Alas, a tragic truth: Hearts and minds alone will not win this fight. As long as Horseracing continues to enjoy obscene amounts of corporate welfare – a.k.a. subsidies – it will continue to exist, no matter how effective we are in shifting public opinion or in reducing the demand for the racing product. Our big challenge on this front, however, is that most people, including the politicians ultimately responsible for them, are utterly unaware of the subsidies and how they work. But that’s beginning to change, as evidenced by Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf’s recent proposal to reclaim some $200 million from Racing and redirect it where it was supposed to go in the first place – education.

The industry, of course, is terrified that this could become a trend; if it does, the bulk of U.S. Racing will fail, practically overnight. When forced to defend, the industry’s argument goes like this: With lotteries, casinos, and now “all-sports betting,” the gambling landscape has dramatically changed. Horseracing, they say, has (unfairly) been put at a competitive disadvantage and needs help leveling the field. Next comes talk of “tradition” and economic impact – “thousands of jobs,” ancillary industries like feed, hay, etc. Never mind that animal racing had a virtual monopoly on legal gambling for decades; never mind that their numbers are mostly pulled out of thin air. This pitch has heretofore been effective, for no politician wants to be on the wrong side of jobs.

Anyhow, rarely do we get honesty on this (which is to be fully expected as this industry’s entire business model is based on a lie: horseracing as sport). So imagine my surprise when HorseRaceInsider – “The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing” – admitted that this subsidy thing of theirs, once exposed, is unsustainable, a sure loser if tried in the court of public opinion. Recently, HorseRaceInsider’s Tom Jicha wrote:

“An existential threat to racing, more ominous than a distressing spate of horse deaths, reared its head again this week. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, in his annual budget message, asked his state’s lawmakers to redirect more than $200 million of casino proceeds, which currently goes to his state’s horse racing and breeding program, to a new college scholarship fund. If the governor gets his way, purses at the state’s horse tracks would decrease by 90%. Pennsylvania HBPA executive director Todd Mostoller was succinct in what this would mean. ‘We would be out of business.’

“Even if [the proposal fails], this is not an idea that is going to go away. [T]he governor is playing a strong hand likely to be enthusiastically received by the masses. There aren’t many politicians who wouldn’t want to go to their electorate on a platform that if we take away money from horse racing purses…we can underwrite the higher education of 25,000 of our children.”

Jicha went on to cite similar dangers lurking in West Virginia (incessant budget problems) and New York (pension issues; “Gov. Cuomo’s disdain for racing”). But then the money quote, coming, I remind, from a prominent racing writer: “To be honest, I’m not sure there is an effective argument against the case Gov. Wolf is making.”

No there isn’t, Mr. Jicha. Preserving a declining industry, as measured by demand (handle, attendance), that abuses and kills sentient beings as a matter of course, at the expense of schoolchildren (or any student) is eminently untenable. In other words, the clock is ticking, and you know it.

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a budget that would divert some $200 million in horseracing subsidies to education: “I’m proposing a historic $200 million investment in scholarships for the young Pennsylvanians attending our state system universities. And we’ll do that by repurposing existing tax dollars that are right now flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund. Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners.”

(Pete Peterson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, said this, in the Daily Racing Form, in response: “If approved by the legislature, this raid would result in the end of horse racing in Pennsylvania by eviscerating the primary funding source for the purses [90% of purse cash comes from slots and other gaming] and breeder incentives that serve as the lifeblood of the industry.” A “raid”? Please. But let’s hope Mr. Peterson proves prophetic.)

Hear, hear, Governor Wolf! We have been arguing for this for years: Stop bailing out a dying, cruel industry at the expense of schoolchildren, infrastructure, etc. Early last year, I sent the following to every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly (I have updated with latest figures). Today, it is more important than ever that they hear from us: Pennsylvania House; Pennsylvania Senate. And let’s also express our gratitude to Governor Wolf. (Feel free to paraphrase anything you see below.)

I am writing today in the hope that you might reconsider the subsidies being paid to your state’s horseracing industry. I am arguing this on two levels: First, propping up individual industries runs counter to America’s free-market principles. Myriad trades have come and gone in our nation’s history (horse-and-buggy), with winners and losers determined by the merits of, and relative demand for, one’s goods and services. It should not be in government’s purview to keep unwanted – as decided by the market – businesses afloat. To that, here are some pertinent facts:

Horseracing is clearly in decline: Since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 34 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, “fields,” “foal crop,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down. The public is speaking – unequivocally – with its wallet.

With the ubiquity of stand-alone casinos and state lotteries (and soon, all-sports betting), Racing has cried foul, claiming that these new businesses are somehow unfair to them. In fact, prior to the advent of lottery products, Horseracing enjoyed a virtual monopoly – for decades – on legal gambling. Now that was unfair.

