“Those who think they can simply wish away a legal, multibillion-dollar enterprise with a rich history that employees thousands, supports local economies and is enjoyed by millions are fooling themselves. … The reality is that, for now, no matter how many horses stumble to their deaths at Santa Anita; no matter how much protesters shout at racing fans as they pull their coolers through the gates of the Saratoga Race Course; no matter what kind of negative press follows the industry’s safety record, labor practices and administration, the Sport of Kings will see another summer. And another summer after that. Bet on it.”

And so begins a shallow and terribly misleading editorial by The Daily Gazette (Schenectady) editorial board last Sunday. Most glaringly, it utterly ignores the sea changes in the “animal-entertainment” sector over just the past few years: Ringling shuttered, SeaWorld exposed and in decline, rodeo prohibitions spreading, and most relevant to the issue at hand – dogracing in its death throes.

When Floridians voted overwhelmingly to outlaw dogracing last November, they did so because it was rightly deemed cruel, wrong, unethical, or whatever term you care to use. In fact, dogracing is outright banned in 41 states – banned, as in rejected by the people as morally intolerable. The board, I’m sure, is very much aware of this, but lacks the courage to declare what any intelligent, objective person can easily discern – in regard to the welfare of the animals involved, horseracing is dogracing. No need to guess, however, whence comes this cowardice – money, as the board makes clear at the top. Dogracing is seedy tracks, lowlife bettors, hand-to-mouth owners – a two-bit gambling business. Horseracing is Churchill Downs, Tom Brady, Stronachs and sheikhs – “The Sport of Kings.”

Locally, horseracing is the Saratoga behemoth, with its teeming turnstiles and bustling boutiques. Never mind the 14 horses who perish there every summer. There’s cash to be had and jobs to be filled, and far be it from us, a mere local newspaper, to get in the way of that. But here again, the board fails to present a full and honest picture: Relative to the industry at large, Saratoga is an aberration. It, and maybe five or six other tracks – out of about 100 – are financially sound. Most of the rest are being wholly propped up by subsidies, and for a good portion of those – including all of the harness variety – everything said about dogracing above fully applies.

The editorial goes on to cite the latest desperate attempt by the industry to assuage an increasingly uneasy public: the “Thoroughbred Safety Coalition.” “Encouraging progress,” they call it. Again, a bit of homework by the board would have revealed that this is what Racing does each and every time the heat gets hot – Eight Belles in ’08, Aqueduct in ’12, Del Mar in ’15 and ’16, Saratoga in ’17 – promise “reform” and a “commitment to equine welfare,” and all the while the bodies continue to pile up.

As to the aforementioned “shouting,” since it is us (HW) doing the protesting, I deeply resent both the characterization and the imagery it evokes. We are there to educate. We do this by holding fact-based banners and signs; respectfully offering informational leaflets; and, yes, by chanting – which as even a middle-school student could tell you is a time-honored tool of protest employed by every great social-justice movement in our nation’s history. This past summer, any shouting that did occur came at the provocation of patrons – more specifically, men getting in the faces of some of our female protesters and calling them the vilest of names. And I for one will push back on that every single time.

Look, I know there are lots of people out there who think we have no chance, that Racing is too big, too powerful, too entrenched. I know there are others who simply deride us as “extremists.” When I hear this, I think of Dr. King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – “At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist.” – and take solace in the knowledge that all social-justice activists who went before were, too, dismissed as crazy (“Gay marriage?” “You must be joking!”). Truth is, once begun, these fights for rights – be they labor, civil, gender, sexual, etc. – go one way. And so it will be with animal rights, including those of enslaved racehorses, no matter how hard the small-minded reactionaries resist. In fact, it’s happening as we speak.

Whipping a racehorse is the most conspicuous form of animal abuse this side of bullfighting and basically every rodeo “competition.” No need for undercover cameras here. Because of this – or to be more accurate, because of Santa Anita thrusting all things racing into the spotlight – the industry is desperately scrambling. What to do about something that has been a fundamental part of racing since time immemorial.

