We and our work were featured in a recent Journal News (USA Today Network) piece on the killing at Belmont (53 dead horses last year) and beyond. (The article is on the paper’s subscription-only page, but here is a pdf: Belmont Article.) To clarify, when I say our work I simply mean exposing the truth – reporting the facts. As is its wont, when confronted with these facts the New York Racing Association dissembles, distracts, deflects, and deceives. Like no one else. The article opens:

“Last year was the first in the decade since 2010 that the death toll topped 50 at the Elmont, Long Island, park, best known for hosting the Belmont Stakes. And 2020’s total was seven more than the number of horses that died at Belmont in 2019 – even though COVID-19 stopped racing for over two months last year.”

Racing down, killing up. So how did NYRA respond? Spokesman Patrick McKenna: “This was an unprecedented interruption and we are still analyzing the full scope of its impact, especially as it relates to younger horses.” More horses were killed – because of covid. Now that is really getting creative.

Later, whipping is broached. As the Gaming Commission considers rules changes, McKenna makes clear NYRA will not support a ban, saying: “Skilled and experienced riders do utilize the crop as a primary mode of communication in training and competition, and any new rule should acknowledge that reality in a way that protects riders and preserves the integrity of the sport.”

The whip as “a primary mode of communication”? Why yes, but certainly not in the way McKenna means. Not that this should be necessary, but here is Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board and no one’s definition of anti-racing, explaining how that “communication” works: “There are those who argue that whipping doesn’t hurt horses, but that’s nonsense, and we all know that. Whips are noxious stimuli; they hurt, that’s why they’re used. Run fast or I’ll hit you again.” Which, of course, is something only the ignorant or mendacious would deny.

The News followed with an update Tuesday. Belmont, the paper explains, actually killed more than what was originally reported, as one horse was “temporarily left off” the Commission database. (This, by the way, came from me, as I tipped the writer, Mark Lungariello, that Blackjack appeared then disappeared back in October; told that I had independently confirmed the death, he then pressed the Commission.) And while this latest piece notes that “the number of deaths at all three NYRA tracks combined also hit a 10-year high in 2020,” it still gives McKenna and NYRA the last (specious) word: “As always, NYRA continuously evaluates all aspects of the operation to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for training and racing; [the health and welfare of the horses] stands above all other considerations.”

Look, I get why the racing people say what they say. To paraphrase an old legal adage, when the facts are bad – your (gambling) business kills innocent animals as a matter of course – pound the table and yell like hell (dissemble, distract, deceive). But I’ve grown quite weary of the coverage racing receives. Because of our work, the truth is there for all to see, yet the media – with a few notable exceptions – continues to give this industry the benefit of the doubt, allowing the slick and polished Patrick McKennas of the racing world to, for the most part, control the narrative. Well, enough. It’s high time the media starts calling horseracing what it is: animal exploitation, animal cruelty, animal killing – not a whit different than its cousin, dogracing, which has been outright prohibited on moral grounds in 41 states. It is absolutely bewildering to me how this is not crystal clear and, more to the point, why it is not reported as such.

The website for “The Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens” in Pine Mountain, Georgia, boasted the following in advance of this year’s running on November 7: “Each November, magnificent champion thoroughbred horses gather on the Callaway grounds to charge through our stunning woodland setting. Thrilling jumps and deft maneuvers will leave you breathless, while the foxhound parade will put a smile on your face. On Saturday, savor a picnic on the infield, show off a traditional race hat, and soak in the festive hunt club atmosphere.”

In this “festive atmosphere,” says the Stewards’ Report, two of those “magnificent champion thoroughbred horses” were killed. Killed. In the 4th race, Zanzi Win, five, “fell at the next to last hurdle, was not able to get up, and was euthanized on the course.” Very next race, Just a Whim, four, “fell at the last fence, did not get up and was euthanized on the course.” Two dead horses right there on the course in back to back races. Still, the stewards closed with this:

“The race committee is to be congratulated on their efforts to put on the race meet and putting in place all the procedures and safeguards to enable patrons to attend in a safe environment. The turf on the racecourse was in excellent condition and the clerk of the course is to be congratulated on providing lush turf.”