In Pennsylvania, according to a 2017 report, the racing industry has received $2.6 billion in corporate welfare over the past decade – $239 million in ’17 alone. Referring to this, The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an editorial, wrote, “If multiple billions can’t turn around an industry, isn’t it time we asked how much longer we’re willing to try before altering the arrangement?” (see also, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial)

Far more important, however, is the moral aspect to all this. In short, horseracing kills horses – lots of them. Through our seminal FOIA reporting, we have determined that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training on U.S. tracks every year – easily six per day; to date, we have documented almost 6,000 kills on our website – cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma; shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines.

In addition, every year, hundreds more perish from what the industry craftily calls “non-racing causes” – colic, laminitis, “found dead in stall.” In truth, however, these horses are no less casualties than the ones who snap legs on raceday. And perhaps worst of all, the great majority of “retired” racehorses end up brutally and violently slaughtered when deemed no longer profitable – some 10,000-15,000 Thoroughbreds alone annually. Put bluntly, but accurately, the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Yes, carnage.

But it’s even worse. While active, life for the typical racehorse is mean and cruel:

From birth, racehorses are pieces of property – chattel. They are bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide – a stressful, tenuous existence that in and of itself causes pain and suffering: According to the Pennsylvania 2016 FOIA documents, to date the most detailed we have received, virtually every one of the dead horses died with ulcers, most “extensive to severe.”

Racehorses are kept locked in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day, making a heartrending mockery of the industry claim that horses are “born to run, love to run.”

Racehorses are kept utterly isolated from their peers – an extra layer of cruelty for naturally social, herd-oriented animals.

Racehorses are (obviously) nonconsensually drugged and doped – incessantly injected with myriad performance-enhancing, injury-masking, and pain-numbing chemicals.

Racehorses are utterly controlled and subjugated for the entire length of their “careers.” Indeed, the “race” itself can only be effected through force: nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and, of course, perched humans wielding whips.

In summary, not only is your state diverting much-needed funding for education and other public-good projects to a dying industry, but, in a cruel twist, taxpayers, the vast majority of whom have zero interest in horseracing, are subsidizing unconscionable cruelty and wanton killing. While we would love to see a day when horseracing is banned (like dogracing), for now we are simply asking that the market be allowed to do what it is designed to do. Please do not fall prey to their talk of lost jobs and economic havoc. Horseracing, unlike, perhaps, some other industries (agriculture, banking), is not too big or essential to fail. And if allowed, failure will bring the added benefit of collective moral advancement, as countless horses will henceforth be spared lives of immense suffering and horrible deaths. Thank you.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs

The ’17 and ’18 (the last two years for which we have full statistics) Pennsylvania Dead:

2017
Parx Racing: 43 dead racehorses
Penn National: 48 dead racehorses
Presque Isle Downs: 9 dead racehorses
Harrah’s Philadelphia: 1 dead racehorse
Pocono Downs: 4 dead racehorses
The Meadows: 2 dead racehorses

2018
Parx Racing: 35 dead racehorses
Penn National: 45 dead racehorses
Presque Isle Downs: 8 dead racehorses
Harrah’s Philadelphia: 4 dead racehorses
Pocono Downs: 2 dead racehorses
The Meadows: 4 dead racehorses

Delta Outlaw was bred into existence by Blue Heaven Farm on February 15, 2012. At some point, probably before his first birthday, he was SOLD. He was first put to the whip, at the tender age of two, at Monmouth in September 2014 under trainer George Weaver and owner R. A. Hill Stable. He was raced 14 more times for them, then SOLD.

Then this:

Raced on October 5, 2017 under trainer Assaf Ronen, owner Everything’s Cricket Racing. Three races followed, then SOLD.

Raced on January 15, 2018 under trainer David Jacobson, owner River Card Stable. Three races followed, then SOLD.

Raced on March 25, 2018 under trainer Scott Lake, owner Home Team Stables. Seven races followed, then SOLD.

Raced on October 25, 2018 under trainer Bernard Dunham, owner Belair Stables. Eight races followed, then SOLD.

Raced on August 3, 2019 under trainer Hugh McMahon, owner Larry Rabold. Two races followed, then SOLD.

Raced on November 10, 2019 under trainer Michael Catalano, owner Princess K Racing. Then SOLD.

Raced on December 3, 2019 under trainer/owner Jennie Wilhelm-Saldana. Then SOLD.

Three days ago at Parx, he was raced again, this time under trainer Joseph Taylor and owner John Fanelli. In this one, before which he was “For Sale,” again, Delta Outlaw was “vanned off” and, I have confirmed, subsequently euthanized. Dead. At seven.

In all, Delta Outlaw (below) was put to the whip 46 times, at 12 different tracks, in 7 different states, for 9 – yes, 9 – different trainer-owner teams. A mere thing to be used, a piece of chattel, a means for human ends.

Imagine the hours, the years, this poor animal suffered – alone – in tiny stalls.

Imagine the amount of drugs that coursed through his system.

Imagine the number of lashes his sensitive hide was made to absorb.

Imagine his fear at being prodded, pulled, pushed, wrenched, jerked, and yanked.

Imagine his stress and anxiety – anyone care to bet on whether he died with ulcers? – at being shuffled from trainer to trainer, barn to barn, track to track, state to state.

