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.

In a press release earlier this month, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) gushed over a risible $50,000 donation from The Stronach Group on Pegasus Day at Stronach-owned Gulfstream Park. Risible not only because the day featured two million-dollar-plus races, but, more important, because Stronach is a multi-billion-dollar corporation. $50,000 for aftercare. But back to the TAA and a post long overdue.

In its release, the TAA explained what they are and do: “The TAA accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations to retrain, retire, and rehome Thoroughbreds using industry-wide funding. Since 2012, the TAA has granted more than $28.1 million to accredited aftercare organizations and 15,500 Thoroughbreds have been retrained, rehomed, or retired by accredited organizations.”

So, 15,500 Thoroughbreds have been saved by the TAA in 10 years. For context, over that same period, 203,340 Thoroughbreds have been registered (to race) with The Jockey Club, racing’s official recordkeeper. That’s over 20,000 new Thoroughbreds coming into the system each year, all of whom – less the ones who will die at the track – will need “retraining,” “rehoming,” or “retirement” when the industry is done exploiting them. And the TAA boasts of a paltry 15,500 saved? As for the $28 million – again, spread over ten years – more context (from what I’ve previously written):

Regarding the sham of “aftercare”: An average 5-year career, 25-year lifespan, and annual cost-of-care of $5,000 – all conservative numbers – means that in order for the racing industry to guarantee a lifetime safe-landing for each and every member of this year’s “foal crop,” it would have to come up with some $2 billion. That’s 2 billion with a “b.” And again, that’s just for this year’s “crop.” The same would be needed next year, and the year after that, and so on. In short, the American horseracing industry is deliberately creating thousands of horses every year for which it has neither the desire nor the ability to care for post-exploitation. Hence, slaughter.

But it’s even worse. In order to be accredited by, and receive funding from, the TAA, rescues must abide by a “Code of Standards.” Under “Education,” the TAA says:

“How aftercare organizations educate the public, media, regulators, legislators, [et al.] about humane aftercare of Thoroughbreds greatly affects not only the aftercare community itself but the Thoroughbred racing industry as a whole. Whenever possible, accredited organizations should work cooperatively with the Thoroughbred racing community to share media resources and increase public awareness of Thoroughbred aftercare to uphold the image and integrity of the horseracing industry. Accredited organizations shall: Portray all media via press release, internet, articles, or interviews with a positive outlook on Thoroughbred aftercare and the racing industry. Each facility should have one spokesperson who communicates with media with specific talking points concerning the racing industry….”

“accredited organizations should work cooperatively with the racing community”

“uphold the image and integrity of the horseracing industry”

“portray all media…with a positive outlook on aftercare and the racing industry”

“one spokesperson…with specific talking points concerning the racing industry”

In short, we will give you money to save the horses that the racing industry has ground down and thrown away, but only if you sing the praises of – i.e., lie about – that very industry. It’s sick. It’s vile. It’s the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

One final thought on the rescues themselves: It is my long-held position that if you are in rescue, no matter the species, your ultimate goal should be, to go out of business. And the only way that can be achieved is through shuttering the industries that make you necessary. Have the courage of your convictions: Reject the TAA and their blood money; speak out, loudly and forcefully, against horseracing.

Ahead of an Economic Development hearing in the NYS Legislature today, I submitted the following written testimony on the Belmont Park proposal:

To call the proposed $455 million loan to the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to rebuild Belmont Park a boondoggle would be understating it. First, this massive loan would be repaid through the millions in annual subsidies NYRA is already being gifted. (Over the past decade, NYRA has received well over a billion dollars in state support.) Second, NYRA’s current franchise agreement – on which, by the way, they pay zero in annual fees – expires in ten years. That, coupled with horseracing’s steady decline nationally – the industry has suffered a net loss of 39 tracks since 2000; all relevant metrics (handle, “foal crop,” races, etc.) are significantly down – makes it perfectly reasonable to ask, will NYRA even exist in 30 years, especially considering Belmont’s attendance has plummeted 87% since 1978? If not, what becomes of the debt?

