A week ago, I highlighted an abused horse named Shamrock Road. Well, his ordeal continues: Tuesday, Shamrock was put to the whip yet again – 7th of 8, 16+ back.

This morning, we turn our attention to 4-year-old Hear Me Purr. In the last 12 weeks, this filly has been raced an unconscionable 10 times – all maiden claiming (and all at Gulfstream Park). The results are as ugly as her people:

June 4, 6th of 11, 12+ back (earned $140)
May 29, 5th of 8, 17+ back (earned $150)
May 16, last of 6, 26 back (earned $140)
May 8, 6th of 10 (earned $140)
May 3, 5th of 7, 15 back (earned $170)
April 17, 8th of 9 (earned $170)
April 9, 7th of 9, 27 back (earned $150)
April 4, 7th of 10, 15+ back (earned $140)
March 29, DNF
March 11, 7th of 8, 23+ back (earned $140)

And she’s entered to race again today – the 11th time in 13 weeks.

Because Gulfstream is a racino track – where casino gaming not only artificially jacks purses but also allows the track to pay first through last – and because these are claiming races, meaning there’s a good chance that at some point someone will buy this will-never-be-a-champion horse from her present owner (Birbal’s Racing Stable), there is every incentive for trainer Randi Persaud to keep Hear Me Purr running at a pace that no equine vet with an ounce of integrity would endorse.

As most tracks in America are racinos and most races – up to 70% – claiming, these are the kinds of run-em-into-the-ground stories that are the rule. But you won’t hear of them from Bob Costas or Ray Paulick. Instead, we continue to be fed a steady diet of repugnant American Pharoah fluff.

This is horseracing.

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The American public has been seduced. It’s Bob Costas and NBC Sports; it’s Secretariat on ESPN’s Greatest Athletes list (and, on a postage stamp); it’s “Seabiscuit”; it’s Seattle Slew and Affirmed; it’s big hats and mint juleps and radiant millionaires; it’s “The Sport of Kings.” And it’s all one big sham, a myth – a lie. Horseracing has as much to do with sport as bullfighting, which is to say, not a thing. On the same day that American Pharoah was being immortalized as some sort of equine Tom Brady, this, too, was happening on American racetracks (from Equibase):

6-year-old City Cartel ambulanced off after the 10th at Albuquerque
3-year-old Shook Up ambulanced off after the 7th at Belmont
4-year-old Royal Witch ambulanced off after the 7th at Churchill
5-year-old Canny Nanny ambulanced off after the 10th at Churchill
3-year-old Jump On Down ambulanced off after the 4th at Delta
3-year-old Masterkey ambulanced off after the 1st at Finger Lakes
4-year-old Roman Cross “appeared in distress” in the 6th at Finger Lakes

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3-year-old Good Rider ambulanced off after the 1st at Gulfstream
3-year-old Beach Birde ambulanced off after the 10th at Indiana
3-year-old Witt’s Lizard ambulanced off after the 4th at Lone Star
6-year-old Cammazes ambulanced off after the 7th at Los Alamitos
4-year-old Oration “returned bleeding from the nostrils” after the 2nd at Parx
4-year-old Giroux “returned sore” after the 4th at Parx

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Chances are at least half of the above are already dead. In addition, two horses were listed as “broke down” (racing-speak for dead): 3-year-old Jess One Kiss in the 8th at Arapahoe, 3-year-old Kt Turtle Moves in the 3rd at Les Bois. And two more “euthanized”: 4-year-old Helwan in the 4th at Belmont, 5-year-old Sixteen Stone in the 7th at Penn. In short, in all likelihood, some 8-10 horses were killed on the most celebrated day in Racing in almost four decades. How, America, do we reconcile that?


The NYS Gaming Commission recently added Fancy Pancy to its dead-racehorse database. Apparently, the 3-year-old died on May 24 at Finger Lakes. But up until yesterday, no cause was given. Now we know: “collapsed and died on track after workout – suspected cardio-vascular event.” For those keeping count, this makes three NY racehorses who simply “collapsed and died” in the past week:

Icprideicpower, May 29, FL, “catastrophic cardiac event” while training
Soul House, May 30, Belmont, “cardiovascular collapse” while racing

And six in less than two months:

Fashion Shark, April 9, Yonkers, “artery rupture” while racing
Lunar Tales, April 26, Belmont, “possible cardiovascular event” while training
Jay Bird, May 5, Saratoga, “possible cardiovascular event” while training

Not only were these horses supposedly supremely conditioned “athletes,” but they were also mere adolescents. In other words, something is terribly rotten in the Empire State. Problem is, the perfunctory appendage “investigation continues” means nothing – a hollow device meant to placate the few of us who actually read the database. No answers are forthcoming because beyond their monetary value to their people, these horses – racehorses – simply do not matter. Not in life, not in death. As I wrote in “The Inevitability of Dead Racehorses”:

“There is no real accountability because this core relationship [owner/owned] precludes real accountability. Neither the industry nor our society will ever, could ever, seriously punish a property owner for crimes against his property. Again, to say differently is pure folly.”

