Last week, The Jockey Club gleefully boasted of progress on the “breakdown” front: “An analysis of data from the Equine Injury Database…has shown a 14 percent decrease in the frequency of fatal injury…from 1.89 per 1,000 starts in 2014 to 1.62 per 1,000 starts in 2015…the lowest since the EID started publishing…in 2009.”

Well – time to deconstruct the oft-cited, much ballyhooed “Equine Injury Database”…

To start, the wording is (intentionally, I have to believe) misleading: Presented as deaths per 1,000 starts, it reads, at least to the untrained eye, deaths per 1,000 horses. But the typical racehorse logs many starts (up to 25) each year, making the death rate per 1,000 horses much higher – certainly not one they’d want to publicize.

The database is completely voluntary: While many tracks participate, some do not. Besides that, no third party – not the JC, not a government agency, 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 reckoning, there is a vested interest to not. Self-reporting – an honor system – the casualties that they are directly responsible for? Please.

The database is anonymous: No names, no dates, (mostly) no locations. Not only does this make it impossible for someone like me to cross-confirm, it keeps the names and faces of the dead safely secreted away. Messy carcasses converted to sterile ratios.

The database has acknowledged restrictions: Only those who perish “as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race” are counted. In other words, the 3-year-old (an adolescent, by the way) who keels and dies of what is commonly dismissed as a “cardiac event” is excluded, not to mention all training deaths, which are at least as common as those occurring in-race. And, the death must come “within 72 hours of [the] race,” leaving the many who are euthanized back at the farm, post unsuccessful surgery, or after being acquired by a rescue unaccounted for. More hidden carnage.

In the end, The Jockey Club is American Thoroughbred racing, impossible to separate from the other interested parties. How can anything it says regarding the more unseemly aspects (dead horses) of its own industry be taken seriously? Truth is, the “Equine Injury Database” is but a marketing tool, created in the wake of Eight Belles and all the bad press that ensued, existing solely to quell an increasingly unsettled public with an empty promise of “we’re on this, we care.” They’re not and they don’t.

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Fact: If not for the corporate welfare it receives in the form of slots revenue, much of American racing would collapse. Particularly hard hit would be the harness end. Currently, there are 14 harness tracks in NY, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In my estimation, all 14 would vanish – virtually overnight – without their subsidies. Simply put, the good old days of the 20th Century when racing enjoyed a practical monopoly on legalized gambling are gone forever. The competition (full-service casinos, state lotteries) is killing them. In Illinois, horsemen have been crying for a legislative lifeline for years – to no avail. I have twice previously written on this:

“Illinois Should Let Racing Fail” (October ’13)

“Illinois, Let Racing Fail” (October ’14)

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And now, it appears my hope is coming to pass. Almost 70 years after it first opened for business, Maywood Park shuttered its betting windows this past Friday; Balmoral, Illinois’ only other harness track, is slated to close by year’s end. Good news, indeed. Predictably, not all feel the same. In an NBC Chicago article from last week, the horse people warn of terrible things to come. Some excerpts:

Trainer Angie Coleman: “They [families who live on the backstretch] are going to lose their home. These kids are not going to have school. They are going to be displaced.”

Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Kathy Byrne: “It’s a crisis of decency. These people need to be treated decently.”

Coleman: “It’s very much a reality [that some horses will eventually go to slaughter].” Worse, says Byrne – “sound, healthy horses.”

“Worried” trainer Hosea Williams is even more definitive: “Yes, yes there will be horse slaughter involved.”

Although the article adds the perfunctory counter at the end – “executives at the Illinois Racing Board strongly disagree that any horses will go to slaughter” – the damage had already been done. To read this piece of (what now seems the norm) media sensationalism is to comprehend a terrible injustice perpetrated by the Illinois government, an injustice that will leave families homeless and horses butchered.

First, as unfortunate as it is for people to lose their jobs, this is America; businesses and industries come and go all the time. It is not up to government (the taxpayers) to artificially prop the losers – in this case, Illinois Racing (including increasingly precarious Arlington and Hawthorne). Move on. Second, and most abhorrently, the racing industry – both in Illinois and across the nation – has been intentionally sending horses to slaughter for decades. The battered? Sure. But healthy ones, too.

So spare us the inflammatory rhetoric, the deceptions – the lies. For racers to conjure up images of slaughterbound Standardbreds this way, for this reason, is obscene. In truth, it’s but one final exploitation of these hapless animals. Shame, too, falls to the news station (full article here), for this “report” is more than just poorly researched and unbalanced, it is irresponsible.

Raceday Lasix is one of the more controversial issues in American horseracing. The critics say that the drug is but a performance-enhancer: A diuretic, Lasix helps shed water weight prior to a race – lighter equals faster – and as a system flush may also aid in concealing some of the illegal stuff. Supporters, on the other hand, call Lasix “humane”: Rapidly moving racehorses, they say, naturally bleed – from their lungs – “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.” Prominent trainer Dale Romans (Paulick Report, 9/13/12): “Racing causes [EIPH] in 100% of horses. …one of the worst abuses that can be done to the racing horse is to ban Lasix.” Adds colleague Rick Violette (DRF, 8/11/11): “Horses bleed. That is a fact. To force an animal to race without [Lasix] is premeditated, borderline animal abuse.”

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That raceday Lasix – by the way, a uniquely North American thing – is primarily used to make horses faster is a pretty good bet. (While not all trainers particularly like it, practically all, so as not to cede any competitive ground, use it.) But what if the Romans/Violette crowd is also correct – that pulmonary bleeding is inherent in a racing-horse? Translated, this would mean that the “sport’s” fundamental physical action universally causes some level of pain or suffering. Of what other basic sporting motion can this be said? Throwing a baseball? Swinging a golf club? Kicking a soccer ball? If not for the deadly seriousness of it all, these people would be laughable.

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There is, of course, practically zero accountability in the racing world: A horse who shatters his leg while heading for home is said to have “taken a bad step”; a horse who snaps his neck after colliding with another is called the victim of an unfortunate accident (though sometimes, “the cause of his own trouble”); the collapse and sudden death of a horse shortly after the wire gets quickly buried in the never-to-be-explained “cardiac event” file; a tortuous colic-death is easily dismissed as nature’s cold caprice. Flukes, all – “could happen anywhere.”

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So with this as a backdrop, it is hardly surprising that no one within, and few outside of, the industry accepts/assigns blame for the death of an active stud-horse. But we will here. Tuesday, Blood-Horse reported that “well-bred California stallion Sought After, the sire of grade I winner Masochistic, was euthanized…after developing laminitis in both front feet.” (This being Blood-Horse, the article focused on the relative financial successes of his “crops.”) Sought After was 15, which while sounding advanced, is actually about middle-aged in a natural life cycle.

Let’s be clear on this: To Racing, Sought After was but a tool, a means of production. They created him so that he in turn could create others (some of whom undoubtedly shattered legs and snapped necks). They enslaved him. They used him. They killed him. And they did so without once putting him on a racetrack.