Wow.

As to those “patrons” – why were they even there in the midst of a raging pandemic? – let me just say this: Shaming, the experts admonish, is an ineffective way to modify other people’s behavior. Worse, we’re told, it likely deepens divides, more firmly entrenching positions. But sorry, with the wicked steeplechase I can think of no other word but shame. If you’ve never been but are considering, there’s no excuse: information on steeplechase cruelty is readily available. If you have, you know first hand that horses fall and are injured regularly at these events – in addition to the two dead, six other horses went down at Callaway, one colliding with Zanzi – and you must know that some die (as mentioned, the two above were euthanized where they lay). Which means you consciously prioritize your own fleeting pleasure over the suffering and death of other sentient beings. For shame. For shame.

First, the facts:

Holding Aces was born (made) on April 4, 2012. His first race came in September 2015. He “won,” earning $22,920 for his first set of “connections,” trainer Wayne Catalano and owners Gary and Mary West. Four more races followed for this team and then Jason Servis (yes, that Jason Servis) came on as trainer for two races. He was then sold by the Wests. In all, they (and the two trainers) banked $41,680 on Holding.

Holding, as a “yearling”:

On December 17, 2016, Holding was raced for the first time by trainer Domenick Schettino and an ownership group led by Salvatore Como. He finished 2nd, winning $6,800 for his people. Prior to that race, however, he was sold again – new trainer, Chris Englehart; new owner, Island Wind Racing; 12 races followed, with Holding earning $69,540 for them. Then, sold again.

On March 31, 2018, Holding finished 1st in his first race under trainer Randi Persaud (yes, that Randi Persaud) and owner Guyana Rocky LLC – payday, $33,000. In August, a new trainer, Otis Henry. A few races later, it was back to Persaud. At this point, Holding was consistently finishing far back, but because he was being raced at racino tracks, he was still bringing in cash. In December, Guyana changes trainers again. Enter Joey Martinez. This is the pairing that would have Holding till the end.

On April 11, 2019, Holding finished 6th, almost 18 lengths back in a cheap “claiming” race (“For Sale” at $4,000 prior to). It was to be his final race. Adding the $54,070 for Guyana (and their three trainers), Holding grossed $172,090 for the various human beings who had used him. You would think he had earned a peaceful retirement ambling about in an open pasture. Alas, not from these people, not from this industry.

In September – just five months after his final race – Holding Aces was found in a kill pen. Yes, this “athlete,” so recently cheered and celebrated by “connections” and “fans” alike, was headed to equine hell – the slaughterhouse. Here was his condition…

Holding was rescued from that pen. One report said this: “His feet were rotted [and] three were abscessing badly,” and he had “advanced laminitis” (perhaps the most painful equine affliction there is). And now, if you dare, imagine that this animal, in this state, was to be shipped (a horror unto itself), shot, shackled, hung upside down, slashed, bled out, and butchered. Regrettably, less than two weeks after rescue, Holding was euthanized, his unfathomable suffering at last at an end.

Horses are, of course, fully sentient beings – intelligent, aware, sensitive, loving, affectionate, the capacity (and desire) for pleasure, the capacity for (and aversion to) pain. To do what these people – including all of the named herein, and, of course, whoever dumped him at auction and left him to waste away in unspeakable terror and agony thereafter – did to this poor, poor soul is nothing short of evil. Evil.

Born in February 2000, G. W.’s Skippie was raced 17 times, earning over $123,000 for owner Glen Warren and trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. On September 26, 2004, he was injured in a race at Louisiana Downs. “Career” – at least on the track – over. Who Warren sold him to is unclear, but eventually he landed at Clear Creek Stud in 2005. And thus began Skippie’s second round of industry servitude, the breeding shed.

