The joy in the BloodHorse headline last week was practically palpable: “Equine Injury Database: Another Record Year for Safety.” All of racing, not just at BloodHorse, is celebrating. Here, they’re saying, is proof positive that reform is working; horseracing is becoming safer. Well.

While I have previously addressed The Jockey Club’s (TJC) “Equine Injury Database” (EID), in light of the hype over that “record year,” I feel a revisit is warranted. First, you should know, the only reason the EID exists is because of public and political outcry over Eight Belles’ horrific breakdown at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. It was a marketing device, nothing more, nothing less. And it worked. At least until we came along. Still, it is TJC, meaning that well-intentioned journalists (not the ones at BloodHorse, of course) can easily fall prey to all that supposed tradition and avalanche of stats. It all sounds so convincing. Until, that is, you start peeling back. So, let’s start peeling.

First, the database is completely voluntary. While most tracks participate, some do not. Besides that, no third party – not the JC, not the states, no one – verifies the submitted data. At the risk of stating the obvious, dead horses are bad for business. So, not only is there no compelling reason for tracks (trainers, owners, etc.) to give a complete accounting, there is a vested interest to not. Self-reporting – an honor system – the kills that they are directly responsible for? Please.

The list of “Participating Tracks” is bloated with long-since defunct venues. Yes, that’s right, included on their list – which the longer, after all, makes their efforts seem more impressive – are tracks that no longer exist: Atlantic City (closed 2015), Bay Meadows (closed 2008), Beulah Park (closed 2013) – and that’s just the “As” and “Bs.” By my count, there are well over a dozen shuttered “participating tracks.” Imagine that.

Of the active tracks that do participate, less than a quarter do so publicly. The great majority of the tracks that submit data don’t allow TJC to attach said data to those specific tracks. Besides being cowardly, this makes it impossible for someone like me to cross-confirm (exceptions to follow).

The database is anonymous. No names, no dates, (mostly) no locations. Once again, no opportunity for me to match. In addition, and clearly by design, it keeps the victims safely secreted away – messy carcasses converted to sterile rates. And speaking of rates…

The key number – “fatal injuries” per 1,000 starts – is (intentionally) misleading. This reads, at least to the untrained eye, as deaths per 1,000 horses. But the typical racehorse logs many starts (up to 25) each year, making the kill rate per 1,000 horses much higher, certainly a number they are loath to tout.

And now on to the big ones. Missing from the data altogether are the following:

Training Deaths
Training kills are at least as common as those occurring in-race. In addition, there are more than twice as many private training facilities in this country as public racetracks. It should not be hard, then, to see how these numbers begin to explode.

Quarterhorse Deaths
Roughly 25% of the 100 or so flat tracks in the U.S. run Quarterhorse races – some exclusively. According to TJC, these poor animals don’t count. And neither do…

Steeplechase Deaths
Here is what I previously wrote regarding a pair of 2017 steeplechase kills at Saratoga: Yet, both (Fall Colors and Meteoroid) were Thoroughbreds, both, obviously, died on those same hallowed Saratoga grounds, both races pari-mutuel. In other words, there was no rational reason to exclude them. Except that doing so helps make the Saratoga kill-rate better, and hence, The Jockey Club’s (industry’s) national rate.

As for the only deaths TJC does include – Thoroughbreds who die while racing – here, too, they employ significant restrictions. From their “Facts” page: “The EID annual statistics and the by-track reports (where available) include all Race Related Fatalities — all horses that die or are euthanized as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race and within 72 hours of such race.”

This, of course, leaves out the countless who are euthanized (for race-related injuries) off site (owner’s/trainer’s farm, at a rescue) or outside that 72-hour window (an injury that doesn’t heal, a surgery that goes bad). In other words, more hidden carnage.

And then there is the rather large question of what, exactly, qualifies as a “race-related fatality.” While TJC says these fatalities include “musculoskeletal injuries, non-musculoskeletal injuries, and sudden deaths,” a closer examination reveals otherwise. According to TJC, at Finger Lakes, one of the minority of tracks that airs its numbers, there were two raceday fatalities last year. But according to the NYS Gaming Commission, there were three. Not counted, presumably, was Con He Win, killed Aug 26: “broke through starting gate, ran through rail – injured stifle, euthanized.”

Remington Park offers a more stark example. In 2020, Remington, says the EID, notched 6 racing kills; the Oklahoma Racing Commission (via my FOIA) begs to differ: 12 – twice as many. Which ones were omitted? A quick look at the list reveals obvious candidates: Baddowndasher, Mar 19: “horse collapsed – severed spinal cord”; Might B Magic, Mar 28: “lacerated tendon”; Oasis Beauty, Oct 1: “collapsed after race, died in shedrow [next day].” The other nine, however, were all fractures of one kind or another. With three of these also excluded (pelvic?, scapula?), it would appear that in the eyes of TJC not even all fractures are created equal.

And these two tracks were no anomalies. Racing deaths last year:

Belmont: 6 reported by TJC; 7 according to the Gaming Commission
Delaware: 3 reported by TJC; 4 through FOIA (Dept. of Agriculture)
Gulfstream: 26 reported by TJC; 27 through FOIA (DBPR)
Indiana Grand: 11 reported by TJC; 13 through FOIA (Racing Commission)
Laurel: 12 reported by TJC; 14 through FOIA (Racing Commission)
Lone Star: 5 reported by TJC; 8 through FOIA (Racing Commission)
Monmouth: 5 reported by TJC; 6 through FOIA (Racing Commission)

Bottom line: It is my firm belief that in direct contradiction to what they claim, TJC does not count cardiac collapses, pulmonary hemorrhages, blunt-force head traumas, broken necks, severed spines, et al. In all probability, their “racing fatalities” are strictly confined to catastrophic leg fractures.

So, to recap: participation in the database is voluntary; of those tracks that do participate, most do not allow their information to be made public; the deaths are unidentifiable (no names, dates, etc.); and most important, the following deaths are NOT included in the year-end “statistics” and that neat, little rate those stats spawn: Quarterhorse, steeplechase, training, at least some racing, and, it goes without saying, stall. Calls to mind Mark Twain’s famous quote: “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” In short, TJC’s oft-cited, much-celebrated “Equine Injury Database” is a fraud. A complete and utter fraud. For objective, verifiable truth about both the scale and depth of American horseracing carnage, stay right where you are.

*** For 2020, TJC “reports” 322 American racehorse deaths. (TJC number is actually 333, but this also includes Canadian deaths. Unfortunately, the sole Canadian track with public data is Woodbine, so I could only subtract its 11 deaths from TJC total, giving us the 322.) I have documented almost three times that number – 944.


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.