For most in racing, however, whipping is but a problem of perception. Indeed, at the monthly CHRB meeting just two days ago, new board member Wendy Mitchell said this: “The optics on it [whipping] are bad.” The “optics.” Not that we agree it’s cruelty, mind you; it just looks bad. Well. Back in ’15, the ABC (Australia) ran a piece on this very subject. The whole thing (below) is worth watching, but a couple quotes stand out.

Dr. Lydia Tong, veterinary pathologist, on the relative skin thickness of horses and humans: “The really interesting part is that right up in the epidermis, which is the top layer and that’s where the pain-sensing C fibres are, in the human specimen that’s thicker than the horse’s. So by the old argument of horse’s skin is thicker and they feel it less, actually you could argue human’s skin is thicker.” So have someone take a horse whip to your leg (which was done in the show) and report back.

Then this on horse nature: “If a prey animal shows its pain very overtly, they are more likely to then be noticed and picked out by a predator. So actually often prey animals they kind of shut up and put up.”

And finally, this from Australian Racing’s Peter McGauran: “That [not shifting from pain] would have been learned behaviour, agreed. Under the old days [prior to new whip/whipping rules] I concede that the horses learnt to absorb the punishment afforded them.”

The “old days”? 2009. Yes, that’s right, here we have a prominent racing executive admitting that as recently as five years prior, his jockeys inflicted “punishment” on his horses – punishment, by the way, seemingly well-“absorbed” due to learned helplessness. Imagine that. Yet I wonder, Mr. McGauran, does this mean that back in the “old days” you were sharing that opinion far and wide, or were you, like the rest, singing that decades-old industry line of the whip as “painless guide”? Please.

Oh, and one final note, Mr. McGauran: There is no past tense about this (“it was broken, so we fixed it”); as the piece (science, common sense) makes abundantly clear, a whip in the hands of a racehorse jockey will always be an instrument of intimidation, conveyor of pain. Put another way, your kinder, gentler whipping is a lie. To steal a line from Clinton ’92, it’s animal cruelty, stupid. And ever it will be.

According to the Collins Dictionary, “stupid” is “lacking in common sense, perception, or normal intelligence”; “slow-witted.” With that as backdrop, I call your attention to a recent op-ed from former jockey and current analyst Donna Brothers in the Paulick Report. While the article, which is mostly a diatribe against PETA, should be fully ingested for a true appreciation, here are my highlights (and comments in italics):

“…[on domestication] PETA is on a mission whose end-game is to eventually halt the natural bond between man and animal that has led them to co-exist since before written record!”

There is, of course, nothing natural about domestication; in fact, it is the antithesis.

“Horses have also seen man into civilization; helped them win battles at war…”

In the Civil War alone, the number of equines killed to “help man win battles” is measured in the millions. Scores of patently gentle, innocent animals killed in violent, horrific, and terrifying ways so man could wage war. There’s no glorifying that.

“The thing about horses is that they’re going to run, play, jump, frolic and race across vast fields with or without us. What makes us love them is that they are gracious enough to let us go along for the ride.”

What happens in nature bears no resemblance to what happens at a racetrack, where nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and perched, whip-wielding humans prompt the “playing” and “frolicking.” “Gracious enough to let us go along for the ride”? Vile.

“And, yes, sometimes horses are fatally injured alone in a field—or on the track—while doing this. It will break my heart every single time, but I know with all that I am, that they love their humans and their sport as much as we love them and this sport that allows us to interact with them in a deeply meaningful and fulfilling way.”

Yes, they “love their humans” – the same humans who lock them in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day (born to run?); who stick them with needles and beat them with whips; who buy, sell, trade, and dump them like common Amazon products; and who ship them – by the thousands every year – to brutal, bloody, and violent ends. That’s “interact[ing] with them in a deeply meaningful and fulfilling way”? Contemptible, Ms. Brothers.

“Though musculoskeletal injury to a horse during racing is an aberration, it is a gut wrenching event for everyone.”