Clear Creek bred Skippie until 2016, whereupon they sold him to Randall and Jarett Wolfe. Flash forward to an article last month in the Thoroughbred Daily News. In relaying results from the “Ocala Breeders’ Breeze Show,” the TDN mentioned “the late Arkansas-based stallion G.W.’s Skippie” and quoted Randall Wolfe: “My son got G.W.’s Skippie from Clear Oak Stallions [sic] back in Fulsom [sic], Louisiana. G.W.’s Skippie hurt his knee in his last race and that finished him up. He is the only stallion we have had and, unfortunately, he passed about a week ago.” Wolfe added: “He was a very, very nice horse. He had a good mind and he put that into his babies too.”

To say that Skippie’s “passing” is among the worst we have presented on these pages would be an understatement. The “very, very nice horse” in the throes of death (warning: this video, which surfaced on social media, is extremely difficult to watch):


At death, Skippie was owned by Brittany Winans, who had acquired him directly from the Wolfes. Our Joy Aten was able to secure Randall Wolfe’s number from the Arkansas Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Horsemen’s Association (more on them in a moment). Joy spoke to Randall on July 14. He confirmed the handoff: “He was getting old so we gave him to this girl – she was going to breed him to a few of her mares.” Asked when, he replied, “two or three years ago.” Curiously, though, Skippie bred thrice in 2019 – and the Wolfes are the last recorded owners/breeders. So it appears the Wolfes had him through last year and probably “gave him” to Winans this spring.

In any event, the Wolfes were aware of at least some of the goings-on at Winans’. Wolfe told Joy: “[Skippie] got caught up in a fence and cut his leg up pretty bad.” Also: “He got into a pond and couldn’t get out by himself.”


When asked if he knew how emaciated Skippie was, how he could not even rise on his own, Wolfe said: “Some of these people don’t know how to feed TBs – you can’t just give them a handful of feed.” He then said he was told Skippie was in bad shape and was “put down” (“put down,” it turns out, by a shot to the head).

As for the Arkansas Horsemen’s Association, after first casting doubt that the horse in the video was Skippie (it is), they have decided to not press for Winans’ prosecution. A followup call (to ask the same) to Randall Wolfe has thus far gone unanswered.

Brittany Winans? I don’t imagine you’ll need much help from me conjuring adjectives. I’ll simply say this: What she did – torturing (or allowing the torturing of) another sentient being to death – is evil. Evil. In the final analysis, however, this is but another story of the racing-refuse pipeline: The Wolfes, instead of caring for Skippie for the remainder of his days after he had fattened their bank accounts, dumped him off to whomever; and dumping him off to whomever is no different than delivering him directly to the slaughterhouse gates. In other words, Mr. and Mr. Wolfe, Skippie’s withered insides are all over your greedy, little hands.

But as uncomfortable as this may be for some, there’s a larger truth at play here: We cannot protect horses (dogs, cats, etc.) from being tortured to death when anyone can acquire horses, and when there exists no serious deterrent to torturing them. Anyone can acquire horses because horses are things to acquire, and there is no serious deterrent because serious deterrents are reserved for violations of others’ rights. Horses are not “others”; they have no rights. Vicious circle defined.

What’s more, horses are chattel of the lowest order – manufactured, traded, used, and trashed purely on a human’s whim. There are no agencies regulating their titles, no safety nets monitoring their care. And if found abused, the victims of “animal cruelty” as defined by the law, there are no prosecutorial crusades initiated on their behalf or sentencing messages from the bench. There is no justice, not even a pretense to justice, because there is no will within society – not at the legislative level, not at the enforcement level, not at the judicial level, and most important, not at the public level – to (seriously) punish property owners for committing wrongs against their property. In the end, as long as we own them, there is nothing we can do to stop the cruelty, at least not in any meaningful way. Still, we can go a long way toward ending much of this horror (and make no mistake, there are thousands of Skippies out there) by ending the nation’s largest producer of equine products – horseracing.

