The Horseracing Integrity Act speciously suggests that all that stands between horseracing and integrity is a national drug program overseen by a central organization. First, drugs in racing is a divisive topic within the industry. In a recent Cronkite News article, Dr. Verlin Jones, a track vet with 30 years experience, says:

“Right now in Arizona we have probably mid-level to low-level claimers. That population of horses comes with their own set of problems, so we deal with horses that have a higher level of injury… I think that right now these private practitioners on the back side, their hands are really, really handcuffed. When you’re dealing with this level of horse, they have a lot of problems. Those problems can be taken care of, but we have to have our full arsenal in order to do that.” Then this: “I really feel like horses today are having to run in more pain. More pain leads to muscle fatigue, muscle fatigue leads to bone fatigue, bone fatigue leads to catastrophic breakdowns.”

In other words, less drugs may mean more dead horses, at least at the more pedestrian tracks – which is to say, the majority of tracks.

In addition, the bill would ban raceday medication, more specifically Lasix. Many within racing believe that Lasix is therapeutic, as it purportedly controls pulmonary bleeding in fast-moving racehorses. In a Louisville Courier Journal article from April, renowned trainer Dale Romans says, “I like facts, and the facts are that we’ve been using [Lasix] and it doesn’t hurt horses.” Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, added, “I would hope the industry stakeholders understand the ban on the use of furosemide…will not prevent horses from suffering catastrophic injuries, and in fact, could cause further harm and should not be seen as a safety reform.”

But more to the point is what the Horseracing Integrity Act does not, because it cannot, address: The inherent cruelty and inevitable deadliness of horseracing. On the former, in addition to being torn from their mothers as mere babes, being bought and sold like common Amazon products, and subjected to lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and whips, racehorses – innately social and mobile animals – are kept locked, alone, in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day. They are kept thus because as costly assets their owners are loath to risk injury in a more natural (humane) setting.

As to the killing, and contrary to what the reformers would have you believe, death at the track is, has always been, and always will be a built-in part of the system: From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs, fragile ankles); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until 6; the typical racehorse begins intensive training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to “race” at an unnatural rate (breakneck) through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans); to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold several times over the course of his “career,” making his long-term well-being of no concern to his current people) – horseracing guarantees a certain level of killing. Guarantees.

In the final analysis, the only thing the HIA (or any other “reformist” legislation that may arise) would do is give Racing a desperately needed PR win, which, in turn, would likely help reverse its currently-declining fortunes – which, in turn, would condemn countless more horses to lives of abuse and premature, often gruesome, deaths.

Forced (by the media – thank you) to answer for the nine dead horses so far at Saratoga – on pace to easily outstrip its historical average of 14 per summer – NYRA propaganda czar Patrick McKenna, according to the Times Union, “said the Saratoga meet has been safe [and] points out that of the nine horse deaths, only one [italics added] was during racing.” In other words, the other eight dead horses – five training, three back in their stalls – are not germane to the topic of “equine safety,” even though McKenna goes on to cite “the daily inspection and testing of racing and training [bold added] surfaces and inspections of equine athletes [bold added]” as the primary reasons for the “demonstrably safer” NYRA tracks.

Last year, I compared 2013 – the year of NYRA’s supposed safety overhauls – with 2017; the results speak for themselves. And while the numbers dropped a bit in 2018 – only 59 deaths at the three NYRA tracks – here we are in 2019 sitting at 35 – with almost five full months to go. And no, Mr. McKenna, it matters not a whit where or how an active racehorse dies. Every death in the industry is by the industry.

The Saratoga ’19 victims:

Golden Julia, May 30, stall, “found distressed in stall; referred to Rood & Riddle, whereafter horse died from acute blood loss”; Golden Julia was two years old and coming off a training session (at Saratoga) just five days prior

Investment Analyst, Jun 7, training, “sustained leg injury necessitating euthanasia”; Investment Analyst was two years old; he was being prepped for his first race

Gattino Marrone, Jul 3, training, “fractured sesamoids, euthanized”; Gattino Marrone was three years old and had been put to the whip 6 times

Fight Night, Jul 12, racing, “fell heavily after the wire, euthanized on track”; Fight Night was three years old, and this was her 5th time under the whip

Total Fidelity, Jul 14, training, “suffered fracture to LF sesamoids, euthanized”; Total Fidelity was two years old; she was being prepped for her first race

Overlord, Jul 15, stall, “developed post-op complications (colonic rupture), euthanized”; Overlord was three years old and coming off a training session (at Saratoga) just one week prior

Verravanni, Jul 25, stall, “diagnosed with pleuropneumonia 7/11, euthanized on 7/25 due to lack of positive response to treatment”; Verravanni was two years old and coming off a training session (down in Kentucky) just eight days before diagnosis

Misspent Youth, Jul 27, training, “cardiovascular collapse breezing on Oklahoma turf course”; Misspent Youth was five years old and had been put to the whip 13 times

Umetuka, Jul 31, training, “injured galloping on main track, vanned off for x-rays, euthanized”; Umetuka was four years old and had been put to the whip 9 times

As all familiar with this site know, I estimate that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. One of the factors affecting my estimate is the missing data on morning training (some states claim that those kills are not reportable events). As if to confirm my assessment, a racing fan whose wife works in the industry took to Twitter a couple weeks back:

Ironically (though other adverbs apply), this guy cautions the industry about these things – dead horses in the morning, that is – going public, publicly. Wow.

In a recent CNN piece that, for the most part, zeroed in on wayward trainers, racehorse owner Scott Herbertson had this exchange with journalist Nick Watt:

Watt: “When Jerry Hollendorfer claims one of your horses?”

Herbertson: “You just cringe.”

Lost, I’m sure, by practically all casual viewers, and further buried by the controversy of Hall of Famer Hollendorfer being banned from Santa Anita the day after CNN first ran the story, is the fact that this whistleblowing would-be good guy had his horses, including the now-dead Kochees, up “For Sale” in the first place, leaving them utterly vulnerable for anyone, including Racing’s current persona non grata, to snatch up. Above all else, it is this, the claiming race – where every horse is on the market prior to, and by far the most common type of race run in the U.S. – that exposes the lie of “they’re like our children.” In other words, there’s no meaningful difference between the Hollendorfers and Herbertsons of the racing world. Exploiters, all.