Not that anyone reading should need it, but here is further motivation to sign and share this petition to shutter Camarero in Puerto Rico. Yes, it is graphic – practically unwatchable. If you do, however, get to the end, I’d be curious to know whether you have the same bad thoughts as I toward the people just milling about as this horse suffers and dies. How humans lose their way – their (innate) compassion, their hearts, nay, their souls – is one for the psychologists and sociologists. (While I do know that this death occurred at Camarero, I cannot, unfortunately, provide any other details.)

While it may be hard to believe, the North Carolina legislature is actually considering a bill – the “North Carolina Derby Act” – that would introduce Thoroughbred racing to that state. (There are steeplechases in NC; one, Charlotte, recently recorded a kill.) Yes, that’s right, some tone-deaf politicians aim to bring a cruel, increasingly moribund industry to the great state of North Carolina. And so the battle is joined.

After reading a favorable board editorial in the News & Record, North Carolina’s third largest paper, I submitted my own, focusing, of course, on the cruelty and death. It was accepted and published today. I thank the editors for this wonderful opportunity to educate. (While the full text appears below, please clink on the link – again, here – to show our support for the paper.)

As the General Assembly considers whether to legalize horseracing in North Carolina, it is crucial that citizens and legislators be presented with all the information, starting with the fact that this proposal is about 70 years too late.

While there was a time when horseracing was popular, those days are long gone. The “Foal Crop” – the number of new Thoroughbreds entering the system each year – is about half of what it was just 30 years ago. All other metrics – racedays, races, field sizes, and, yes, attendance and handle (amount wagered) – are also down.

Demographically, things could not be worse: the typical horseplayer (regular bettor) is a middle-aged man; the younger generations are simply not interested. The reason for this is twofold: changing sensibilities, which we’ll get to later, and, of course, competition for the gambling dollar – lotteries, casinos, and now sports (real ones, that is) betting. And the effect has been devastating: Since 2000, 39 U.S. racetracks have been shuttered; only one new one has opened – and that only because it is being heavily subsidized by the state. In fact, the bulk of the American horseracing industry subsists entirely on corporate welfare, with wealthy owners pocketing public funds that should be going to general-good issues like education and infrastructure.

But equally if not more important is the moral aspect to all this. Self-serving, romantic rhetoric aside, stripped to its core horseracing is ugly and mean and cruel:

The typical racehorse is torn from his mother as a mere babe, thrust into intensive training at 18 months – years before his body is fully developed – and first raced at two, the rough equivalent of a first-grader. From there, the incessant grinding – again, on an unformed skeleton – begins, because if he’s not racing, he’s not earning. He is pumped, legally and otherwise, with myriad performance-enhancing, injury-masking, and pain-numbing chemicals. He is confined (alone, in a tiny stall for over 23 hours a day), commodified (lip tattoos, auctions, “claiming races”), controlled (cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, blinkers), and cowed (bits and whips). And quite often, killed.

Through FOIA, Horseracing Wrongs has documented over 7,000 deaths at U.S. tracks just since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. Cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma, broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments, shattered legs. Over 2,000. Every year. In addition, hundreds more die back in their stalls from things like colic, laminitis, or, simply, “found dead in the morning.” And to be clear, this is not just a “cheap track” problem: Saratoga, which bills itself the “oldest sporting venue in the nation,” averages 15 dead a summer. Santa Anita, another elite track, has averaged 50 kills annually since 2007. And at Churchill Downs, home of America’s most celebrated race, the Kentucky Derby, 86 horses have perished over the past four years.

Then, too, slaughter. Two separate studies indicate that most – some 10,000-20,000 annually – spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are mercilessly bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end. In truth, horseracing needs slaughter. In 2019, HorseRace Insider, a pro-racing publication, admitted the following: “The Jockey Club will not support a slaughter-free industry because it will cost $120 million per year to fund the care of the 20,000+ horses bred each year.” Again, The Jockey Club, Racing’s most prominent and powerful organization, will not support a slaughter-free industry – and for proof we need look no further than its refusal to endorse the SAFE Act, a bill that would prohibit the slaughter of American horses – because of cost. Imagine that.

As mentioned at the top, sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially regarding entertainment, are rapidly evolving. In just the past few years:

– Ringling Bros. has closed its doors for good, ending over a century of animal abuse.

– SeaWorld, after being exposed by the film Blackfish, has ended the captive-breeding of orcas and remains in slow, steady decline.

– There are rodeo bans in cities as diverse as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Petersburg, and Fort Wayne.

– Both New York and Illinois have outlawed the use of elephants in any form of entertainment; New Jersey, Hawaii, and California have forbidden all wild-animal acts.

– And most relevant to the issue at hand, after the historic (and overwhelming) referendum vote in Florida in 2018, dogracing in America is all but dead. In fact, dogracing is outright prohibited on moral grounds in 41 of our 50 states.

Clearly, the winds of change are blowing in one direction. And despite its desperate marketing – “tradition,” “beauty,” “The Sport of Kings” – horseracing will not be spared. Indeed, in just the past year, two of the nation’s most influential papers – The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer – have called for racing’s outright end.

So, this is no time to look back, North Carolina. Horseracing in 2021 is an economic nonstarter. But of far more import, it is simply wrong. North Carolinians are known for their warmth, kindness, and generosity. We are only asking that that be extended to these intelligent, sensitive creatures. Please say no to horseracing.

Today, we launched our latest petition on change.org; the goal: end the subsidies that are keeping Pennsylvania horseracing alive and killing horses. Please sign here.

