Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets: Brash Tony
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile and Patrick J Battuello

In a 2002 The Michigan Thoroughbred (published by the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association) article, “These Gallant Geldings,” the author touts the value of claimers, calling them “the backbone of the daily racing program.” Injuries, the magazine says, are hardly a reason to retire these crucial card fillers: “Perhaps they have suffered an injury that has compromised their chances of running at full potential. For whatever reason they are training along side some of the best and putting on a substantial part of the racing program at most tracks. They are the bread and butter horses of daily racing. Most of these claimers are geldings, as they have no residual breeding potential and therefore have an extended [italics added] racing career.”

The article went on to happily report that nine-year-old Shamanuu edged out eight-year-old Brash Tony for 2001 Claimer of the Year at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan: “Both of these gallant geldings have shown they love to run! They have shown great heart, are competitive and determined. They are great examples of all the characteristics we value in a racehorse. The fact that they raced at a lower level than stakes horses should not diminish their achievements, as they are the backbone of the racing industry.” The vote, as it turns out, was a shameful deception, for one of the gallants in the running was already dead. Yes, dead, before the ballots were even cast.

We first encountered Brash Tony in the late fall of 2001. Our weekly visits to Great Lakes Downs, walking the shedrows looking for possible rescues, were coming to an end along with that year’s race meet. The Thoroughbreds at this small track would soon be moving on to the next circuit stop, and if no onsite rescue existed there, the injured or physically compromised would be prime targets for slaughter. That morning, Brash Tony, visibly limping, was tethered to an automatic walking machine, head bobbing with each painful step. Round and round he went, trying mightily to keep pace. We knew right then that this poor horse needed saving. Our request was summarily denied. The trainer insisted he had no injuries, describing the arthritic horse as “just a lazy son of a bitch that takes a long time to warm up.” His prescription for indolence: “I make him loosen up and go on the walking machine for several hours each day.” Several hours.

With the trainer unmoved, we approached Brash Tony’s diamond and gold-clad owner, who was taking in morning practice. Donation, of course, was out of the question, but he “generously” offered Brash Tony for $600, an inflated price for a broken, dispirited animal probably destined for euthanasia. We, of course, paid his asking price and immediately took him to see an equine orthopedic surgeon at Michigan State University. The good doctor, knowing how excruciating each step had become, brought the radiology equipment to the patient. The x-rays confirmed our fears: Brash Tony was beyond help, even his standing state a painful one. And so, on a crisp November day in 2001, Brash Tony was peacefully laid to rest. His “extended racing career,” his years of servitude mercifully at an end. No more masters, no more seedy tracks, no more whips, no more painkillers, no more walking machines, no more suffering. Gentle release.

Michigan requires pre-race exams to ensure that only the sound run, but the state vets at Great Lakes failed their duty. Brash Tony was forced to the gate, arthritic legs (at eight, he should have been in his prime) and all. In the end, he was killed by simple human greed. Shamanuu, career earner of almost $200,000, started his last race the following April at Illinois’ Sportsman Park. Pulling up early on, the other “gallant gelding” was “vanned off,” never to be heard from again. Coincidentally, this was the same month his “victory” was announced in The Michigan Thoroughbred. Life for “bread and butter” claimers is even worse today as racino-bloated purses entice horsemen to run their damaged assets in low-risk, high-reward races. If a bone snaps, no great loss, for other cheap, anonymous horses await. Brash Tony and Shamanuu toiled a world away from Triple Crown pageantry, a world where mainstream media and casual fans rarely stray. Sad, indeed.

Horseracing Wrongs is proud to present the first in a series of guest posts from two of the most respected equine advocates in the country, Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile. Both on their own and through their rescue, Saving Baby Equine Charity, Jo Anne and Joy have positively impacted the lives of countless animals, undoubtedly saving many from cruel and bloody fates.

The pair will publish under the heading, “Shedrow Secrets” and with this picture of Baby as their symbol:

Shedrow Secrets

Winds of Love
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile

On November 6, 2007, Winds of Love labored to a last place finish, beaten soundly by eight lengths. The nine year old gelding had run twelve times in just 5 months, managing only a pair of third place finishes for earnings of $2,493. Entered as frequently as every seven days, it was very clear that his racing days were over. He was running at a small low-level track in Michigan, far from the Florida racetracks where he had been a winner ridden by high-profile jockeys such as Pat Day and Cornelio Velasquez. But while the local betting public saw only an aging gelding running for the smallest purses, the stakes were actually much higher…Winds of Love was running for his life.

