From the Les Bois Park website:

Dear Les Bois Park Fans,

As you may be aware, we will be closing our Turf Club Bar & Grill and Simulcast Facility, effective end of day on Sunday, March 20th. After being granted the simulcast license in December, Treasure Valley Racing kept simulcast operations going in order to mitigate the overhead costs of keeping Les Bois Park open during this time when the future of live racing remained uncertain and the horsemen were pursuing a solution. But the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee has elected not to hear the Idaho Horsemen’s gaming commission bill this session. In the absence of another revenue source, we don’t believe running Les Bois Park is financially viable and therefore are closing down all operations.

(That “another revenue source” they seek is actually one they previously had – “instant gaming machines.” The legislature, however, feeling they were duped by the racing people, took the machines out after rightly determining that they were, for all intents and purposes, slots; slot machines are illegal in Idaho. So it does not appear that the gift – the subsidy – is coming back.)

images (5)

Good news, indeed. But as sure as night follows day, the horse people ever refuse to go quietly. It’s the same old, tired script: Start by claiming victimhood at the hands of an unjust state; underscore the prospect of wrecked economies should Racing be allowed to fail; sprinkle in a healthy dose of racing-as-an-irreplaceable “tradition”; and finally, demand redress from – to be saved by – that state. In a Messenger Index opinion piece penned by horse owner Ed McNelis, the fatuity flows freely:

“Legislation was passed in 1964 that allowed pari-mutual [sic] wagering at tracks in Idaho. This was passed to help grow the horse industry in Idaho. The state lottery was approved and eroded the funding from the horse industry due to its wide spread access and convenient delivery system. The legislature’s goal of enhancing the horse industry and local economies was greatly diminished when they put the STATE in the gaming business. They never took steps to fix what they had broken when they took away the funding from the horse industry by passing the lottery.

All this is further compounded by the passage of Indian Gaming which took away even more funding from the horse industry and the small communities where it resides. The voice of the horse industry became weaker as the STATE lottery and Indian Gaming got stronger and took away the funding generated by wagering on horses. The Legislature had put themselves in direct competition with the very industry they had set out to help grow and prosper.”

Well. For decades, Racing enjoyed a virtual monopoly on legal gambling; all was right with the world. Then, alas, the market was opened – competition, the cornerstone of our capitalist society – and Racing paled against the more attractive products (an attraction enhanced, as McNelis freely admits, by “[a] convenient delivery system”).

More egregious, though, is McNelis’ slick (or is it ignorant?) substitution of the word “funding” for revenue (he does this four times in two short paragraphs). In point of fact, that shifting revenue is simply the gambling dollar going elsewhere – “taken away,” as it were, not by the big, bad state, but by the consumer, the buying public.

He continues:

“The horse industry is part of agriculture – the number one industry in our state. It generates over a billion six hundred thousand dollars in economic value to the state’s economy each year and has huge potential. Most of this goes to small communities where it is greatly needed. Small communities are always under economic pressures and need funds for their fair grounds and youth programs.”

First, again being crafty, McNelis makes it seem like the horse industry, as opposed to agriculture in the whole, generates “over a billion six hundred thousand dollars in economic value.” Second, and more important, of what relevance is “economic value” when the industry in question is moribund? If the “horse industry” is no longer viable, it should not fall to government to provide life support. Perhaps if this were 2008 and the teetering industry was banking…but it’s not. It’s horseracing. Enough said.

But even more shameful than assuming the victim role or economic scaremongering is conflating the “horse industry” – that is, the whip-forced racing of horses for $2 bets – with history, tradition, nature, and, yes, the future of our youth…

“Urbanization further drowned out the voice of small communities and agriculture of which the horse industry is a part. History was forgotten. Facilities and youth programs came under severe pressure as funding disappeared when the STATE lottery and Indian gaming eroded income that had gone to the horse industry.

While Idaho is becoming more urban it is a very desirable place to live because of the outdoors and life style. Each day facilities like our fair grounds get more depleted. Our huge army of volunteer leaders who make our youth into solid citizens through 4H and other programs cannot find funding… The disappearance of these programs, leaders and young people who grow and blossom as a result is a huge and critical loss to our state. …Youth are a primary recipient of benefits generated by the horse industry. …Where can we better invest our money?