End the Subsidized Abuse and Killing of Horses in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s horseracing industry receives almost $250 million in corporate welfare every yearover $3 billion since the subsidies began in 2005. It is far and away the most subsidized industry in PA. And this for a business that, as measured by demand (wagers, attendance), has been in steep decline for decades. What’s worse, this massive taxpayer bailout of a decidedly nonessential industry – there are roughly 10,000 racing jobs in an overall state workforce of six million – has all come at the expense of public education – our children and young adults. To help put this in proper perspective, the per horse subsidy is nearly three times the per student subsidy (for those in the State System of Higher Education).

There is, of course, another cost to all this – one measured in lives. Since 2010, more than 1,400 horses have died at the state’s three flat tracks; more, still, have perished at the three harness tracks. In fact, in 2019, Parx led the country in kills with 59. Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs has documented over 7,000 deaths at U.S. tracks just since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year – with hundreds more dying in their stalls. As if not enough, most – some 10,000-20,000 annually – spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are mercilessly slaughtered at career’s end. Yes, slaughtered.

Still, the killing is but a part of the story. There is, too, the everyday abuse. To wit:

Grinding of Unformed Bodies: Young, would-be racehorses are thrust into intensive training at 18 months – years before their bodies are fully developed. On the maturation chart, these equine babes are the rough equivalent of kindergartners.

Confinement and Isolation: Racehorses, innately social and herd-oriented, are kept locked – alone – in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day. Cruelty, defined.

Negation: Practically all the horse’s natural instincts and desires are thwarted, creating an emotional and mental suffering that is brought home with crystal clarity in the stereotypies commonly seen in confined racehorses – cribbing, bobbing, weaving, pacing, digging, kicking, even self-mutilation.

Control and Subjugation: Horseracing is lip tattoos, nose chains, lip chains, blinkers, tongue ties, cribbing collars, mouth bits, and, of course, whips.

Drugging and Doping: Racehorses are incessantly injected, legally and otherwise, with myriad performance-enhancing, injury-masking, and pain-numbing chemicals.

Commodification: By law, racehorses are literal chattel. They are ever being bought, sold, traded, and dumped – a stressful, tenuous existence that in and of itself causes pain. In fact, studies show that up to 90% of racehorses suffer from chronic ulcers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Editorial Board has thrice condemned the subsidies keeping horseracing afloat, and most recently called for racing “to be put out of its misery.” Governor Wolf has proposed redirecting some 200 million of those annual subsidy dollars to fund college scholarships for 44,000 students. In other words, the time to act is now. While we would love to see a day when horseracing is banned – like dogracing, which has been outlawed in 41 states – for now we are simply asking that the subsidies stop. This eminently just, long overdue measure would be a win-win for Pennsylvania: good for our children, good for our horses.

Last year, ahead of Belmont’s Opening Day, the New York Racing Association issued a statement that began:

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) today announced a number of safety initiatives…for the upcoming 25-day spring/summer meet at Belmont Park. … The safety and welfare of horses…competing at NYRA tracks is our highest priority.

Two years ago, ahead of Belmont’s Opening Day, NYRA issued a statement that read, in part:

In addition to accreditation…by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, a variety of initiatives have been put in place since 2013 at all three NYRA racetracks…in areas such as racing surfaces and race-day scrutiny, as well as capital improvements and collaborative efforts…to ensure the safety of all participants. These extensive reforms and commitment to improving the safety of NYRA’s racing operations have led to demonstrably safer races.

Four years ago, in the midst of Saratoga’s 21-kill summer, NYRA released a statement that began:

In addition to the existing industry-leading equine health and safety policies and procedures already in place at NYS racetracks, the NYS Gaming Commission, NYRA and NYTHA are implementing additional actions immediately at Saratoga Race Course, including increased regulatory veterinary presence at the track during training hours, state-of-the-art monitoring of horses and comprehensive trainer education intended to share scientific findings of research into the types of injuries that occur at New York Thoroughbred racetracks and risk and protective factors that can help to prevent injury.

From a statewide regulatory and veterinary affairs perspective, other states look to New York for guidance in shaping their own regulatory and best-practice methods to ensure horse welfare.

State Equine Medical Director Scott Palmer added:

“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero, and we have taken many productive steps toward reaching that goal over the past four years.”

And NYRA Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher:

“There is no issue more important to NYRA than the safety of our equine and human athletes. That is why NYRA has implemented extensive reforms and made significant investments since 2013 to improve track surface conditions, upgrade equipment, provide vets with more authority to monitor thoroughbred health, establish committees to oversee safety measures, and actively seek out advice and guidance from independent experts and scientists.”

Seven years ago, in response to a relatively light 12 dead at Saratoga (for context, Saratoga had 21 kills last year), NYRA issued the following:

Although New York State has made significant progress in reducing injuries and preventing the inappropriate use of medication in racehorses, the job of equine safety is never done. There will be challenges along the way. We are experiencing such a challenge during the 2014 Saratoga meet. A thorough investigation of all of the racing fatalities…is being conducted. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to identify the causes of death in all racing fatalities in New York. As stewards of the racehorse, we have a duty to do all that we can to honor and protect these incredible athletes.

Just this morning, Singapore Trader, five, was killed training at Belmont. He is the 16th dead horse at Belmont in less than four months – this, after 53 killed there last year. In fact, just since 2009 (when the Gaming Commission began disclosing these things), almost 1,000 horses have lost their lives at the three NYRA tracks. Almost 1,000.

“safety and welfare of horses is our highest priority”

“these extensive reforms have led to demonstrably safer races”

“other states look to New York for best-practice methods to ensure horse welfare”

“no issue more important to NYRA than the safety of our equine and human athletes”

“we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to identify the causes of death”

They’re lying. Through their teeth.