There is plenty wrong with this video:

First, the abject suffering of the horse, 7-year-old Itzhoweeroll: lame, almost all the way around; malnourished, in part due to his teeth being “a mess”; beaten up – cuts, scrapes, ulcers; and criminally thirsty – “when he first came, he was so thirsty that he drank for ten minutes straight.”

Second, in an industry that (mostly) denies the butchering of its erstwhile athletes, this horse was in a feedlot awaiting his personal version of equine hell.

Third, the shameless portrayal of past/present owners Brian and Wendy O’Leary as thoughtful, compassionate folk – at least in regard to this horse. The narration begins:

“This is a story of a Thoroughbred named Itzhoweeroll and how its [italics added] one-time owners Brian and Wendy O’Leary raised him, lost him, and got him back.”

Brian O’Leary: “We made a decision to put him into a claiming race.” After selling, “We kept an eye on him for a while…we kept an eye on him over the years as he went through a few different ownerships.”

Wendy O’Leary: “[After seeing a picture of their former charge in a feedlot for the slaughterbound] Of course I immediately started to cry.”

Brian: “It’s one thing if you hear this happens to a horse you used to own. When it happens and you have an opportunity to do something, it’s even better again to go out there and be able to save a horse that’s been so nice to you in life…”

And now for some conveniently omitted facts:

After using him, earning on him – to the tune of $186,000 – for 21 races, the O’Learys dumped “Roller” into yet another claiming race – though Mr. O’Leary makes it sound like this was a first-time thing, it was actually the ninth time they had done this – leaving their helpless and hapless horse utterly unprotected (again), knowing full well that anyone could buy him. (“Lost him”? Please – they cleared $30,000.) And anyone did, actually multiple anyones, meaning there were plenty of chances for the O’Learys to reclaim him (and on the cheap: in December, “Roller” was worth but $8,000). And when one of those anyones abused “Roller” to lameness and sold him to slaughter, the O’Learys come swooping in, masquerading (or at least being depicted) as “rescuers.” “Rescuers.” If not for the deadly seriousness of it all, this story would be a farce.

To “rescue,” says the dictionary, is “to cause to be free from danger, imprisonment, or difficulty.” While technically true that the O’Learys saved this horse from slaughter, they were the ones who put him in danger, imprisonment (they bought him as a yearling), and difficulty in the first place – both each and every time they had him whipped to run at an unnatural speed and when they hung him out to dry in claiming races. While the O’Learys may be otherwise decent people, let’s not get distracted here: Within Racing, there are no good guys, no heroes. Just exploiters.

As a rule, the “Comments” next to the order of finish on the Equibase charts provide the relevant information, with the “Footnotes” section at the bottom of the page typically just a rehash. But not, often, with the Penn National charts. In the “Comments” for the 7th last night, 4-year-old Hooked On the Lady was a mere “eased” while bringing up the rear. Apparently, if one were to stop there, fine. Not so, for buried in the chart’s very last sentence, after, that is, all the important stuff – claiming price, purse money, various betting info – we learn this:

“HOOKED ON THE LADY dueled inside the winner into the turn then stopped suddenly, was eased through the lane then collapsed and died just after the finish.”

The sudden death of a supremely conditioned (and, mind you, young) “athlete” relegated to a footnote. In what other “sport” on the planet would this be the case? Footnotes? Hell, had a ballplayer or hoopster “collapsed and died” last night we would have awoken to “Breaking News” and screaming headlines. Further evidence (as if more were needed) that “The Sport of Kings” is no such thing, that the majestic “equine athletes” they’re forever touting are in truth but 1,000-lb hunks of nothing – anonymous, expendable, irrelevant. This is horseracing.

The case of a horse named Tyeste illustrates, again, how easily Racing has been able to conceal its awfulness these so many decades. Tyeste, a 5-year-old mare, was raced for the 25th time – all at the claiming level – at Monmouth in August of last year. She finished a non-noteworthy second-to-last. Prior to her next race, September 7, she was “scratched” by order of the stewards. And then, simply disappeared.

But through FOIA documents from the New Jersey Racing Commission, I have since learned that this horse died that September day – and in a particularly horrific way. Apparently, on her way to the starting gate, Tyeste fractured her skull (how remains unclear) and was euthanized after “hemorrhaging from both nostrils and ears.” Imagine that. If not for that FOIA request, no one – except, of course, the complicit – would have been the wiser. For all the public knew, this probably injured horse was recuperating in anticipation of another run – or, safely retired to her owner’s farm, living the erstwhile equine-athlete’s version of the pastoral life.

While scratched/vanished does not technically qualify as a lie, the full truth surrounding this mare was withheld by the relevant racing entities – Monmouth Park, NJ Racing Commission (until, that is, forced to disclose by law) – and left untold or uninvestigated by the racing press. None of which should surprise, of course: To the former, dead horses are bad for business, especially one who broke her head and bled from her orifices; to the latter, this was a non-story – the death of a cheap claimer who was eking out meager livings for bottom-feeder connections simply doesn’t rate. Or put another way, who cares? How very sad – on multiple levels.

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Supposedly, the lowest breakdown rates in the world are roughly half the U.S. rate. (I say supposedly because there is no uniform policy for the recording and reporting of breakdowns.) Supposedly, these rates are effected by doing all the things American reformers seek: ban on raceday drugs, better pre-race exams, better track surfaces, etc. Well – some questions: First, how would such a rate translate if achieved here? Second, what would such an “achievement” reveal about those behind it? Third and most importantly, in this industry, what does that word – “reform” – even mean?

Through my own research, the NY Times stats, and talks with industry experts, I believe that upwards of 2,000 horses die on or at American racetracks annually. 2,000. If they were to somehow half that (however unlikely that may be), would that, then, qualify as “success”? In reformer circles, it most certainly would; in fact, such a rate would be celebrated. Imagine that – backslapping at 1,000 carcasses. (To those who would argue my number, feel free to plug in another – 1500 to 750, 1200 to 600 – and then explain – with a straight face – how or why that would matter.)

Reform is hope. Reform is promise. Reform says “we’re on it,” a new day is at hand. But as applied here, reform is a ruse. In horseracing, the best reform can mean is less, not zero, dead horses – dead horses, I remind, for $2 bets. Is that what we’re to call progress in the 21st Century? I think not. Progress, true moral progress, would be a once and for all end to this sordid business, for as desperately as they – the apologists, the reformers, the so-called “water, hay, and oats” people – try to sell it, you can’t cleanse that which was never clean to begin with. You can’t fix wicked.