The horse industry in our state is a vital industry and part of our history, lifestyle and the very fabric of our communities.” (McNelis’ entire article here.)

Idahoans, don’t fall for it. Racing is not, nor has it ever been, something special. It is a vile gambling business that kills – either on the track or in the slaughterhousethousands of horses annually. And judging by the empty stands and idle windows, not one you want or need any longer. The time has come. Let it die.

images (4)

Last week, The Jockey Club gleefully boasted of progress on the “breakdown” front: “An analysis of data from the Equine Injury Database…has shown a 14 percent decrease in the frequency of fatal injury…from 1.89 per 1,000 starts in 2014 to 1.62 per 1,000 starts in 2015…the lowest since the EID started publishing…in 2009.”

Well – time to deconstruct the oft-cited, much ballyhooed “Equine Injury Database”…

To start, the wording is (intentionally, I have to believe) misleading: Presented as deaths per 1,000 starts, it reads, at least to the untrained eye, deaths per 1,000 horses. But the typical racehorse logs many starts (up to 25) each year, making the death rate per 1,000 horses much higher – certainly not one they’d want to publicize.

The database is completely voluntary: While many tracks participate, some do not. Besides that, no third party – not the JC, not a government agency, no one – verifies the submitted data. At the risk of stating the obvious, dead horses are bad for business. So, not only is there no compelling reason for tracks (trainers, owners, etc.) to give a complete reckoning, there is a vested interest to not. Self-reporting – an honor system – the casualties that they are directly responsible for? Please.

The database is anonymous: No names, no dates, (mostly) no locations. Not only does this make it impossible for someone like me to cross-confirm, it keeps the names and faces of the dead safely secreted away. Messy carcasses converted to sterile ratios.

The database has acknowledged restrictions: Only those who perish “as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race” are counted. In other words, the 3-year-old (an adolescent, by the way) who keels and dies of what is commonly dismissed as a “cardiac event” is excluded, not to mention all training deaths, which are at least as common as those occurring in-race. And, the death must come “within 72 hours of [the] race,” leaving the many who are euthanized back at the farm, post unsuccessful surgery, or after being acquired by a rescue unaccounted for. More hidden carnage.

In the end, The Jockey Club is American Thoroughbred racing, impossible to separate from the other interested parties. How can anything it says regarding the more unseemly aspects (dead horses) of its own industry be taken seriously? Truth is, the “Equine Injury Database” is but a marketing tool, created in the wake of Eight Belles and all the bad press that ensued, existing solely to quell an increasingly unsettled public with an empty promise of “we’re on this, we care.” They’re not and they don’t.

horse-fall-Fergus-McIver-died-Aug11-credit-horseracingkills.com_-300x199

Blood-Horse reports that “Grade I winner Somali Lemonade [below] died Jan. 23 from complications of foaling.” The foal (her first) also died. The 6-year-old was whip-raced 24 times (most recently October ’14) before being turned into a reproduction machine. Her death, of course, qualifies as news (only) because Somali was a million-dollar earner with multiple graded-stakes wins; her owner, of course, grieves (she’s “devastated,” says the article) for the lucrative assets that will never come to be.

z_b1894afb_thumb

There is, of course, practically zero accountability in the racing world: A horse who shatters his leg while heading for home is said to have “taken a bad step”; a horse who snaps his neck after colliding with another is called the victim of an unfortunate accident (though sometimes, “the cause of his own trouble”); the collapse and sudden death of a horse shortly after the wire gets quickly buried in the never-to-be-explained “cardiac event” file; a tortuous colic-death is easily dismissed as nature’s cold caprice. Flukes, all – “could happen anywhere.”

220px-pferdeauge3

So with this as a backdrop, it is hardly surprising that no one within, and few outside of, the industry accepts/assigns blame for the death of an active stud-horse. But we will here. Tuesday, Blood-Horse reported that “well-bred California stallion Sought After, the sire of grade I winner Masochistic, was euthanized…after developing laminitis in both front feet.” (This being Blood-Horse, the article focused on the relative financial successes of his “crops.”) Sought After was 15, which while sounding advanced, is actually about middle-aged in a natural life cycle.

Let’s be clear on this: To Racing, Sought After was but a tool, a means of production. They created him so that he in turn could create others (some of whom undoubtedly shattered legs and snapped necks). They enslaved him. They used him. They killed him. And they did so without once putting him on a racetrack.