Ignore everything you read and hear from the apologists. This is bad. Very bad. For an industry that has been under relentless siege for over a year now, the federal indictments that came down yesterday against some 27 people in, or associated with, American horseracing – including seven veterinarians (who merit an especial contempt) and renowned trainers Jason Servis (he of short-lived Derby winner Maximum Security) and Jorge Navarro (killer of X Y Jet) – couldn’t have come at a worse time. But it’s important not to get too far into the weeds on this.

As I wrote in the wake of PETA’s undercover investigation of another famous trainer’s (Steve Asmussen) barn in 2013, it’s more about the human-horse relationship than the case particulars. On this relationship, horseracing is more amoral than immoral, for traditional rules of morality simply do not apply. (Defrauding bettors is a topic best discussed elsewhere – i.e., I don’t care.) Racehorses are pieces of property, assets, things to be made, used, and discarded; you can no more act immorally toward your racehorse than you can your house or car. Accordingly, virtually anything goes. And that is the story here. And make no mistake, Navarro, Servis, and the rest, like Asmussen and Blasi before them, are horseracing, and anyone who says different is either lying, ignorant, or self-deluded.

Anyway, here are some of the indictments’ “highlights.”

“[Dealer Sarah] Izhaki represented that ‘The Devil’ was ‘[s]omething very new, you put it in the horse, you can use coke: it will come back negative.’

“On or about October 2, 2019, [veterinarian Louis] Grasso counseled [trainer Thomas] Guido on the proper administration of misbranded and adulterated PEDs, and specifically discussed the death of a horse that Guido was training and stated had been doped with a PED…noting, ‘it happens,’ that the deceased horse’s trainer had ‘probably over juiced him,’ and that the suspected cause of the horse’s death was not unusual: ‘I’ve seen that happen 20 times.’

“On or about October 17, 2019, Grasso reiterated to [assistant trainer Conor] Flynn his willingness to provide prescriptions without verifying medical necessity, advising…that his fee was ‘$100 per script,’ regardless of the prescription: ‘I don’t give the fuck what it is.’

“On or about October 23, 2019…Flynn indicated that he was willing to inject misbranded and adulterated PEDs of unknown composition into his racehorses because he was ‘a fucking desperado….’

“On or about January 2, 2016, [dealer Scott] Robinson forwarded the following customer complaint to [dealer Scott] Mangini: ‘I ordered some [PED-1]…starting bout 8 hours after I give the injection and for about 36 hours afterwards both my horses act like they are heavily sedated, can barely walk. Could I have a bad bottle of medicine, I’m afraid to give it anymore since this has happened three times.’ Commenting on this complaint, Robinson wrote, ‘here is another one.’

“On a February 1, 2019, intercepted call between [trainer Nicholas] Surick and [collaborator] Michael Tannuzzo discussing [trainer Jorge] Navarro, Surick stated: ‘You know how many fucking horses he fucking killed and broke down that I made disappear. … You know how much trouble he could get in…if they found out?’

“During an April 3, 2019, call between Navarro and [trainer Marcos] Zulueta, the two discussed, among other things, Navarro’s administration of PEDs to XY Jet in the weeks leading up to, and on the day of, the race in Dubai, and Navarro explained: ‘I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.’

“Following XY Jet’s victory in Dubai, [veterinarian] Seth Fishman congratulated Navarro on the win via text message, and Navarro replied, ‘Thank u boss u are a big part of it.’

“On or about May 29, 2019, Navarro held a conference call with the operators of a racing stable in California, for whom Navarro is a trainer, during which they discussed a series of poor performances by “Nanoosh,” a racehorse trained by Navarro. During the call, one of the operators questioned whether Navarro was ‘giving them all the shit,’ later asking, ‘Is this horse jacked out? Is he on fucking pills or what or are we just fucking -,’ to which Navarro responded, ‘Everything…he gets everything.’

“On a March 5, 2019, intercepted call between [trainer Jason] Servis and Navarro, Servis recommended ‘SGF’ to Navarro, stating, ‘I’ve been using it on everything almost.’ Navarro stated…that he ‘got more than 12 horses on’ SGF-1000….’

