-editor; to date, I have heard nothing from the paper. So, I have reproduced my response here. It can be found after Wilson’s diatribe.


Like the rest of you, I’ve read with great interest over the years how much the animal rights group PETA cares about the welfare of our horses.

You know the drill. They’ve picketed outside Del Mar, claiming abuse of the horses. They’ve been very vocal in their distaste for horse racing.

So like many of you, I was curious to know how much PETA chipped in to help in the aftermath of last week’s San Luis Rey tragedy.

I sent emails to a couple of executives in the industry, Mike Willman of Santa Anita and Mac McBride, who’s been at Del Mar for a good number of years, to find out the extent of PETA’s involvement in the relief efforts.

Here’s what they told me:

“I have not heard about them donating a single penny,” Willman wrote.

I can’t share with you the rest of Willman’s email because this is a family newspaper.

McBride’s reply concerning PETA’s involvement?

“Nada. Zip. Zilch.”

Turns out, PETA did reach out to the industry in the days following the fire at San Luis Rey.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA, emailed the Southern California News Group with details about her organization’s actions following the tragedy.

Guillermo’s email reads, in part: “I was in touch with the Stronach Group, which owns San Luis Rey, on Dec. 8 and was assured they were on their way to assess the needs. I contacted Joe Harper at Del Mar on Dec. 11. Mr. Harper told me that there had been an outpouring of volunteers — more than 300 on the first day — and thousands of dollars in donations. I was thus assured that all needs were being taken care of.”

Santa Anita and Del Mar spearheaded an effort to raise much-needed money and supplies in the wake of the San Luis Rey nightmare. They started a gofundme page that, as of 1:55 p.m. Thursday, had raised more than $637,000.

But it’s still a fact that not one penny came from PETA, the self-described champion of animal rights, and no member of the group showed up to join other volunteers.

Yes, PETA made two phone calls. But while they were “in touch” with officials from Southern California’s two major race tracks, thousands of others were busy either donating money or actually on the grounds offering physical support.

Wilson went on to cite “heart-warming stories” of the industry stepping up, then closed with this: “It’s just an example of how much these horses are loved and cared for and how people were willing to risk their lives to save them.”

The column, the editor notes, “was updated and revised to reflect PETA’s comments.” The original, I note, repeated the word “crickets” several times – “crickets,” as in all attempts to reach PETA were met with a supposedly revealing silence.

And my retort:

Regarding the recent Art Wilson article on the San Luis Rey Downs fire that killed multiple racehorses: First, as a technical matter, Horseracing Wrongs, not PETA, is the preeminent anti-racing organization in the country – having compiled and published first-of-their-kind Killed in Action Lists, organized and staged historic protests at Saratoga Race Course and beyond, etc. Second, and more to the point, the mere suggestion that we or any other not-for-profit entity should be helping to bail out the multi-billion (that’s billion with a “b”) dollar racing industry or that that same rich industry would have the chutzpah to start a gofundme page is positively ludicrous. Worse, though, is Mr. Wilson’s complete evasion of this inconvenient truth:

Yes, wildfires injure and sometimes kill wild animals, but at least those free, autonomous beings have a fighting chance. Locked-up pieces of property do not. In a crisis situation, their lives are utterly dependent on the willingness (or ability) of humans to help. The fact is, if not for horseracing those 450-odd horses would not have been at that place, at that time; if not for horseracing, 46 of them would not now be dead. In short, horseracing owns these horrific deaths, just as it owns the thousands – yes, thousands – of horses who are maimed and killed on U.S. tracks every year and the thousands more who are brutally slaughtered once their earning-windows have closed. Sure, tragedies happen, but this one happened for $2 bets.

Upon further reflection, characterizing this article as ludicrous is far too kind. Mr. Wilson’s snarky (“crickets”) indictment of groups whose only mission it is to end animal suffering and his simultaneous celebration of an industry that only exists to exploit – and, by definition, cause suffering of – animals for personal gain, with an expectation that we should help fund their recovery, is, in a word, obscene. Obscene.

