In promoting its product – exploiting horses for gambling – Saratoga Race Course cynically targets young families, hoping, of course, to lure and condition the next generation of “fans” (bettors). Toward that end, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) offered the following in the recently completed meet:

“Saratoga is always a great place to bring the kids. The beautiful backyard at Saratoga is an ideal setting for picnics while watching the horses saddle in the Paddock. The weekly family festivals will be held each Monday of the meet at the Saratoga Pavilion, located…near the Carousel.”

“Admission to Saratoga Race Course is free for children 12 and under when accompanied by an adult any day of the meet throughout the season.”

“Each day-long event will include free face painting, arts and crafts, mascot appearances and bounce inflatables.”

In addition, there was a “puppet building workshop,” a “Mad Science interactive exhibit,” a “hands-on robotics demonstration,” and, on closing day, a “special magic show.”

from NYRA website
from NYRA website

And in a press-release from yesterday, NYRA President Chris Kay said, “With our guests treated to top quality thoroughbred racing, 40 days of special events and new capital improvements to enhance the on-track experience, the 2014 Saratoga meet was a success.” Additionally, “families were able to…visit the new ‘Horse Sense’ exhibit, enabling guests to get up close with the stars of the show…”

So, I wonder: Did the 12-and-under free admission include a backstage pass for the bleeding lungs – how fitting that the final horse in the final race on the final day pulled up “bleeding from the nostrils” – shattered sesamoids, and “mercy killings”? I’ve had several eyewitnesses to some of the 28 combined Saratoga/Del Mar deaths tell me they will never set foot on a racetrack again. Imagine how children, innately compassionate children, would respond to just a sliver of racing truth. Heck, I’d settle for a Scott Blasi-guided tour.

Saratoga’s Fallen “Stars”:

4-year-old Lifeguard On Duty, July 24, training: “pulled up badly…fx RF sesamoids”

3-year-old Double Gold, July 25, training: “fell over rail, suffering paralysis both hind legs due to trauma to lumbar spine”

3-year-old Father Johns Pride, July 28, race 7: “ambulanced off – euthanized in necropsy area”

3-year-old Lavender Road, July 30: “collapsed [repeatedly] on horse path leaving track, treated for heat exhaustion with no resolution…xrays revealed a fx to the 7th vertebrae”

2-year-old Sir William Bruce, August 2, race 5: “pulled up without incident, collapsed after unsaddling and died”

4-year-old Regretless, August 11, race 4: “collapsed and died on track – apparent cardio-vascular event”

3-year-old M B and Tee, August 21, race 7: “collapsed after finish unseating rider, died on track – suspected cardiovascular event”

2-year-old Kamarius, August 23, training: “pulled up after breezing on Oklahoma Track, ambulanced off, sustained fx RF leg”

2-year-old Ludicrous, August 23, race 4: “suffered fx RF leg – euthanized on track”

3-year-old Elena Strikes, August 24, training: “suffered fx LF leg while breezing on training track – euthanized on track”

7-year-old Makari, August 25, race 1: “fell unseating rider after going over hurdle – died on track”

2-year-old Divine Guidance, August 29: “pulled up and vanned off [August 27], xrays revealed fx RF leg”

The shamelessness knows no bounds. (By the way, Mr. Durkin, you should be crying over spilled blood, not the end of your shallow career as a track announcer.)

Forced – by media reports – to respond to 12 dead horses in Saratoga, NYRA issued the following statement Friday:

“Although New York State has made significant progress in reducing injuries and preventing the inappropriate use of medication in racehorses, the job of equine safety is never done. There will be challenges along the way. We are experiencing such a challenge during the 2014 Saratoga meet. A thorough investigation of all of the racing fatalities…is being conducted.

We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to identify the causes of death in all racing fatalities in New York. As stewards of the racehorse, we have a duty to do all that we can to honor and protect these incredible athletes.”

When it gets hot – post Barbaro/Eight Belles, Aqueduct ’11-’12, Saratoga/Del Mar ’14 – the industry talks of amping up its commitment to the “incredible athletes” – improved track surfaces, more stringent drug policies, lower purse-to-claim ratios, “safety stewards.” Yet even when “reforms” are implemented, the killing continues, virtually unabated. It continues because it’s built into the system.

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Racehorses are legally and morally regarded as pieces of movable property, things to be exploited. Property by definition has no serious interests to respect; exploitation by definition seeks to maximize the exploiters’ gain. So, they intensively train and race bred-for-speed horses on immature bodies. This will not change. So, they trade equines like pork belly futures, shuffling them from barn to barn, vet to vet, treatment philosophy to treatment philosophy. This will not change.

So, except for a reproductive-worthy few, they do not retire at the first sign of trouble, trouble that is patent to any experienced horseman. This will not change. So, they send the vast majority of the has-beens or never-were to the claiming game, which not only serves as the backbone (70%) of American racing, but is also where most of the dying occurs. This will not change. Racing, by its very nature, kills horses. And they know it.

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Horseracing, we are told, is a proud sporting fraternity, an extended family, if you will, comprised of both people – breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, etc. – and the equine “athletes” themselves. So when the House of Saratoga lost yet another of its daughters on Thursday (victim 7 on the meet), surely a wake or a funeral or, at the very least, a suspension of the day’s activities was in order. Alas, for 3-year-old filly M B and Tee, who collapsed and died after winning the 7th race, not even the perfunctory moment of silence. The show, as it were, went on, with the last three races of the day going off sans delay.

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So, horseracing, enough with your declarations of equine love. For each time one falls, your entire corrupt “family” betrays its true colors: This month’s other Saratoga casualties (listed below) became instant refuse, replaced, ever so easily, by brand-new cogs in the gambling machine. Your “sport” is inherently cruel and regularly deadly. And you know it.

4-year-old Lifeguard On Duty
3-year-old Double Gold
3-year-old Father Johns Pride
3-year-old Lavender Road
2-year-old Sir William Bruce
4-year-old Regretless

On Sunday, the Erie Times-News published an article by John Guerriero: “Despite horse injuries, Presque Isle Downs’ safety record remains good.” In it, Guerriero touts Presque Isle’s supposedly lower-than-national-average breakdown rate (despite, that is, seven kills in the current meet, which, Guerriero concedes, represents an “uptick” from last year’s five). I say supposedly because Presque Isle doesn’t identify its dead; it offers but a raw number that cannot be verified.

As for the horses who do die for $2 bets, Guerriero writes: “Martinez [Joe of the Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association] said that horse racing is an extreme sport that sometimes leads to injuries, just as some athletes in other sports suffer career-ending or even life-ending injuries.”

Mr. Martinez, do tell which other sports regularly lose their athletes on the field. Major League Baseball? One death (from a beaning) in 140 years. The National Football League? One death (from advanced arteriosclerosis) in 95 years. The National Basketball Association? Zero deaths in 70 years. This year alone, some 2,000 “equine athletes” will perish on American tracks, making your comparison both dishonest and obscene. Oh, and not to mention that troublesome little matter of consent.

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Guerriero continues: “Martinez said it’s heartbreaking when a horse goes down. ‘We cry about it at times, and we always feel bad. No one feels worse for the animal than we do,’ he said.” First, I’m quite sure that animal advocates feel worse about dead horses than you do. But beyond that, if you do indeed grieve for the fallen, stop doing what you’re doing – it’s just gambling, after all. As for you, Mr. Guerriero, act like a real journalist and report the truth – about racing, that is. Stop peddling their Big Lie.