Steve Haskin recently penned an article for Blood-Horse in which he recalls a better time, a Golden Age of American racing, if you will:

“Picture a deep blue sky, a slight late winter’s chill in the air, warmed by the sun, and rows of colorful tulips bringing the first images of the impending spring. Picture a kaleidoscope of familiar colors atop noble steeds who have migrated north with the robins. Picture cigar smoke-filled buses and trains arriving one after another from all parts of the city. Picture people leaving work in the middle of the afternoon to participate in an annual rite of spring.

Picture all this and you have merely begun to picture opening day at Aqueduct back in the ’60s and ’70s, traditionally held in mid-March each year. New Yorkers every December went into racing hibernation, building up their funds and their unbridled enthusiasm, counting the days when the glorious sport of Thoroughbred racing returned to the Big Apple. With it came the rush of humanity off the train platform headed for the mutuel windows to get down on the Daily Double.”

Although Mr. Haskin goes on to censure today’s industry – the “carnage,” the drug culture – what stands out, yet again, is the self-delusion. These people, especially the grayer ones, really believe this stuff. Racing, to them, can be good, wholesome, benign – for man and horse alike. It is, of course, unmitigated garbage, garbage made all the worse when wrapped in flowery rhetoric, garbage that must be answered each and every time it’s spewed at a mostly naive and ignorant public.

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Allow me, Mr. Haskin, to break down your muse to its very core: Horseracing is the exploitation, abuse, and destruction of sentient beings for $2 bets. It’s what it has always been; it’s what it will always be – there is no rehabilitating an inherent wrong. So, Mr. Haskin, don’t act all befuddled as to what to do (“…no one seems to have any answers”), for the solution is as plain as one of today’s shattered cannon bones: Cease and desist. Find another line of work, another hobby, another human endeavor to wax poetic about. Your “glorious sport” kills horses.

From the website Horse Racing Nation:

“Horses like Eltoninadress are the heart and soul of Thoroughbred racing, venerable campaigners who love to win. The 5-year-old mare won for the ninth time from 31 starts… It was only a lowly claiming race with a purse of $19,000, but it once again showed the grit and determination Eltoninadress has displayed in her career. ‘She’s got a few aches and pains, but nothing serious,’ said trainer Robertino Diodoro, who has had Eltoninadress in his care three times, but lost her through a $10,000 claim to trainer Rodney Cone on Wednesday, the ninth time she has been haltered in her last 12 starts. ‘She’s got lots of heart,’ Diodoro said. ‘She’s just a solid mare. She’s just a race horse, yeah, a cheaper one, but she runs for everybody. She’s just a hard-knocking mare. She’s gutsy.'”

“Heart, grit, determination – hard-knocking and gutsy.” Really, how do these people sleep at night? To use conventional sports jargon for this horse, any horse, is as debased as it is dishonest. Let’s review the facts:

Racing stripped this innately autonomous being of all autonomy on the day she was born. She was left without family, without herd. Her life now consists mostly – 23 hours per day or more – of a solitary 10×10 stall. When she is “let out,” it is to “practice” – or race. When the latter, this “venerable campaigner who loves to win” is nonconsensually pumped with drugs and whipped for inspiration. In short, Eltoninadress is a garden-variety slave, and her nearly incessant shuffling among barns, obscenely offered above as some sort of honor (“the ninth time she has been haltered in her last 12 starts”), is simply another layer to her abuse. For shame.

Her rotating masters:

Michael Puhich, 3 races
Troy Taylor, 2 races
Puhich again, 4 races
Taylor again, 7 races
Robert Hess, 1 race
Jeff Mullins, 3 races
Adam Kitchingman, 1 race
Robertino Diodoro, 1 race
Steven Miyadi, 2 races
Mike Puype, 1 race
Miyadi again, 2 races
Diodoro again, 1 race
Peter Miller, 1 race
Diodoro again, 2 races
Rodney Cone, current

Eltoninadress…unnamed

Every once in a while (Aqueduct ’12, Saratoga and Del Mar this summer), the industry and its mouthpieces are forced to address the giant elephant in the room: their dead horses. But even when discussing hard numbers – at least the ones they begrudgingly concede – they distract and deceive like seasoned politicians. In a Friday DRF article, David Grening writes: “The recent fatalities [at Aqueduct] have brought the number of equine deaths suffered at [NYRA’s] three tracks in 2014 to 33…” Yes, if we ever so conveniently ignore the training kills. The true 2014 toll:

19 dead at Aqueduct (2 more “non-racing”)
31 dead at Belmont (10 more “non-racing”)
14 dead at Saratoga

64 dead at NYRA tracks – 76 if we appropriately include the “non-racing” deaths.

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But it gets worse: “NYRA officials…expressed concern about the recent fatalities but maintain that the number of catastrophic racing injuries – which they put at 22 – equals the second smallest in a quarter-century. Nine of the 33 fatalities, NYRA officials said, are classified as ‘sudden death’ from something such as a cardiovascular collapse or a broken neck suffered in a fall where the horse was not euthanized. NYRA classified two additional deaths as being unrelated to racing.”

And this from NYRA’s chief vet, Dr. Anthony Verderosa: “When horses are at speed, and you got 18,000 starts a year, you’re going to have some unfortunate incidences, and the numbers right now – and I hate to put it in those terms – are not that bad.”

How bankrupt are these people? First, in a contemptible attempt to shift some of the blame (to whom remains a mystery), they use the qualifier “catastrophic racing injuries,” thus excluding not only training deaths, but broken necks and “cardiac events” as well. Never mind that broken necks are caused by in-race collisions and falls; never mind that adolescent equines shouldn’t just drop dead. If it’s not an in-competition euthanasia, it doesn’t count; if it doesn’t count – progress.

Second, while the exploiters dismissing the destruction is to be expected, what are we to make of the state’s top medical professional, a person who has supposedly dedicated his life to helping animals, calling the gambling-induced deaths of 64 intelligent, sentient beings “not that bad”? In a word, revolting.

“The only reason it’s [Aqueduct Racetrack] in business is because of the casino.” (horseplayer “Harry the Horse,” Gothamist)

Writer Max Rivlin-Nadler sets the scene on Aqueduct’s Opening Day (Oct 29th):

“Aqueduct, with its wooden seats, tobacco-stained walls, and cavernous feel, remains as a vestige of a seedier time in New York City, before such cathedrals to vice were done in by changing tastes and corrupt management; $14 million in recent capital improvements have given Aqueduct a new scoreboard and a beautiful mural, but still, opening day didn’t really have much of a celebratory air about it.

‘This place has depreciated a lot,’ Angelo [another horseplayer] told me. ‘Used to be men in suits—now look at us.’ The crowd was as outerborough as it gets. Sweat suits, crumpled hats, and an air of desperation that tends to hover around people who bet on horses.

At noon, racing season at Aqueduct officially began with an electronic rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. On the third floor of the race track, an elderly man stood up and faced a monitor that was displaying the flag, the only soul in a vast concourse that had a maximum capacity of 768.” (full article and pics here)

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With a few exceptions (Saratoga, Keeneland, etc.), Aqueduct is 21st Century American horseracing – eschewed by the young, sustained by racino cash. So you see, we are most certainly not fighting a losing battle. When state legislatures tire of propping an archaic industry – and they will – much of it will go. Guaranteed.