Patrick Battuello
Founder, President, Horseracing Wrongs

Since our founding in 2013, Horseracing Wrongs has traveled in one direction. But sure as day follows night, our growth – in followers, reach, media coverage – has engendered a proportional escalation of enmity from the other side. Precisely because we are not at all interested in compromise or reform – an admittedly extreme position – and wish Racing extinct, they hate us. And they’re desperate.

Backs against the wall, and in true Trumpian (a new adjective for our times) fashion, the racing apologists distract, deflect, deceive. Or just plain lie. Sometimes, this takes the form of simple ad hominem attacks (but I’ve grown increasingly thick-skinned and can take it). Other times, it is a twisting of my words – e.g., I equate “vanned off” with dead (I don’t, never have). And every so often, one of these people slithers out to proclaim – usually on a very public forum – that we have misreported a kill or that I have horses on my Killed lists who are very much alive. To which we respond: Identify a horse, any horse. Name one. Nothing, silence. But finding an error is not really their objective; sowing doubt, impugning my credibility/integrity is.

Recently, a well-known and respected insider took this whole charade to new heights. On her Facebook page, Kathryn Papp, Pennsylvania veterinarian, said this in regard to Horseracing Wrongs and my work:

“Can you [HW supporter] cite scientific published peer reviewed statistical data and analysis rather than unconfirmed, biased, non-scientifically designed information like horseracing wrongs? I understand and actually applaud patrick’s research, but have come across multiple wrongly reported deaths i know for a fact are not true. Nothing against them…but without someone knowledgable fact and number checking, you can not be sure of statistical and numerical truth or facts that they are posting.”

“Unconfirmed”? All my listed kills are fastidiously confirmed. Each and every one.

“Biased”? By definition, facts cannot be biased.

“Non-scientifically designed information”? Is a death certificate from a state racing commission not “scientific” enough? How about data from the industry-sanctioned Equibase charts? Stewards Minutes? Absurd.

“Someone knowledgable”? While not a vet, Ms. Papp, I can most assuredly read and comprehend words like “euthanized” and “collapsed and died.”

After our Joy Aten and Nicole Arciello challenged her, Papp replied: “I will look up the names of the horses i had recorded (the last time i was reading them closely was last year) and i came up with 3 or 4 horses who were listed as deceased but were actually with an adoption program or back with breeder or adoptive family. I will go back and pull them. I have them written down somewhere.” “Written down somewhere.” Then this: “It is just that last time i reviewed postings on horse racing wrongs…i have seen a few horses listed by them as ‘vanned off and can be considered as good as dead.'”

The words “vanned off and can be considered as good as dead” have never – I repeat, never – appeared on my website.

Finally, she presented “evidence” of a mistake: “van persie was not euthanized several days later.” Apparently, it was a couple weeks rather than the several days I recorded. Is this what is to pass for a “wrongly reported death”? If this were a court case, she’d be laughed from the room. Bottom line: Van Persie is dead from a racing injury. Does it really matter when the euthanasia came?

After some more back and forth, Papp apologized – sort of: “i apologize. I have reviewed your ‘confirmed’ lists and from what i know of the PA horses the updated lists verified via FOIA are correct. However, the initial reports on your blog and fb page strongly suggest most of the vanned off are dead or will be and that is not true. It was the inital reports from years ago already, in addition to the information on van persie this year, that were not accurate but the confirmed lists to my knowledge are.”

“Again, you may want to have unbiased knowledgable people review the reports. There was a horse listed who died of meningoencephalitis as you have listed that had nothing to do with racing nor did the pathologist completing the necropsy report sum findings up the way you did. I know because i euthanized burning point.”

Burning Point does not, nor has he ever, appeared on my Killed list. (Note: The Killed lists are and have always been reserved for track-related – racing or training – deaths.) He was, however, included in my 2016 Pennsylvania FOIA post where I reported all casualties from that state – track and otherwise. Here is my full entry for Burning Point: May 26, Penn, “lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalomyelitis with necrosis” (last raced April 23). Again, not on the KIA list. Period. Apparently, close reading, at least where my site is concerned, is not one of Ms. Papp’s strong suits.