Imagine his life. Imagine his death. But while doing so, remember that this is no isolated incident: There are tens of thousands of Delta Outlaws out there; they, not the American Pharoahs and Justifys, are the real horses of horseracing.

“After a thorough investigation and review of the evidence, the District Attorney’s Task Force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park.” – LA County DA Jackie Lacey’s report on Santa Anita

And so ends the much-ballyhooed investigation into the now-infamous Santa Anita spring (while the report covered fiscal year ’18-’19, it was prompted by the 36 deaths earlier this year). Nothing – but some safety “recommendations.” And we should not be surprised in the least. The key words above are “criminal” and “unlawful,” as in nothing to see here, according to California law. And technically, Lacey is right: These cruelty laws, woefully inadequate as most are, are designed to protect only some animals (i.e., our pets), while the others, unconscionably, are left to twist in the wind.

Regarding the treatment of animals in animal-exploitative industries, the law almost invariably defers to “common industry practice.” It’s why factory-farmed animals can be dehorned, debeaked, docked, branded, and castrated without anesthesia. It’s why breeder dogs can be kept in tiny cages for their entire lives. It’s why grisly scientific experiments can be conducted on primates. It’s why, for fear of the fully legal instrument of torture, the bullhook, Ringling elephants were known to defecate upon hearing their trainers’ voices. It’s why perhaps the most public form of animal abuse – the rodeo – merrily persists with impunity. And it’s why you can whip a horse at a racetrack but that same act done to a dog in the park would land you in jail.

What this report is really saying is that horseracing has a license to kill because one, it’s a legal enterprise, and two, because a certain level of death is understood (and accepted) by all. Indeed, the DA said as much: “Horse racing has inherent risks but is a legally sanctioned sport in California.” Risks, like the risk of a snapped neck, severed spine, or shattered leg. Risks, like the risk of “cardiovascular collapse” or “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.” Risks, like the risk of terrifying colic or excruciating laminitis. And risks, like the high risk of exsanguination at career’s end.

Lacey added: “The District Attorney’s Office lacks legal jurisdiction to regulate the horse racing industry.” So right back to the industry (as represented by the CHRB) it goes – the fox guarding the henhouse, just like those other animal industries.

On another note, I think it high time that every person and every organization – PETA, HSUS, et al. – be made to answer this simple question: Is horseracing wrong? Not are some parts of it wrong, but is it fundamentally wrong? If the answer is no, fine, at least we know where you stand (but please dispense forevermore with your hollow declarations of equine love and specious claims of “advocacy”). But if yes, then act like it. Stop issuing equivocal, confusing statements; stop “partnering” with industry interests; stop debating the relative merits of various “reforms”; stop compromising what are supposed to be your core values. If you deem horseracing animal cruelty, then get off the proverbial fence and say so. Enough already.

(One final note: In the report, the DA cited this passage from California’s penal code: “[A]nimal cruelty exists when a person subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal.” Well, if $2 bets and entertainment does not meet the definition of “needless” or “unnecessary,” I’m not sure what does.)

In a column in HorseRace Insider Tuesday, (racing) journalist and lifelong handicapper Mark Berner renounced his beloved “sport” – yes, renounced, as in he’s done. And here are some of his reasons why:

“The horseracing industry runs on a pack of lies, a bunch of swindles, hidden information, and many corrupt and illegal activities for the love of money, not for love of the horse.”

“I will no longer support a fractured industry of disparate alphabet organizations now guided by greed. You have killed the game for me.”

“It does not matter if you knew Mongolian Groom. I did not. But I did know horses now buried in infields of racetracks and in Claire Court at Saratoga Race Course. I walked shedrows and I pet them on their heads. Now they are dead. It has happened a thousand times before and will again.”

“It happened slowly over the past few years as I wrote about rescue, slaughter and drugs. What put me off most is the great number of industry people who favor the latter two.”

“The game is rigged at every level, with rampant cheating its finest art form.”

“I am done supporting a sport that kills its stars.”

Just a few questions, Mr. Berner. You admit to it – dead horses – “happen[ing] a thousand times before,” with horses “buried in infields of racetracks” the country over – and yet it has taken you this long, 44 years, to get out? Or are you suggesting that this – dead horses – is but a recent thing? Please.

What “put [you] off most is the great number of industry people who favor [slaughter]”? “Put you off”? Not revolt you to your core? Nonetheless, thank you for the quote. It’ll make a great addition to this list.

And finally, you are deluding yourself if you think there was a golden age of horseracing; age, as in the inexorable aging of the human brain, has a way of doing that (“I remember when…”). Horseracing is animal exploitation, animal cruelty, and animal killing. Ever it was, and ever it will be (until, that is, we send it to the same ash heap in which Ringling Bros. currently resides). So again, thank you for hammering one more nail by getting out so very publicly. Would that others of your ilk – old men fervently and desperately clutching their DRFs – follow suit. (As Berner was managing editor and “one-third of its staff,” this might be the end for HorseRaceInsider – “The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing” – too. ‘Twas a good day indeed.)