Catalyst, an Australian science show, recently ran this segment on the whip. The entire program is worth a look, but one quote in particular stands out. Australian Racing Board chief Peter McGauran: “That [not shifting from pain] would have been learned behaviour, agreed. Under the old days [prior to new whip/whipping rules] I concede that the horses learnt to absorb the punishment afforded them.”

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The “old days”? 2009. Yes, that’s right, here we have a prominent racing executive admitting that as recently as five years ago, his jockeys inflicted “punishment” on his horses – punishment, by the way, seemingly well-“absorbed” due to learned helplessness. Imagine that. Yet I wonder, Mr. McGauran, does this mean that back in the “old days” you were sharing that opinion far and wide, or were you, like the rest, singing that decades-old industry line of the whip as “painless guide”? Please.

Oh, and one final note, Mr. McGauran: There is no past tense about this (“it was broken, so we fixed it”) – as the piece (science, common sense) makes abundantly clear, a whip in the hands of a racehorse jockey will always be an instrument of intimidation, conveyor of pain. Put another way, your kinder, gentler whipping is a lie. To steal a line from Clinton ’92, it’s animal cruelty, stupid. And ever it will be.


I’ve come to believe that horse-racers fall into one of three categories. In the first, surely the majority, are the grinders – those who race as career, for paycheck. Whether they were raised in the industry or came to it later, the bottom line with this group is always the same: It’s just business; the horses, to them, are but interchangeable cogs, resources, means to an end. No declarations of equine love here, just trade and transact – and often, especially in the claiming ranks (the bulk of American racing). And when one goes down, it’s plug another in and move on.

With the second, money, though always important, is not the primary allure. For these – whether blueblood racing families or rich celebrities mired in hollow lives – it’s about prestige, glory, ego. They hobnob and glass-tip and cheer on their expensive pets. Yet where is that obscene wealth when rescues come calling? Better yet, where are their rescues? Truth is, while they play, many of their erstwhile toys are wasting away at the hands of an Ernie Paragallo or some misguided hoarder; more, still, are bleeding-out in Mexican and Canadian abattoirs.

In the last are those who not only believe that what they do is not unethical, but, in fact, is (or at least can be) in the best interests of horses. When questioned, their responses are quick and predictable: “come visit my stable”; “my horses are treated better than many humans”; “horses are born to run, love to run”; “a horse with a job is a happy horse.” Beyond merely protecting, they care – as evidenced by the tears, prayers, and condolences when one of theirs falls. “Members of the family.” All of this, of course, is self-delusion par excellence. Not to mention, repugnant: true loved ones are not whipped, drugged, and sold – repeatedly – to the highest bidder.


In the end, though, the motive (income, hobby) or purported motive (“love”) is wholly irrelevant, for the core relationship between these people and their horses – exploiter-exploited – is inherently cruel; quite simply, it cannot be otherwise.

Receiving an Eclipse award last Saturday, longtime NBC/NYRA announcer Tom Durkin vomited the following:

“Together, we saw some amazing performances over the decades, performances that allowed me to honestly elocute words that horse races routinely generate – words like courageous, determined, sublime, otherwordly, magnificent. Thousands of words that were only an attempt to describe the indescribable Thoroughbred. What other game, what other pursuit, provides a prism for such passions? If nothing else, horse racing is an obsession fueled by dreams.

And here in a room full of dreamers, thank goodness for these incredible horses and the incredible things they do. I thank the game for the privilege of being able to have described their exploits, I thank the game for making a dream come true, and I thank you, thank you, for this incredible, truly incredible, honor with my deepest affection. Thank you.”

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Mr. Durkin, the appropriate words to describe racehorses and horseracing: tearing foals from moms, owners, chattel, enslavement, extreme confinement, desperate isolation, unformed bodies, motivation-through-whipping, nonconsensual drugging/doping, joint injections, “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage,” “vanned off,” “catastrophic breakdowns,” shattered sesamoids, snapped cannons, pentobarbital, fatal “neck traumas,” “sudden cardiac events,” claiming hell, “retirees” starving, kill auctions, transport trucks, slashed carotids, exsanguination, horsemeat. The abuse and destruction of sentient beings for $2 bets. Evil, Mr. Durkin. Evil.


“The Unformed Racehorse”

“Man vs Whip”

“When an Athlete Must Be Killed”

“Killed in Action”

“In All Likelihood, Most Retired Racehorses Are Being Slaughtered”

“How They Die”

I’ve recently begun filing FOIL/Right-to-Know requests with various state racing commissions in an effort to secure the names of the 2014 deceased (above and beyond the ones we already know about). As expected, results have been mixed. Two states – Ohio and Washington – responded with quick transparency. Most, though, I wait on. And then there are two (thus far) that sent back swift rejections:

Minnesota: “In response to your request for information for the names of the racehorses who died or were euthanized at Minnesota racetracks for calendar year 2014 in an email dated 1/14/2015, we are prohibited from sending this information by Minnesota law. Minnesota Statute 156.082 states that veterinary records of a client that are maintained by a state agency, statewide system, or political subdivision are private [italics added] data on individuals or nonpublic data…”

And this from Kentucky, one of Racing’s cornerstone states: “This letter is in response to your Open Records Request… In that request, you seek ‘the names of the racehorses who died or were euthanized at Kentucky racetracks for calendar year 2014.’ The KHRC is not in possession of any documents that would be responsive to your request. You may want to contact the Jockey Club…”

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Juxtapose the above with a much touted recent news item on “Kentucky deliver[ing] its safest year on record” (well, at least since they began keeping track – 2007). A Blood-Horse article says that last year “there were 16 catastrophic breakdowns during races [they conveniently ignore training deaths] at Kentucky Thoroughbred tracks.” In that article, the Commission’s medical director, Mary Scollay, credits the “success” to a “collaborative effort.” In other words, while Dr. Scollay and the rest of the Commission can (shamelessly) tell us that only 16 horses “catastrophically broke down” on Kentucky tracks last year, they can’t tell us who they are – because, you know, they’re “not in possession of [those] documents.”

After I replied by calling their claim dishonest and insulting, I received a follow-up. Although cordial in tone, the Commission still maintains that they know not which horses died on Bluegrass tracks last year. As a consolation, however, they generously provided me a spreadsheet of “race-related fatal injuries” from ’07-’14. Wow.

Kentucky, those 16 (that you’re willing to concede) animals killed in the pursuit of handle cash were individuals – intelligent and sensitive beings with distinct personalities. They deserve more than being lumped into a single nameless, faceless tally. In the end, though, it is an indignity befitting their entire pathetic lives.