Ultimately, we arrived at this: “The horses i was thinking of as ‘falsely reported as dead’ were listed before you put together the FOIA confirmed lists, back in 2014/2015. Since you have been requesting necropsy reports i have not seen any wrongly included and have looked through 2014-2016. I already posted above an apology that it was not your confirmed list that contained falsely deceased horses. …i completely agree with and applaud you regarding your FOIA listings.”

Within a single thread, Ms. Papp went from “multiple wrongly reported deaths i know for a fact are not true” and “3 or 4 horses who were listed as deceased but were actually…” to “i have not seen any wrongly included and have looked through 2014-2016” and “i completely agree with and applaud you regarding your FOIA listings.” (2014, by the way, is when I started the Kill lists, so when, exactly, was it that I was supposed to have falsely reported?)

Facts, as the great John Adams said, are stubborn things. Horseracing kills horses. That’s a fact. What I do here is provide overwhelming evidence – names, dates, locations. In this pursuit, I am unfailingly meticulous. (Truth is, I am constitutionally incapable of being anything but.) I am not infallible, but to this point – through four years and over 3,000 names – my lists are. That’s not a boast, just a fact.

105. That’s the number of protesters Horseracing Wrongs brought to Saratoga Race Course Saturday, Travers Day. It is, to my knowledge, the single largest protest ever held at a racetrack on the North American continent. Ever. And it probably breaks our own record – the 75-80 we’ve been taking to Saratoga weekly for the past two summers. It is a tremendous accomplishment, owing mostly to the extraordinary work of HW Vice President Nicole Arciello – our mobilizer-in-chief.

105. And here’s the thing, racing industry, this is but the beginning; we’re not going away. We’re smart, we’re organized, and we’re serious. We are Horseracing Wrongs.

With Derby Day tomorrow, I share this from one of our readers…

I will never forget the horse’s name who changed my view of horse racing forever. His name was “Mariano Intheninth.” He died 2 years ago. In the name of horse racing. I grew up in a family who is pretty fond of “going to the races,” so I have been around it my whole life. My dad even owned a couple racehorses when I was a kid. So I did not come to this conclusion lightly. Two years ago, I accompanied my family to the races. Pretty standard stuff. I probably went once every year or two with them. I had no idea that on this particular trip to Churchill, my opinion and life would be changed forever.

We had been there about an hour or so and I walked outside during one of the races to get a better view. As the horses were crossing the finish line, I noticed one stopped very abruptly and the little man on his back fell off onto the ground. The horse that had stopped was Mariano. As the other horses passed him, it became clear to me what the issue was. One of his front legs had completely snapped in half and was now dangling, held on by nothing more than the horse’s thin skin. I looked around and there were a few startled faces, but the vast majority just looked the other way or simply said to me “that’s just part of horse racing…it happens.” I knew right away that Mariano would be killed shortly after breaking his leg and that the races would continue on as if nothing happened. So I left, never to return.

Being the person I am, I will never accept “that’s just part of horse racing…it happens” as an excuse. So I immediately went looking for answers. I wanted to know WHY. There was something off about him breaking his leg. He didn’t trip. He didn’t fall. He didn’t run into any other horses. I know because I was standing RIGHT there. He was just a few feet away from me. He was just running. And then he wasn’t anymore.

I started doing research online about racehorses and broken bones (I will include links at the end of this article for all of you who want to doubt my research). I was shocked to find out that horse bones don’t even stop developing until the age of 7. Mariano was 3 (side note: ALL Derby horses are also 3). I learned that the average lifespan of a horse is 25-30 years and that most of the horses you see at the track are under 7 years old with underdeveloped bones. Over time, people have bred these horses to have big muscular bodies and thin legs making them very fast. But of course this means that their legs are more brittle in general. Many of them live very short lives due to racing. I also discovered that most (if not all) of these horses are given drugs that mask injury and pain, causing them to continue performing. Why would a trainer or owner do this? To get their money’s worth. In the case of Mariano, it is possible that he already had a leg injury but was given drugs and pushed to race anyway. It could also simply be because he was a young horse with brittle bones.