A racehorse’s life…

Scherer Magic was made on May 1, 2010, in Iowa by breeder Joe Robson. He was first raced way back in June 2012 at Hollywood Park in California. His trainer was Craig Dollase, with Robson still owning. Even before he had completed that first race, he was “For Sale,” for $50,000. And indeed he was “claimed” – bought – by Gary and Cecil Barber and trainer John Sadler. Three “stakes” races followed, highlighted by a Grade 1 – the highest kind there is – at Del Mar on September 5 of that year.

Prior to a race on May 23, 2013, Scherer was back up “For Sale,” this time for $80,000. No takers. On December 14 of that year, he was shipped east, some 3,000 miles to Aqueduct in NYC, and raced under a new trainer, David Jacobson. Prior to another race – just eight days later – he was sold again, for $50,000. (Including that race, he made over $200,000 for the Barbers.)

On January 1, 2014, Scherer was raced for the first time under trainer Mitchell Friedman and owner Sunny Meadow Farm. Between January and April, he was sold again, and shipped to Iowa, a thousand miles away. New owners, JT & B Racing and Lester Wright; new trainer, H. Ray Ashford Jr. Nine races at Prairie Meadows followed. Then, shipped another thousand miles to Zia in New Mexico. Three races in that state, then back up to Iowa. Four races at Prairie – then back down to New Mexico.

For sale (by Wright) prior to a race in January ’17, Scherer’s market value had dropped to $20,000. Two weeks later, he was on the block for $12,500. On April 15 of that year, his tag fell to $6,250. In that race, a new owner was listed, Karon Ashford. In May, it was back to Iowa – and yet another new owner, Arden Hawkins. Prior to his next race, sold again – owner, End Zone Athletics; trainer, Karl Broberg.

This new pairing raced Scherer just six days later: “stumbled badly, DNF.” Prior to that race, sold again: new owner, Danny Caldwell; new trainer, Federico Villafranco. A few races after that, he was shipped to Remington Park in Oklahoma – yet another 1,000-mile trek. Two races there, back to Iowa – and a new owner, Martin Villafranco. On August 11, 2018, prior to what would be (to date) his final race at Prairie, he was sold yet again, to Charles Garvey, with Robertino Diodoro as the new trainer.

Garvey/Diodoro promptly trucked Scherer to Minnesota’s Canterbury Park, this trip a mere 250 miles. Raced once there, on September 14, his next stop was Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois, 430 miles away. But at some point in between, he was, of course, sold again; when he was raced at Hawthorne October 17, his owners were Patrick Sullivan and Zachary Roush, his trainer Ray Tracy Jr.

Then, down to Louisiana – yes, a thousand miles away – to be raced at Delta Downs. Oh, and once arrived, another new trainer: Tanner Tracy. In that race, Scherer finished second-to-last, 17 lengths back. At this point, the now-eight-year-old was worth, according to the racing people, just $4,000. Scherer Magic then disappeared from the charts for over six months before resurfacing in a Quarterhorse race (to this point, all his races were Thoroughbred) at Chippewa Downs on June 29 of last year. And, obviously, from Louisiana to North Dakota is a long ways – over 1,500 miles. His owner/trainer for that race, in which Scherer finished last, was Perry Cavanaugh.

Which brings us to the present. Saturday evening, after an over-one-year absence, Scherer Magic was put to the whip in the 10th race at the North Dakota Horse Park. The miscreant Cavanaugh still holds the title but, surprise, had the now-10-year-old Scherer “For Sale” at the bottom-of-the-barrel price of $2,500 prior to.

All told, Scherer Magic has:

been owned by at least 12 different men/teams (and been “For Sale” dozens of times)

been trained by at least 11 different men

been raced at 13 different tracks in 9 different states

been forced to endure thousands of miles in (inherently) stressful transport

languished (when not on a truck) in tiny stalls – alone – day after lifeless day

absorbed countless whip lashes

been injected with myriad substances

And, apparently, they’re not done with him yet. I can think of no better illustration of the racehorse-as-thing than the life – existence, really – of this poor, pitiful soul. Imagine you as Scherer Magic. How profoundly sad.

Scherer