“[D]uring an intercepted call between Navarro and Tannuzzo, Navarro explained, in part, that he otherwise would have been caught doping: ‘[The racing official] would’ve caught our asses fucking pumping and pumping and fuming every fucking horse [that] runs today.’

You know it’s bad when even your staunchest supporters are calling you out. John Cherwa is, of course, an unabashed racing apologist and, not unrelated, the paper he writes for, the Los Angeles Times, is a decidedly biased source of information on all things racing. (I have twice submitted editorials offering the activists’ perspective, to no avail; I and others have repeatedly reached out to Times staff in an effort to correct the record and/or lodge objections to Cherwa’s reporting, but again, nothing.) So imagine my surprise when Mr. Cherwa’s Tuesday column began thus:

“We’ve often said that statistics can be used to prove whatever point you are trying to make. For example, Santa Anita likes to use one about the number of horses that have been on the track, racing and training, to prove that the horse fatality rate is much lower than what people think. It’s in the tens of thousands of horses for this meeting. While it is true horses have been on the track, as they are several days a week, if only for a jog, it’s a made-up figure. The track just extrapolates the number of horses it has and comes up with an average. It would be shredded by an auditor. When you’re going to give a number is [sic] the thousands or even millions of a percent, you better be 100% correct. It’s why I don’t use that figure.”

And what exactly are the numbers Santa Anita is reporting? On their “Horse Care & Safety” page, under “Statistics,” this: “Home to 2,000 horses over ten months of the year, Santa Anita Park is one of the largest equine training facilities in the world. Horses raced or trained at Santa Anita Park over 420,000 times in 2019 with a 99.991% safety rate.” But it gets worse: “407,578 HORSES HAVE RACED, WORKED, OR GALLOPED THE PAST YEAR AT SANTA ANITA PARK.” Factually incorrect: There aren’t even 400,000 active racehorses in the entire country – not even close.

More “statistics,” of course, follow – a barrage of numbers meant to distract and deceive. Overwhelmed, the average person (and much of the media) will likely retain but one: “99.991%” – or, exactly as intended. (In addition, you have to scroll through all the “good news” to get to the bad – the “incidents,” as they call them. How many give up long before then?) But even if that “safety rate” were true, what would it matter? Here’s what we do know with absolute certainty: (at least) 8 horses have died at Santa Anita just since the first of the year; 43 dead in 2019, 48 in 2018, 46 in 2017; since 2007, over 600 dead racehorses at Santa Anita. Each of those lives had inherent value; to reduce their unequivocally wanton deaths to a percentage or ratio (see also The Jockey Club’s celebrated “Equine Injury Database”) is as callous as it is sad.

Then there’s this: Two separate studies have shown that the majority of spent American racehorses are brutally and violently bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end. In fact, the industry itself has even admitted as much: Last fall, Alex Waldrop, head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, told USA Today that 7,500 Thoroughbreds are going to slaughter annually. Let me repeat, one of the most powerful people in racing acknowledges that multiple thousands – it’s actually more in the 10,000-12,000 range – of his industry’s erstwhile “athletes” land in equine hell every year. This fact alone not only guts their vaunted “safety rate,” but renders their declarations of the “primacy of equine welfare” positively obscene.

But Cherwa’s generous spirit had not quite run its course. Reinforcing the unassailable truth that this is a failing industry, Cherwa went on to compare the numbers from this year’s President’s Day at Santa Anita to the one in 2000:

attendance, 2000: 20,450 (and, he notes, it was raining that day)
attendance, 2020: 7,003

That’s a 66% decrease.

handle, 2000: $10,569,081
handle, 2020: $6,213,445

That’s a 41% decrease.

number of races, 2000: 10
number of races, 2020: 8

That’s a 20% decrease.

number of starters, 2000: 63
number of starters, 2020: 48

That’s a 24% decrease.

With demand for the racing product in steady decline, and the cruelty and killing at long last laid bare for the whole world to see, can the end, then, be far off?

