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.

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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.

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.)