Something to ponder while waiting for the next horse to fall.


Steve Haskin, whom I’ve written on before, is a well-known Racing writer and a lifelong fan. But he also possesses, at least from what I can gather through his words, a thoughtfulness that sets him apart from many of his callous or indifferent colleagues. In other words, he seems to genuinely care about the horses. So it was with great interest that I read his recent column (Blood-Horse, 5/10/15) on Victor Espinoza’s 32-lash run atop American Pharoah in last week’s Derby. In it he imagines a back-and-forth between himself and, I suppose, someone like me:

Non-racing person: “Horse racing is cruel.”

Racing person: “Horse racing isn’t cruel. The horses are well-taken care of, they are bred to run, and they love to run.”

Non-racing person: “If they love to run why do they have to be whipped to do it?”

Racing person: “Uh, well, let’s just say most love to run and some are lazy and have to be encouraged to run.”

Non-racing person: “So, doesn’t encouraging any living creature to do something it doesn’t want to do by whipping it constitute cruelty?”

Racing person: “Not in racing. Whips today have been re-designed and are much kinder on a horse.”

Non-racing person: “So, are you saying American Pharoah was lazy and needed to be encouraged to win the Derby, and that’s why the best 3-year-old in America was hit over 30 times with the whip?”

Racing person: “No, but he had never been in this tough a fight and needed to be reminded that this was no cakewalk, like the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. Also, Victor Espinoza wasn’t hitting him on the bare shoulder or rump, but was hitting him in the area around the saddle and girth, where there is more protection.”

Non-racing person: “So, let me get this straight, Espinoza was making sure he wasn’t hurting the horse, but only days later was fined for breaking the skin on the filly Stellar Wind due to excessive use of the whip.”

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Haskin continues:

You can see where this conversation is, or isn’t, going. For every explanation we attempt to give, there is always going to be another question. …What makes it even more difficult is that in many cases, such as this, we’re also trying to convince ourselves. After all, why would we devote our lives and pour our emotions into something we believe deep down is cruel or at least has elements of cruelty in it? When we attempt to defend certain aspects of racing, to whom are we really defending them?

In the sport’s recent glory days of the 1960s and ‘70s, drugs, fixed races, neglect, and horse slaughter were kept safely behind the curtain. Naivete superseded cynicism, and we saw only what was shown to us and what we wanted to see. The whipping of horses was one thing that was played out on stage, but we paid no attention to the amount of times a horse was whipped. We didn’t even know to what extent a horse felt those whips. …We marveled at [the horses’] amazing feats, oblivious to anything else. When you are exposed to someone or something with such great beauty, there is no reason to start peeling back the layers of makeup. No one wants to see what lies beneath.

And now almost a half-century later, some of us, who remember the innocence and ignorance of those days, are asked to explain and defend the sport with which we fell in love a lifetime ago. But how can you defend something you can’t defend, as much as you try to instill its righteousness and nobility into your own heart and soul? It has to be deeply embedded in there before you can convey it to others.

The most difficult part, however, is trying to explain racing’s pitfalls in the form of drugs and neglect and abuse of the whip to those who love the horses and are sickened and appalled when they are abused in any way. Those are the people who come to me looking for answers. The truth is, I have no answers, because, I, too, am sickened and appalled.

Talk about a conflicted soul, exactly the type that frustrates the most. The aforementioned callous and indifferent are, for all intents and purposes, beyond reach – immune to our calls for mercy. But here we have someone publicly grappling with his past “innocence and ignorance” yet heretofore unable/unwilling to upset a lifetime of conditioning (“horseracing is the most beautiful, exciting sport in the world”) and self-delusion (“righteousness and nobility”), unable/unwilling to follow his reflective course to its compassionate conclusion.

Yes, Mr. Haskin, whipping hurts horses. Yes, Mr. Haskin, whipping racehorses is gratuitously – gratuitously because in no sane world can racing be seen as necessary – cruel. Yes, Mr. Haskin, the whipping that propels your precious “sport” is morally indefensible. And in your heart, you know it.

(In the Blood-Horse article, Haskin references Miguel Mena’s “over-zealous use of the whip” on International Star in this year’s Louisiana Derby. Here it is – pay particular attention to the replays at 2:33 and 3:08.)