This is horseracing…

Kentucky Downs, 2020 (Snake Doctor killed)

Charles Town, 2020 (Princess Rashelle killed)

Turfway, 2019 (Olly Wonder killed)

Hong Kong, 2019 (Voyage King killed)

Laurel, 2019 (Aikenetta killed)

Charles Town, 2019 (Top Hat Darlin killed)

Delta, 2019 (Doc’s Rocket killed)

Breeders’ Cup, 2019 (Mongolian Groom killed)

Mahoning, 2019 (Iamthebest killed)

Saratoga recap, 2019

Saratoga, 2019 (Borough Boy killed)

Laurel, 2019 (Follow the Petals killed)

Delaware, 2019 (Well Graced killed)

Belterra, 2019 (Beau Dan killed)

Lone Star, 2019 (Moro Chief killed)

Santa Anita, 2019

Santa Anita, 2019 (Arms Runner killed)

Kentucky Downs, 2018 (Chattel killed)

Saratoga, 2018 (Bowie killed)

Thistledown, 2018 (Rise Above It killed)

Belmont Stakes Protest, 2018

Keeneland, 2018 (Hazel Ann I Am killed)

“Under Tack” Trials

Gulfstream, 2016 (Kandoo killed)

Ffos Las Racecourse (Wales), 2016

Del Mar, 2014 (Yes She’s Unusual killed)

Wexford Racecourse (Ireland), 2013

Monticello, 2013

Charles Town, 2012

Galway (Ireland), 2011

Japan, 2010

Arlington, 2009 (Born to Be killed)

Aqueduct, 2009 (Private Details killed)

Churchill Downs, 2008 (Eight Belles snaps both front ankles)

Pimlico, 2006 (Barbaro’s eventually-fatal injury)

Breeders’ Cup at Belmont, 1990 (Go for Wand killed)

Epsom Downs (England), 1966

“Death is delivered pink.” And so begins an ESPN The Magazine article (5/4/09) on the track veterinarian’s unenviable role as killer of the broken. Racing calls it euthanasia, of course, but that’s simply self-absolution. In any event, this is no indictment of the vets, for as long as they continue to hold races, someone must do the dirty work.

The article follows Lauren Canady, the vet at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, early in 2009. In the first race, Canady is summoned, like a medic to the battlefield, by the radio call “A horse is down!” 4-year-old Heelbolt’s ankle has snapped. It is a horrific injury, ankle “dangling and shattered, attached only by skin,” arteries split, and “blood everywhere.” As Canady pulls up, Heelbolt is still calm, the severe pain not yet arrived. On a 0-5 scale, this is a 5. Definite euthanasia.

The scene is set: “His eyes, once coldly fixed on the track, are teary and dilated. His breathing, once quick, has quickened even more. His coat, once shiny from the pumping of oil and sweat glands, has dulled.” The vet goes to work. Stroking “his neck to say good-bye,” she administers a mix of pentobarbital, for deep sleep, and succinylcholine, to shut down the heart and brain.

And then: “Heelbolt falls under the railing, landing shoulder first, his nose in the dirt. He blinks rapidly for 10 seconds or so until his eyes, once beautifully alert, are blank. As his fellow horses, having just finished the race, jog by, his life is measured in shallow breaths – until he is no longer breathing, until he is just 1,200 pounds of expired muscle, his bloody, shattered leg hooked on a railing. It’s hard to know what a peaceful death looks like, but this isn’t it.”

Horses are not, as the author declares, “born to compete,” and heartbreaking stories like Heelbolt’s should not be found on the pages of ESPN. For all our moral posturing, especially concerning animals, passive acceptance of this quote from the article proves that some of our sensibilities remain frozen in antiquity: “…and we’re reminded that one of our country’s oldest sports is one in which the athletes sometimes die during competition.” Deaths on the playing field? Is this 21st Century America or 1st Century Rome? I half expect Rod Serling to appear.

Sunday at Saratoga, according to Equibase:

race 2: “FRANKEL AT ASCOT…switched leads twice…before hopping and ducking in sharply just inside the eighth pole through the temporary rail…apprehended by outrider and returned…with visible cuts to her left front leg.”

race 5: “VENUS OYZO a bit fractious in the gate prior to the start, broke out at the start brushing the off side stall and then was corrected before bumping MS BOOMBASTIC, grew rank under restraint into the first turn…was approaching the far turn near the seven-sixteenths and struck the temporary rail….”

Horseracing – good, clean family fun.

As racing resumes at more tracks across the country, The Breeders’ Cup (BC) and The Jockey Club have rolled out a national ad campaign entitled “Still. Running. Strong.” Says Drew Fleming, BC president and CEO: “As more of our major venues get back to live racing and with people at home seeking diversion and entertainment, we wanted to be proactive about promoting the sport to a broader audience. Horse racing has a unique opportunity to lead the way as we resume operations safely and, in doing so, provide fun and excitement for millions of sports fans and bettors across the country.”

