As I’ve written regarding California’s missing “vanned off” horses: Much is being made of California’s lower kill numbers. One of the things the industry, led by The Stronach Group (TSG), is supposedly doing is more surgical repairs. But history says that the equine post-surgery survival rate is very low (think Barbaro). Problem is, the injured who end up being euthanized, with or without surgery, off-site will not, as a rule, show up in public records. The lost dead.
Stronach, of course, also owns the two tracks in Maryland: Laurel and Pimlico. Last year, I reported on the death of 2-year-old Jamerican Feb 6 at Laurel: “Catastrophic bilateral pelvic fractures – comminuted, complete, displaced, with abundant hemorrhage. The horse was medicated…but then went down in the equine ambulance. The horse was euthanized in the ambulance.” And here, I remind, is what the commission’s chief vet, Elizabeth Daniel, said about Jamerican’s death:
“My biggest regret in this case was not euthanizing Jamerican on the racetrack as her condition rapidly declined. I was trying to abide by the wishes of management to save as many of these horses as possible. However, I feel that in doing so I allowed for Jamerican to suffer for longer than needed. For that, I am deeply sorry.”
Obviously, Stronach’s single-minded pursuit of good PR – for that is the reason for this new policy; if it were truly about equine welfare they’d have been doing it years ago – came at the cost of this poor baby’s suffering. And now, another.
4-year-old Rockinhippiechick, says the Racing Commission, suffered a fracture training at Laurel Oct 6 and was subsequently shipped out for surgery. This was her second operation in 18 months (though on different legs). She was then returned to Laurel Oct 8 for recovery. Almost immediately, she developed colic and was treated in her stall over the next three days. Rockin’s vets, however, were unable to bring it under control and recommended euthanasia. The owners, Annette and Daniel Eubanks, agreed. But then TSG’s Dr. Heidi Thomas got the Eubankses to turn Rockin over to Stronach for further treatment – yet another surgery, this one for the colic.
So, the van was called to transport Rockin to New Bolton. Some two hours later, the van arrived and Rockin was loaded. Then, the Commission says, before arriving at the center, Rockin died – “cecal impaction with acute perforation.” She died all alone, in pain, in terror, on the back of a van. And it clearly shouldn’t have happened this way.
In the final report, Dr. Daniel said: “I was very saddened at the course of events leading up to the death of Rockinhippiechick. She had made it back…after a year off from a very traumatic rear limb fracture. Then to have another fracture repair just days before her colic and eventual death. Dr. Delp [one of the attending vets] has stated that he recommended euthanasia due to the very toxic state that the mare was in after several days of her illness.” She closed with this: “I feel that Rockinhippiechick suffered tremendously in her final moments.”
Dr. Walsh, another commission vet, added: “Dr. Delp felt that the filly was so bad she wouldn’t survive shipping for surgery.”
In his statement, Dr. Delp recapped the chain of events:
“Tuesday [Oct 11, the day Rockin died], 2:00 pm: Horse was in severe pain.”
“2:15 pm: Called Annette Eubanks, told her condition had changed…they chose to euthanize. I told Annette I had to contact [TSG’s] Dr. Heidi Thomas and advise her….”
“2:40 pm: Dr. Gillam told me TSG was going to contact the owners and have them release the horse.”
“5:15 pm: The van arrived. During the 2-hour wait, the horse was in severe pain and any treatment I did offered no relief to the pain.”
“7:43 pm: I received a text telling me the horse died sometime during the trip to New Bolton.”
Dr. Delp’s statement closed thus:
“In summary, I am very upset with the suffering Rockinhippiechick had to endure, becoming more painful as time passed. After I had made the decision and received permission…to euthanize the horse, I waited over two hours for the van to arrive. Then to get a text that the horse died on the way to New Bolton was even more troublesome – making the horse suffer 5-6 hours more when I could have stopped the suffering when I received permission to euthanize….”
This poor girl’s extended agony and horrific death is on The Stronach Group. Full stop. In fact, in a different universe – one that took cruelty within animal-based industries seriously – they’d be brought up on charges. Truth is, Stronach, like everyone else in racing, cares about one thing and one thing only: their revenue stream. And because that’s now being threatened more than ever – owing in large part to the exposure provided on these pages – we are subjected to this abhorrent pretense. But worse, horses are suffering (more) because of it.