It has long been the prevailing wisdom of those familiar with this hideous industry that thousands of “retired” Thoroughbreds end up brutally slaughtered in abattoirs north and south of these united states each year. Having written extensively on this issue, I believe that it is in fact a majority. Yes, a majority. But until now, I had yet to see anyone closely associated with racing go on the record with a number. Then this in yesterday’s Daily Gazette, in an article about “Thoroughbred aftercare”:

“This is a particularly cogent point when considering numbers Dr. [Patricia] Hogan – one of the most prominent equine veterinarians in the U.S., and [someone who] works closely with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association – cited with regard to horse slaughter for human consumption. Despite laws banning it in the U.S., horses still make their way to abattoirs in Canada and Mex­ico. While foal crops these days number around 20,000 per year, 10,000-12,000 off-the-track thoroughbreds are vanned across borders to be slaughtered.”

In prior posts I have cited a Wild for Life Foundation study that estimated that 19% of the American horses slaughtered each year are Thoroughbreds. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, 114,091 U.S. horses were slaughtered in 2016. 19% of that is roughly 21,000 (Thoroughbreds only, not including Quarterhorses and Standardbreds). Obviously, 21,000 is far greater than Ms. Hogan’s 10,000-12,000. But is there a meaningful difference, the kind of difference that would make one say, that’s a whole other story? Of course not. The story here, the big, bold, screaming headline here, is that thousands – multiple thousands – of used-up “equine athletes” are being bled-out and butchered – after, that is, enduring terrifying treks across our borders – every single year. Racing’s dirty, blood-drenched little secret.

So remember this the next time someone says that an afternoon at the track is but an innocuous passing of time – good, clean, family fun. All actions have consequences, and the consequence of $2 bets, admission tickets, and pulls of racino slots is killing, is carnage. In a word, it’s unconscionable.

The willfully ignorant excepted, everyone in and around Racing knows that slaughter happens – that is, that “retired” American racehorses (of all breeds) are being shipped to foreign abattoirs to be shackled, hoisted, slashed, bled-out, and butchered for European and Asian dinner plates. While hard numbers remain elusive, the prevailing wisdom is thousands – likely tens of thousands – annually. But because of this nebulous terrain (in stark contrast to my kill lists), the racing people are able to squirm and slither their way around the issue with boasts of “zero-tolerance policies” and “aftercare programs.” Every once in a while, however, some honesty surfaces.

In a recent Paulick Report article entitled “How Do You Protect Horses After You Sell Them?” (how bout don’t sell them?), $46 million owner/breeder Maggi Moss said this:

“The anti-slaughter policies, they’re worthless. The track policies are not going to do anything at all. I’m not an extremist, I just love horses, and I have seen what is truly happening to our racehorses. What is happening is what no one wants to talk about. I have sat down with the head of The Jockey Club; I have sat down with some of the biggest owners and trainers in the country. I start talking and I promise you, they start staring at the ground. They do not want to hear it.”

“They start staring at the ground.”

The article continues:

Moss said the slaughterhouses work with facilities belonging to middle men who often are stationed within an easy drive of racetracks (she alleges one operates within 30 minutes of Churchill Downs). Moss stated that she led an undercover investigation of a kill pen in Louisiana that was used as an outlet for moving horses on to slaughter in Mexico. She described deplorable conditions and horses with their racing plates still on, some of whom still had sweat marks from racing saddles removed after competing at a Louisiana racetrack.

Moss said after publicizing her findings and alerting legislators and law enforcement, she received threats via social media… Her experience leads Moss to believe trainers use these middle men specifically so they won’t face house rule sanctions from racetracks.

What more can I add…except perhaps this reminder:

The following article, which I present in its entirety, should be required reading for all who cling to the obscenity of horseracing-as-sport.

From The Guardian, November 23 (by Andrew Stafford):

He was the horse no one had ever heard of. The undistinguished battler who never captured the nation’s heart. Indeed, he failed to capture anyone’s, except perhaps his owners, until they too fell out of love with him; their dreams of riches and reflected glory dashed.

Unlike Kingston Town, Black Caviar or Red Cadeaux, Poor Ned occupies no special place in racing history. He never even reached the track: for all the frenzied efforts of his trainers, no whisper in Poor Ned’s ear or whip on his hindquarters could spur him to go any bloody faster.

No one sent cards or flowers wishing him luck. No ashes were to be scattered at Flemington, where he never appeared. No one ever cheered him down a home straight anywhere. He never grew to be an old warrior. He was just another two-year-old nag who wasn’t good enough.

He wasn’t handsome enough for dressage and he couldn’t jump to save himself. He was too nervous for kids to ride on. Even professional jockeys found him hard work. The best that could be said about Poor Ned is that no one other than his owners ever lost money on him.

He was, in all respects, a disappointment. So his owners regretfully made the decision that, all agreed, was in their best interests. After all, he was costing them around a hundred bucks a day. And Poor Ned was high maintenance. He couldn’t cope with the stalls and he wasn’t much more docile in the stables.

He never gave anyone any joy. He competed with no distinction; in fact he was so lacking in distinction that he never competed at all. He was fragile and cranky, and no one will miss him, because no one other than his owners and handlers knew he ever existed. He served no useful purpose whatsoever.

No one ever turned out in their finest for him. No jewellery was flashed; no top hats or tails were worn; no ostentation of any kind was ever required. At least, being no peacock, he never had to put himself on display either. No one ever cooed their admiration at his perfect physique before he took to the track.

So to the knackery he went, unmourned. They led him to the kill-box and humanely euthanised him with a bullet to the head. Red Cadeaux was the third horse in two years to die after the Melbourne Cup. Poor Ned was just another horse that never made it.

There’s more where Poor Ned came from, though. About 15,000 thoroughbred foals are bred each year in this country. Some of them are bought for millions; when they fail, they might fetch a couple of hundred in the saleyards. But gambling is big business. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.

They ground Poor Ned up for dog food, but no one ever got attached enough to him to care. No one outside of his connections knew his name, and nobody in his industry’s governing body recorded his fate. He wasn’t even a statistic, because no official statistics on horse wastage are recorded.

Apparently there are roughly 10,000 Poor Neds a year. Horses that simply didn’t have the necessary fast-twitch fibres, lacked the temperament for racing, or just broke down injured. Or they were just too much trouble. 10,000 horses that the nation never stopped for.

For further reading, please see my 2013 post “From Wastage to Dinner Plate”.

Below, aftercare for an anonymous erstwhile athlete – a has-been, or, like Poor Ned, a never-was. (While this scene comes from Australia, the prevailing wisdom is that most “retired” American racehorses meet a similar end.)