More important to us at Horseracing Wrongs, however, is the cost of all this in lives. In the 14-year period 2009-2022, 854 horses died at Belmont/Aqueduct (the proposal has Belmont absorbing all of Aqueduct’s current racing) – an average of 61 kills per year. This means we can reasonably expect another 1,800 or so horses to perish at the new Belmont over the life of this loan (30 years). Hundreds and hundreds more beautiful, intelligent, sensitive beings sacrificed for $2 bets. And this says nothing of the likely thousands more who will be shipped to slaughter upon “retirement.”

Beyond – or more accurately, prior to – death, there is the everyday track abuse: The typical racehorse is torn from his mother as a mere babe, thrust into intensive training at 18 months – long before his body is fully mature – 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 confined (alone, in a tiny 12×12 stall for over 23 hours a day), commodified (lip tattoos, auctions, “claiming races”), controlled (cribbing collars, lip chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth bits), and cowed (whips). Bought and sold multiple times over the course of his “career,” he lives a stressful, tenuous existence that in and of itself causes pain: over 90% of active racehorses suffer from chronic ulcers.

In short, at its core, horseracing is animal exploitation, animal cruelty, and animal killing. And it is high time that we, the taxpayers, stop subsidizing it. Please reject this latest money grab by NYRA. Say no to the loan, and yes to compassion. Thank you.

Patrick Battuello
President, Horseracing Wrongs

In an effort to secure a nearly-half-billion-dollar bond package from the state to rebuild Belmont Park – a debt that would be repaid with already-existing subsidies – the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has launched a new PR campaign, complete with a glossy power point. Amid a swarm of impressive numbers – the usual suspects: jobs, tax revenue, economic activity – that are all sourceless projections, is this laughable promise under the heading “Diversified Audiences”:

“New programming, modern concessions and facilities, and enhanced transit accessibility will attract a younger, more diverse generation of race-goers.”

To quote a colleague here in NY, “If you rebuild it, they still won’t come.” Saratoga excepted, attendance at NYS Thoroughbred tracks has been in steep, steady decline for decades. (Obviously, what applies to the flats goes in spades for harness.) According to official data from the NYS Gaming Commission, the attendance figures at the three other state tracks in 1978 were as follows:

Aqueduct: 2,919,303
Belmont: 2,526,305
Finger Lakes: 651,853

And 2019:
Aqueduct: 184,181
Belmont: 339,677
Finger Lakes (this is for 2018, as, surprise, FL no longer reports attendance): 111,318

The change in 40 years:
Aqueduct: down 94%
Belmont: down 87%
Finger Lakes: down 83%

On second thought, perhaps “steep and steady” doesn’t quite capture it. Furthermore, in a 2021 Marist Poll, when asked, “In a typical year, how often do you visit any of the racetracks in NYS for the purpose of betting on horse races held within the state,” 91% of NY adults said “never”; 5% said “once”; 1% said “twice”; and only 3% said “more than two times in a typical year.” Again, only 3% of New Yorkers visit a track more than twice a year, and it’s not for lack of opportunities: NY has about 1,200 racedays/year.

There are two primary reasons for the above: First, there is far more competition today: expanded lottery, casinos, and now, mobile sports-betting (MSB) – that’s betting on real sports played by autonomous human beings. On that, in its first year of existence (Jan ’22-Jan ’23), MSB generated over $16 billion in handle, dwarfing the $2.3 billion recently reported, and celebrated, by NYRA. Crucially, however, the MSB companies (FanDuel, DraftKings, et al.) pay 51% tax on wagers; in 2019, the last pre-covid year for which we have data, horseracing paid a microscopic 1.3%. So, this past year, MSB sent $709 million in handle tax to the state; horseracing (that’s all 11 tracks) sends in roughly $10 million a year. But, of course, it’s far worse, with Racing receiving $230M in subsidies – an annual net drain on NYS of $220 million. Insane.

But just as important, sensibilities regarding animal exploitation are simply different – more evolved – today, most especially among the younger generations. Why, they ask, should we bet on fully sentient beings who are being whipped to run and who often die in the process when we can just as easily – and more to the point, harmlessly – bet on basketball or visit a casino? So dream all you want, NYRA. Those fans aren’t coming back, no matter how many millions – in, I remind, taxpayer money – you sink in the place. You’ve lost that battle. Now, about that welfare spigot.