Alas, a tragic truth: Hearts and minds alone will not win this fight. As long as Horseracing continues to enjoy obscene amounts of corporate welfare – a.k.a. subsidies – it will continue to exist, no matter how effective we are in shifting public opinion or in reducing the demand for the racing product. Our big challenge on this front, however, is that most people, including the politicians ultimately responsible for them, are utterly unaware of the subsidies and how they work. But that’s beginning to change, as evidenced by Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf’s recent proposal to reclaim some $200 million from Racing and redirect it where it was supposed to go in the first place – education.

The industry, of course, is terrified that this could become a trend; if it does, the bulk of U.S. Racing will fail, practically overnight. When forced to defend, the industry’s argument goes like this: With lotteries, casinos, and now “all-sports betting,” the gambling landscape has dramatically changed. Horseracing, they say, has (unfairly) been put at a competitive disadvantage and needs help leveling the field. Next comes talk of “tradition” and economic impact – “thousands of jobs,” ancillary industries like feed, hay, etc. Never mind that animal racing had a virtual monopoly on legal gambling for decades; never mind that their numbers are mostly pulled out of thin air. This pitch has heretofore been effective, for no politician wants to be on the wrong side of jobs.

Anyhow, rarely do we get honesty on this (which is to be fully expected as this industry’s entire business model is based on a lie: horseracing as sport). So imagine my surprise when HorseRaceInsider – “The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing” – admitted that this subsidy thing of theirs, once exposed, is unsustainable, a sure loser if tried in the court of public opinion. Recently, HorseRaceInsider’s Tom Jicha wrote:

“An existential threat to racing, more ominous than a distressing spate of horse deaths, reared its head again this week. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, in his annual budget message, asked his state’s lawmakers to redirect more than $200 million of casino proceeds, which currently goes to his state’s horse racing and breeding program, to a new college scholarship fund. If the governor gets his way, purses at the state’s horse tracks would decrease by 90%. Pennsylvania HBPA executive director Todd Mostoller was succinct in what this would mean. ‘We would be out of business.’

“Even if [the proposal fails], this is not an idea that is going to go away. [T]he governor is playing a strong hand likely to be enthusiastically received by the masses. There aren’t many politicians who wouldn’t want to go to their electorate on a platform that if we take away money from horse racing purses…we can underwrite the higher education of 25,000 of our children.”

Jicha went on to cite similar dangers lurking in West Virginia (incessant budget problems) and New York (pension issues; “Gov. Cuomo’s disdain for racing”). But then the money quote, coming, I remind, from a prominent racing writer: “To be honest, I’m not sure there is an effective argument against the case Gov. Wolf is making.”

No there isn’t, Mr. Jicha. Preserving a declining industry, as measured by demand (handle, attendance), that abuses and kills sentient beings as a matter of course, at the expense of schoolchildren (or any student) is eminently untenable. In other words, the clock is ticking, and you know it.

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf unveiled a budget that would divert some $200 million in horseracing subsidies to education: “I’m proposing a historic $200 million investment in scholarships for the young Pennsylvanians attending our state system universities. And we’ll do that by repurposing existing tax dollars that are right now flowing into the Horse Racing Development Fund. Let’s bet on our kids instead of bankrolling race horse owners.”

(Pete Peterson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, said this, in the Daily Racing Form, in response: “If approved by the legislature, this raid would result in the end of horse racing in Pennsylvania by eviscerating the primary funding source for the purses [90% of purse cash comes from slots and other gaming] and breeder incentives that serve as the lifeblood of the industry.” A “raid”? Please. But let’s hope Mr. Peterson proves prophetic.)

Hear, hear, Governor Wolf! We have been arguing for this for years: Stop bailing out a dying, cruel industry at the expense of schoolchildren, infrastructure, etc. Early last year, I sent the following to every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly (I have updated with latest figures). Today, it is more important than ever that they hear from us: Pennsylvania House; Pennsylvania Senate. And let’s also express our gratitude to Governor Wolf. (Feel free to paraphrase anything you see below.)