Yes, that’s right, I’ve documented thousands of “aberrations” on this site.

“Much of what humans know about the care of horses…is owed to private funding from the thoroughbred racing industry. We reduce the likelihood of terminal skeletal injury, and we’re getting better at it all the time. That said, we cannot totally eliminate the evolutionary destiny of horses left to their own accord anymore than we can eradicate all diseases and fractures in man.”

“…the evolutionary destiny of horses left to their own accord” – I’m running out of adjectives.

“It sounds silly to those who don’t follow horse racing, but these horses aren’t just our friends. We work with them day in and day out. Our entire life revolves around their care and they become family. We cheer for them and fear for them. We hope for them, we laugh with them, and we even cry for them.”

Question for Ms. Brothers and her “horse-loving” brethren: Ever dropped a horse in a “claiming race,” thereby putting that “family member” up for sale? Thought so. And can you identify the whereabouts of all your past “family members”? Didn’t think so. And to say you “fear for them” after you yourselves have willfully and unnecessarily put them in harm’s way is but another in a long line of obscenities.

“Compared to approximately 55 training or racing fatalities per month in the U.S. (1.86 per 1,000 starts), there are nearly 3,300 human deaths per month due to automobile accidents. … It turns out that it is actually safer to race our horses than it is to drive our children on the roads…”

First, your number – 55 – is woefully understated; it’s more like 155. As to comparing racehorse kills with automobile deaths, I’d wager that even those children you speak of would grasp the absurdity.

“One of the arguments against racing that I’ve heard is that people can accept injuries in human athletes since they choose to compete, but race horses are forced to race—it’s not their choice. Any horseman reading this can confirm that this is not even possible! … If a horse does not want to race there is no amount of persuasion that will change that horse’s mind. I’ve seen horses that don’t want to race—and we don’t race them! Not every thoroughbred is born with racing on their mind but the vast majority of them are… … Our horses that race, love to race, and we love to watch them—even help them—achieve their best form.”


And finally, this:

“People haven’t domesticated horses, dogs and cats, they’ve domesticated themselves.”

Your capacity for perversion is truly dizzying, Ms. Brothers. Again, I refer to the dictionary: “domesticate: to train or adapt (an animal or plant) to live in a human environment and be of use to humans.” Tamed by man for man, including, of course, your precious horses. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid writes.

In a recent The Racing Biz article, pro-racing (obviously) writer Teresa Genaro perfectly relays the moral qualms an ever-increasing number of lifelong racing fans are experiencing these days. She explains that in the “dreadful” Aqueduct winter of 2012, “the one in which so many horses died,” she began an “unconscious practice” of listening to races rather than watching them, for fear, of course, of breakdowns. She writes: “That winter induced a sort of PTSD that made me keep my head down until I felt confident that the horses were all going to come home safely.”

“…a sort of PTSD that made me keep my head down until I felt confident that the horses were all going to come home safely.”

Last Saturday, she went on to say, “that old feeling returned,” so at first she only listened to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But the allure proved too strong and she began watching. Then this from the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman hit her Twitter feed:

Mongolian Groom was dead, and she, along with millions of others, was left to grapple with her conscience:

“…when I watched Vino Rosso, gleaming in the Santa Anita gloaming, triumphantly find redemption at the finish line of the biggest race of his life, I push aside, at least for a little while, my awareness of the risks inherent in the sport that I love. But the next time the starting gate opens, that awareness comes rushing right back, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to live with that.”

Look, if you feel the need to avert your eyes at a show because there’s a good chance one of the (nonconsensual, it must be noted) performers may die, you already have your answer. Follow your heart – not the heart that “loves” things like Thai food, long weekends, baseball, or Thoroughbred horseracing; rather, the heart that houses empathy, kindness, and compassion. In the final analysis, Ms. Genaro, your continued support of an industry that maims and murders multiple thousands (let’s not forget the ones bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end) of fully sentient beings annually in the name of “sport” and “entertainment” is morally indefensible. And you know it.