3-year-old Ashado Cat, fresh off a last place, 20-lengths-back finish on September 27th, broke down in last night’s 5th at Mountaineer.
With the rarest of exceptions, the death of a racehorse is a non-story – a vague note on a chart or an addendum to a larger piece on an injured jockey. For the latter, witness an anonymously penned blog (“Longshot’s Blog”) on Ashado’s breakdown: The first 20 or so sentences relay the trials and tribulations of jockey T.D. Houghton; one lone – and brief – line at the very end mentions the filly’s condition.
Contrary to what the racing people would have us believe, horses are neither athletes, nor partners, nor family members. They are expendable assets – willfully created, wantonly used, and (mostly) unceremoniously dumped. When they die, they are quickly forgotten – if even remembered at all. So, apologists, spare us your declarations of equine love, for each time one falls, you betray your true colors.
In an Erie Times-News article on Pennsylvania racing deaths, Penn National spokesman Fred Lipkin says, “In a perfect world, we would have zero breakdowns. … And I’m sure in the National Football League and the (National Basketball Association), they would hope that nobody ruptures an Achilles tendon. It’s the price of the sport when you’re dealing with 1,000-pound or 250-pound athletes.”
By now it should be clear that horse people are either delusional, ignorant, dishonest (most likely), or a combination thereof. The rational among us know that an autonomous human athlete does not equate in any way to an indentured horse. (And Aaron Rodgers is in no danger of being “put down” should he rupture his Achilles tonight.) But the most vile part of the quote is the last: “It’s the price of the sport…” Mr. Lipkin, that “price” you speak so casually about were once intelligent, sensitive creatures, and their grossly premature deaths are not innocent, unfortunate byproducts of sporting competition.
As for the numbers, according to the article, in the recently completed Presque Isle meet, 13 horses lost their lives – 10 while racing, 2 while training (heart attacks), and 1 “found dead in the stall.” (Presque Isle, long touted as one of the nation’s “safer tracks,” surpassed its kill total from last year.) Through August 27th, 33 have died at Parx – 24 racing, 8 training, and 1 from a fractured spine after flipping in the paddock. (Parx lost 44 in 2013.) And at Penn, through August 8th, 41 dead – 20 racing, 12 training, 9 “other.” (89 – yes, 89 – died there in 2013.) So, this year, in Pennsylvania alone, 87 horses have been sacrificed for Mr. Lipkin’s “sport.” This is horseracing.
Pity the poor Standardbred: With practically zero mainstream coverage – you won’t see Bob Costas at Yonkers Raceway – and no chart clues to decipher, the story of his exploitation and abuse goes mostly untold. But owing to the only-one-in-the-nation NY database, we occasionally unearth a bit of harness hell.
Last Thursday at Vernon Downs, a 2-year-old Standardbred by the name of Monsterinthepaint died “after being removed from [the] trailer”; autopsy revealed “colonic ulceration with colitis.” Officially, this gets filed under “non-racing” fatalities. But in truth, all racehorse deaths – whether from colitis, colic, laminitis, snapped bones, failed hearts, or slashed carotids – are Racing Deaths. All of them.
For some who’ve long been immersed in the horseracing culture, objectivity has all but vanished. As the Suffolk Downs era draws to an end, Ray Paulick offers this:
“It took the sweat and hard work of more than 4,000 workers to build Suffolk Downs. The audacious project, featuring what at the time was the world’s largest racetrack grandstand with 16,000 seats, was completed in a remarkable 62 days. It took three people – Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners Gayle Cameron, Enrique Zuniga and Bruce Stebbins – to shut it down with a simple vote.”
Mr. Paulick, to lay the blame for Suffolk’s demise at the feet of three racing commissioners is as shameful as it is plain wrong. Suffolk Downs is closing because its product – gambling on animal races – belongs in another time, the monopolistic, less sensitive 20th Century. The younger generations are rejecting your precious game; tracks like Suffolk Downs – which is to say, the majority of American racetracks – survive only through the slots welfare you speciously call a “partnership.”
So as the New England Thoroughbred people spin their tired tale of lost jobs and economic havoc, here’s hoping that region’s legislatures stay strong and let the market be what it will be. This is America: It is not within government’s charter to save obsolete industries.