I am writing today in the hope that you might reconsider the subsidies being paid to your state’s horseracing industry. I am arguing this on two levels: First, propping up individual industries runs counter to America’s free-market principles. Myriad trades have come and gone in our nation’s history (horse-and-buggy), with winners and losers determined by the merits of, and relative demand for, one’s goods and services. It should not be in government’s purview to keep unwanted – as decided by the market – businesses afloat. To that, here are some pertinent facts:

Horseracing is clearly in decline: Since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 34 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, “fields,” “foal crop,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down. The public is speaking – unequivocally – with its wallet.

With the ubiquity of stand-alone casinos and state lotteries (and soon, all-sports betting), Racing has cried foul, claiming that these new businesses are somehow unfair to them. In fact, prior to the advent of lottery products, Horseracing enjoyed a virtual monopoly – for decades – on legal gambling. Now that was unfair.

In Pennsylvania, according to a 2017 report, the racing industry has received $2.6 billion in corporate welfare over the past decade – $239 million in ’17 alone. Referring to this, The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an editorial, wrote, “If multiple billions can’t turn around an industry, isn’t it time we asked how much longer we’re willing to try before altering the arrangement?” (see also, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial)

Far more important, however, is the moral aspect to all this. In short, horseracing kills horses – lots of them. Through our seminal FOIA reporting, we have determined that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training on U.S. tracks every year – easily six per day; to date, we have documented almost 6,000 kills on our website – cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma; shattered limbs, ruptured ligaments, broken necks, crushed spines.

In addition, every year, hundreds more perish from what the industry craftily calls “non-racing causes” – colic, laminitis, “found dead in stall.” In truth, however, these horses are no less casualties than the ones who snap legs on raceday. And perhaps worst of all, the great majority of “retired” racehorses end up brutally and violently slaughtered when deemed no longer profitable – some 10,000-15,000 Thoroughbreds alone annually. Put bluntly, but accurately, the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Yes, carnage.

But it’s even worse. While active, life for the typical racehorse is mean and cruel:

From birth, racehorses are pieces of property – chattel. They are bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide – a stressful, tenuous existence that in and of itself causes pain and suffering: According to the Pennsylvania 2016 FOIA documents, to date the most detailed we have received, virtually every one of the dead horses died with ulcers, most “extensive to severe.”

Racehorses are kept locked in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day, making a heartrending mockery of the industry claim that horses are “born to run, love to run.”

Racehorses are kept utterly isolated from their peers – an extra layer of cruelty for naturally social, herd-oriented animals.

Racehorses are (obviously) nonconsensually drugged and doped – incessantly injected with myriad performance-enhancing, injury-masking, and pain-numbing chemicals.

Racehorses are utterly controlled and subjugated for the entire length of their “careers.” Indeed, the “race” itself can only be effected through force: nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and, of course, perched humans wielding whips.

In summary, not only is your state diverting much-needed funding for education and other public-good projects to a dying industry, but, in a cruel twist, taxpayers, the vast majority of whom have zero interest in horseracing, are subsidizing unconscionable cruelty and wanton killing. While we would love to see a day when horseracing is banned (like dogracing), for now we are simply asking that the market be allowed to do what it is designed to do. Please do not fall prey to their talk of lost jobs and economic havoc. Horseracing, unlike, perhaps, some other industries (agriculture, banking), is not too big or essential to fail. And if allowed, failure will bring the added benefit of collective moral advancement, as countless horses will henceforth be spared lives of immense suffering and horrible deaths. Thank you.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs

The ’17 and ’18 (the last two years for which we have full statistics) Pennsylvania Dead:

Parx Racing: 43 dead racehorses
Penn National: 48 dead racehorses
Presque Isle Downs: 9 dead racehorses
Harrah’s Philadelphia: 1 dead racehorse
Pocono Downs: 4 dead racehorses
The Meadows: 2 dead racehorses

Parx Racing: 35 dead racehorses
Penn National: 45 dead racehorses
Presque Isle Downs: 8 dead racehorses
Harrah’s Philadelphia: 4 dead racehorses
Pocono Downs: 2 dead racehorses
The Meadows: 4 dead racehorses