Those were just my first findings. And they were appalling to me. I kept searching and reading. I learned that there are thousands of these horses bred each year and only a few make it to the track and even fewer make it to Oaks or Derby level. What happens to the ones left over? Keep reading. I learned that the vast majority of horses not good enough to race, who do not make their owners money, who have a “washed up racing career,” and the ones who don’t end up dying on the track, end up at horse auctions. What is so bad about a horse auction? Kill Buyers. Kill Buyers frequent horse auctions. They buy left over or used-up horses (even beautiful healthy horses) and sell them into the slaughter industry in Canada, Europe and Japan.

The slaughter of horses is illegal in the US (but wasn’t just a few years ago), but that doesn’t make it illegal for Kill Buyers to buy US horses and ship them off to other countries to be slaughtered. This happens every single day. There have even been a few “precious KY Derby” winners who have slipped through the cracks. How could this happen? Well many times, once a successful racehorse is done racing they are sold to become a breeder horse in hopes that they will produce the next big winner – to produce more money. The breeding facilities are not always in the US. Look up the horse named Ferdinand. He was sold to a breeding farm in Japan after he won the KY Derby. He spent a few years on the farm breeding… but then was sent to slaughter.

These are all the things the horse racing industry doesn’t want you to know. They want you all to continue to bet, drink and to go to your “Derby Parties.” They don’t want anyone to see the pain that many of these beautiful horses suffer daily, and they certainly don’t want you to know that the horse racing industry and the horse slaughter industry are linked in any way. Of course, not ALL owners are bad. Not ALL trainers are bad. Not ALL horses end up dying on the track and they don’t ALL end up being slaughtered. But a LOT do. A whole lot. Sure, you may see the occasional happy story on TV around Derby time, where a retired horse gets to spend the rest of his or her days out on a ranch in the country. And that is wonderful. But it is NOT the norm. Too many horses are bred each year for that “happy ending” to even be possible for most of them. Of course, that is the best outcome for those lucky ones. And that is the image you will see on TV. You won’t see what happens to the rest of them.

Speaking of Derby time, there was a time when the curtain was very briefly drawn on the industry. Derby Day 2008, when the horse who came in 2nd crossed the finish line and then promptly snapped BOTH front legs and landed face first into the ground on national television. Her name was Eight Belles. This caused a bit of an uproar, but was soon forgotten. But hey, “that’s just part of horse racing…it happens,” right?

Some of you may find yourselves asking, when a horse breaks its leg, why do they get “put down” when it is possible in some cases to repair a broken leg in a horse? The answer is that it is cheaper for the owner to buy a new race horse than it is to heal a broken one. On top of that, once that leg has been broken, the horse will never race again. Meaning, no more money for the owner. That fact alone is proof that these horses are nothing more than “money making machines” to their owners. Once they are no longer of any value, they get sold. Some people may even like to call horse racing a “sport.” My response: In what sport does an athlete get “put down” after breaking a bone? In what sport does the athlete not have a CHOICE whether to “play” or not? A horse is not a consenting athlete. If he is, then please let me see his signed contract. Some people may also use the excuse that “horses love to run.” Yes, they do. They love to run on their own terms. Out in a field. Not whipped to go as fast as their thin legs will carry them and certainly not to the point that their legs break.

I could literally go on and on about this subject. But I will leave you with this. Next time you get invited to a Derby Party, or get invited to the track, please stop and really think about it. If you are an animal lover or you find yourself saying, wow those horses are beautiful, please just stop and think about THEM. For just a minute. They are the ones who suffer in all this. By saying, “well I’m just going for the music or the drinking or to be social,” you are still GOING. You are still participating. If you are not bothered by any of what you have just read, then by all means keep doing what you are doing. But if these facts DO bother you, please don’t look the other way. That’s the selfish and easy way out. Trust me. It was not easy researching all of this. It was not easy writing this. And it will NOT be easy for me to post this for all to see, as I will surely face ridicule. But I truly love animals. ALL animals. And I am honored to be a voice for them. Even if it is a small one here in “Derby City.”

I hope that if nothing else, I have opened the eyes of at least ONE person. I am just ONE person too, after all, and that’s where change begins.

– Meghan Julius, May 2017