Fact: If not for the corporate welfare it receives in the form of slots revenue, much of American racing would collapse. Particularly hard hit would be the harness end. Currently, there are 14 harness tracks in NY, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In my estimation, all 14 would vanish – virtually overnight – without their subsidies. Simply put, the good old days of the 20th Century when racing enjoyed a practical monopoly on legalized gambling are gone forever. The competition (full-service casinos, state lotteries) is killing them. In Illinois, horsemen have been crying for a legislative lifeline for years – to no avail. I have twice previously written on this:

“Illinois Should Let Racing Fail” (October ’13)

“Illinois, Let Racing Fail” (October ’14)

download (3)

And now, it appears my hope is coming to pass. Almost 70 years after it first opened for business, Maywood Park shuttered its betting windows this past Friday; Balmoral, Illinois’ only other harness track, is slated to close by year’s end. Good news, indeed. Predictably, not all feel the same. In an NBC Chicago article from last week, the horse people warn of terrible things to come. Some excerpts:

Trainer Angie Coleman: “They [families who live on the backstretch] are going to lose their home. These kids are not going to have school. They are going to be displaced.”

Illinois Racing Board Commissioner Kathy Byrne: “It’s a crisis of decency. These people need to be treated decently.”

Coleman: “It’s very much a reality [that some horses will eventually go to slaughter].” Worse, says Byrne – “sound, healthy horses.”

“Worried” trainer Hosea Williams is even more definitive: “Yes, yes there will be horse slaughter involved.”

Although the article adds the perfunctory counter at the end – “executives at the Illinois Racing Board strongly disagree that any horses will go to slaughter” – the damage had already been done. To read this piece of (what now seems the norm) media sensationalism is to comprehend a terrible injustice perpetrated by the Illinois government, an injustice that will leave families homeless and horses butchered.

First, as unfortunate as it is for people to lose their jobs, this is America; businesses and industries come and go all the time. It is not up to government (the taxpayers) to artificially prop the losers – in this case, Illinois Racing (including increasingly precarious Arlington and Hawthorne). Move on. Second, and most abhorrently, the racing industry – both in Illinois and across the nation – has been intentionally sending horses to slaughter for decades. The battered? Sure. But healthy ones, too.

So spare us the inflammatory rhetoric, the deceptions – the lies. For racers to conjure up images of slaughterbound Standardbreds this way, for this reason, is obscene. In truth, it’s but one final exploitation of these hapless animals. Shame, too, falls to the news station (full article here), for this “report” is more than just poorly researched and unbalanced, it is irresponsible.

According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, last year 146,548 American horses were slaughtered in foreign abattoirs. A “Wild for Life Foundation” study (2002-2010) found that on average 19% of the slaughterbound are Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a lower percentage (the racing industry, of course, claims 19% is too high) – say, 13% – the number of Thoroughbreds who departed via slaughter last year practically matches the Jockey Club’s estimated “foal crop” (20,300).

And this is no aberration:

2013: 152,814 American horses slaughtered; 13% = 19,865; “foal crop” 21,275

2012: 176,223 American horses slaughtered; 13% = 22,908; “foal crop” 21,725

2011: 133,241 American horses slaughtered; 13% = 17,321; “foal crop” 22,610

Think of Racing as a revolving door – room must constantly be made for the incoming batch. And since the industry is clearly not expanding, at the very least it’s a one-to-one trade-off – each arrival comes with an exit. All of which leads to this likely conclusion: The great majority of spent Thoroughbreds are being slaughtered. (The same can probably be said for Quarterhorse and Standardbred racehorses.)

To remind:

A recent press release (Paulick Report): “Famous jockeys and a host of other sports celebrities will gather at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino on Saturday, May 30 to honor five severely injured former riders and raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund at the second annual Jockeys and Jeans.”

While I’m certainly not hardened to the suffering of these jockeys and their families, I can’t help but wonder where the star-studded benefits are for the horses. I mean, when your primary aftercare program involves exsanguination, one would think that the Racing elite would be in some sort of heightened crisis mode. Alas, not.

So the next time an apologist starts waxing poetic about “The Sport of Kings” and its majestic equine “athletes,” ask him how it is that most of those athletes end up brutally slaughtered – and why no one seems to care. Truth is, if that aforementioned elite wanted to end racehorse slaughter, they could, virtually overnight. They could stop overbreeding; they could create industry owned/operated, open-to-the-public sanctuaries; they could hold all who were ever a part of a racehorse’s life, from breeder down to most recent connections, financially responsible for that horse’s post-racing care. They could – but they don’t. And that is horseracing.


Sunday, the Paulick Report published a press-release announcing the retirement-to-stud (to a farm called “Country Life”) of 4-year-old Graded Stakes Winner Super Ninety Nine. It’s the type of story that racing apologists love – a career celebrated, an idyllic retirement, a happy ending. Never mind that stud is its own kind of exploitation, this, to them, is responsible aftercare – an industry taking care of its athletes. But in truth, an overwhelming majority of the done-earning never see places like “Country Life.” This is the fate that awaits them.

According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, last year, 152,814 American horses were shipped to foreign abattoirs for the shackle-hoist-and-slash. A “Wild for Life Foundation” study (2002-2010) found that on average 19% of the slaughter-bound are Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a lower percentage (the racing industry, of course, claims 19% is too high) – say, 13% – the number of erstwhile racehorses who exited via the butcher line last year practically matches the Jockey Club’s estimated “foal crop” (21,275).

In 2012, 13% yields roughly 23,000 slaughtered Thoroughbreds (of 176,000 total American horses slaughtered), while the crop came in around 21,000. In 2011, 17,000 slaughtered against 23,000 born. And on and on: (from the “Wild for Life” study) “The study clearly demonstrates that an amount equal to 70% of the annual Thoroughbred foal crop on average, died at slaughter during the years 2004 through 2010.” In other words, in all likelihood, most retired Thoroughbreds are being slaughtered. Imagine that.

“How They Die”