$1,225,000. That’s what a filly relative of Barbaro and AP Indy fetched at the Saratoga Sale of Selected Yearlings this past Monday and Tuesday. All seemed happy with the final numbers: 108 horses sold for a cumulative total of $31.87 million. For those keeping track, a little over $295,000 a horse, or the price of a nice home in Loudonville. Wow. Even better for the horse people, the “buyback rate” (horses left unsold) was 21%, down from 2012’s 34%. According to house president Boyd Browning Jr, we have “a healthy marketplace.”

The Thoroughbred (cattle) auction is the modern day equivalent of the slave block, you know, the kind where strapping bucks and pretty wenches were gathered and traded in the center of town. Here, an interjection is necessary: As it’s a good bet that virtually every animal activist on the planet would have also embraced 19th Century abolitionism, no need to apologize for the parallel. If it looks like a slave, sounds like a slave, and acts like a slave, then a slave it is. That said, the racehorse buyer can’t even claim economic survival; he subjugates for fun. Think of the good that could have come from the obscene amounts expended this week on Thoroughbreds. On an elitist hobby. They should be ashamed. I know they are not.


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Imagine a world without horseracing. Imagine the racehorse as extinct. No whips, no dope, no snapped sesamoids, no slashed carotids, and…no stables (where, as an aside, horses are kept penned and isolated for the vast majority of their day). If, then this would never have happened. Yes, horseracing, the blaze that engulfed and destroyed 19 beautiful, helpless innocents at a barn (sans sprinkler system, of course) near Louisiana Downs Thursday afternoon is on you.

So regardless of what investigators find, it’s really as if those 19 horses died while racing or in a slaughterhouse. They needn’t have been there. They shouldn’t have been there. Imagine the sheer terror those trapped – literally and figuratively – horses must have felt. What happened at River Point Stables is tragic, but the greater tragedy is the industry that made it possible.

This summer, Saratoga Race Course marks its 150th anniversary. Proudly billing itself the oldest sporting venue in the country, the august track, and indeed the entire region, is waxing nostalgic and celebrating the racing elite who trod (trotted) over those hallowed grounds. It is, in fact, a well-crafted illusion of the grandest order, for in no other “sport” are the athletes condemned to a life as chattel, mere things to be used, abused, and trashed whenever and however an owner decides. Sure, there are worse things we do to animals but never for a more frivolous reason than the gambling at horseracing’s core.

So while experimentation or fur is perhaps more cruel, horseracing – from separating foals and moms, to racing young adolescents, to whipping, to doping, to buying and selling, to patching with nuts and bolts, to horrible falls, to deaths on the playing field, to running them till their bodies have nothing left to give, to auctions, to slaughter – is cruel nonetheless.

Last year, 16 Thoroughbreds died at Saratoga Race Course; from 2009-2012, 51 perished in the pursuit of purse money. Countless more, of course, were injured, and how many of the briefly feted ended up being shot, shackled, hoisted, slashed, exsanguinated, and butchered over the past 15 decades, we’ll never know. What matters, though, is not an exact reckoning of the suffering and death, but rather that it happens at all. This is 2013, gamble to your heart’s content on inanimate slots and scratchoffs; leave the horses out of it. They’ve (been) sacrificed enough.

There is perhaps no better example of Saratoga (Race Course, that is) ostentation than that annual bit of track pageantry, the “Saratoga Hat Contest.” But beyond the folly lies a serious issue. While the participants, judges, and media see good, clean (and family, in some cases) fun, horse advocates see a lost opportunity to be accountable.

Instead of squandering money on fatuous headwear, the hat people, who are likely bettors too, could have instead donated their money to any number of Thoroughbred rescues desperately trying to save erstwhile “athletes” from cruel ends. It would seem, as supporters of horseracing, that this is the least they could (can) do. Hat contests are not just harmless marketing campaigns; a $2 bet is more than a mere guilty pleasure. There are dire consequences for the equine entertainers.

the ridiculous in all their splendor