He had become an unfortunate member of a stable belonging to an owner/trainer duo known for running injured and ill-kept horses. Walking through their shed row, one would find the horses waiting until noon for their first meal of the day. Horses with big ankles and dull coats stood in urine-soaked stalls for hours on end. There were those that had only ever been cheap claimers, and there were former stakes horses bred by the most well-known and respected farms in Kentucky, Florida, and California. But royal pedigrees and impressive earnings were forgotten here. All of the horses were expected to “get a check,” and running with accumulated damage to joints and limbs was commonplace. Failure to run successfully and produce purse money would be tolerated only so long, and for Winds of Love, the clock was ticking.

On that cold late autumn evening, Winds of Love ran in his 102nd start. His lifetime earnings were $194,475 from 14 wins, 9 seconds, and 19 thirds. He had been racing for at least four years with three screws in his right front ankle, and he was tired and sore. During the race, his jockey heard the dark bay whinny, a sign of distress if done while running a race. He was eased across the finish line and brought back lame to the barn. On a heart-wrenching journey down to the lowest of the claiming ranks, he had run out of time.

Now the big gelding with the heart of a lion and the temperament of a lamb was headed for the auction and most certainly, the slaughterhouse. His years of faithful service- fattening the pocketbooks of his owners and trainers- meant nothing to those responsible for him. The quickest and cheapest way to rid themselves of the broken-down Winds of Love was their one and only concern.

On November 7, 2007, less than 12 hours after his last race, Winds of Love loaded willingly onto a trailer. He trembled from head to tail, but stood patiently while waiting for two other broken Thoroughbred racehorses to join him. But this trailer was not headed to the auction. A Thoroughbred racehorse rescue organization had purchased Winds of Love for $250 from his owner, and the three occupants of that trailer were headed to the safety of the rescue’s farm.

Winds of Love lived for another week. Evaluated by two veterinarians, including an equine orthopedic surgeon, the gallant gelding was diagnosed with severe end-stage arthritis that would make it impossible for him to live without pain. His ankles had been destroyed by the multiple steroid injections administered to them over the years. He was humanely euthanized. Winds of Love was loved and carefully attended to by his rescue caretakers those cherished last days of his life.

Winds of Love did not die before millions during a world famous race. There was no media coverage and no public outcry. The fact that he died due to multiple injuries sustained from racing was not acknowledged or recorded anywhere by the racing industry. Only the rescue cared, only the rescue recorded. Unlike Barbaro or Eight Belles, the only tears shed for Winds of Love were by the rescue’s volunteers. Though his suffering and death were not their fault, they told him, “We’re so sorry,” as they whispered kind words and gave him his last loving strokes.

Shortly after Winds of Love was euthanized, Joy Aten contacted the gelding’s breeder/former owner. The two had a lengthy conversation that consisted primarily of the owner’s memories of the “sweet, black horse.” Within several days, Joy was surprised to receive a package from the owner. There was a language barrier noticed during the telephone conversation, and that barrier must have led to some miscommunication because what was included in the package was never requested by Joy…a veterinarian invoice for Winds of Love detailing steroid injections into the gelding’s hocks, stifles, and ankles on March 7, 2003. How many injections Winds of Love endured over the course of his short life we will never know, but we do know the corticosteroids caused the lethal deterioration of his joints. No thought was ever given to a life beyond racing for the “sweet, black horse”…and Winds of Love never got that chance.

This site holds that horseracing, being exploitation of the weaker, is inherently cruel, and no matter the supposed number of “welfare initiatives,” racehorses will continue to suffer and die. All, for $2 bets. But to be fair, there are some current and former insiders working hard at trying to right the many horseracing wrongs, striving to save as many horses as possible from wasting away on some “retirement” farm or having their carotid arteries slashed. One such activist is Jo Anne Normile, co-founder (along with Joy Aten, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, and Larry Lindner) of the equine rescue Saving Baby Equine.

JoAnne

As well as starting CANTER, one of the first organizations dedicated to saving racehorses from ugly ends, Jo Anne is a published author, co-penning the memoir “Saving Baby: How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption.” Just this morning, Jo Anne’s hometown paper, the Observer and Eccentric, ran this article on her life. Nice story, wonderful woman. Jo Anne Normile is a true friend to equines and an advocate we can all admire.