“diversion,” “entertainment,” “fun,” “excitement”

The dead, so far this year:

Ruby Roundhouse, Jan 1, Los Alamitos S – “gastrointestinal”
Golden Birthday, Jan 1, Santa Anita R – “took a bad step” (broken leg)
Yorkiepoo Princess, Jan 3, Belmont S – “severe laminitis…euthanized in her stall”
Power Punch, Jan 3, Gulfstream R – “vanned off,” dead
Lrh Fast as Oak, Jan 4, Louisiana R – “fell, euthanized”
Perry Train, Jan 4, Louisiana R – “fell after wire, euthanized”
Elegant Sundown, Jan 5, Golden Gate R – “catastrophic injury…euthanized in the van”
Jest Famous, Jan 7, Los Alamitos S – “gastrointestinal”
Buckstopper Kit, Jan 7, Santa Anita S
X Y Jet, Jan 8, Palm Meadows (FL) T – “heart attack”
Secreto Primero, Jan 8, Turf R – “fractured sesamoids”
J Rob, Jan 9, Fair Grounds R – “vanned off after winner’s circle, [euthanized]”
Eyell Be Back, Jan 10, Los Alamitos R (euthanized Jan 12) – “carpus”
I’mluckysgirl, Jan 10, Turfway R – “[multiple] fractures and ruptures”
Big Shanty, Jan 11, Fair Grounds R – “appeared to go wrong”
Salambo, Jan 12, Gulfstream R – “went wrong…euthanized”
Usual Suspect, Jan 13, Oaklawn T – “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage”
Indian Brew, Jan 13, Turf R – “fractured knee”
Jim’s Silverbullet, Jan 16, Fair Grounds R – “went wrong”
Take Charge Cece, Jan 17, Fair Grounds R – “appeared to go wrong”
Harliss, Jan 17, Santa Anita R – “fractured ankle”
Super Beauty, Jan 18, Golden Gate T – “gastrointestinal”
Uncontainable, Jan 18, Santa Anita R – “fractured ankle”
Katies Easy Moves, Jan 19, Los Alamitos R – “fetlock”
Tikkun Olam, Jan 19, Santa Anita T – “head-on collision”
Obligated to None, Jan 19, Turf R – “leg injured, euthanized”
Dark N Cloudy, Jan 20, Aqueduct R – “broke down…euthanized on track”
Jewel Can Disco, Jan 20, Belmont T – “sustained an injury while breezing…euthanized”
Is It Over, Jan 21, Los Alamitos S – “gastrointestinal”
Shut the Box, Jan 23, Oaklawn S – “equine protozoal myeloencephalitis”
Cowboy Coffee, Jan 23, San Luis Rey S – “gastrointestinal” (trained Jan 20)
A Freud of Mama, Jan 24, Belmont T (euthanized Feb 8) – “passed after complications”
Strong Performance, Jan 24, Gulfstream R – “fell while in distress…euthanized”
Quizzical Cajun, Jan 25, Aqueduct R – “catastrophic injury…euthanized on track”
Celtic Warrior, Jan 25, Turf R – “injured fetlock, euthanized”
Esterina, Jan 26, Laurel R – “pulled up lame…euthanized”
yet-to-be-named, Jan 30, Belmont T – “shaft fracture…euthanized on the track”
Ted’s Shadow, Feb 1, Oaklawn T – “catastrophic injury”
Spirogyra, Feb 2, Oaklawn R – “euthanized due to catastrophic injuries”
Data Hawk, Feb 7, Golden Gate S – “accident – skull”
Stay Again, Feb 7, Gulfstream R – “collapsed”
Birdies Honor, Feb 8, Laurel R – “collapsed”
Double Touch, Feb 8, Santa Anita T – “sudden death” (five years old)
Buddy Princess, Feb 9, Rillito R – “suffered a catastrophic injury”
Miss Romania, Feb 12, Santa Anita T – “fractured shoulder”
El Tristan, Feb 14, Fair Grounds R
Classic Covey, Feb 15, Fair Grounds R – “all the soft tissue structures came apart”
Major Flirt, Feb 15, Laurel R – “pulled up lame…euthanized”
Prs the Game Changer, Feb 15, Louisiana R – “stumbled start…euthanized”
Devil’s Drama, Feb 15, Oaklawn R – “catastrophic injury”
Randy’s Boy, Feb 15, Rillito R
Smokey, Feb 16, Oaklawn S – “injured in barn, died due to cerebrum hemorrhage”
Different Days, Feb 16, Oaklawn R (euthanized Feb 17) – “carpus fracture”
Taraz, Feb 17, Oaklawn T – “severely fractured her pastern”
Unveiled, Feb 20, Santa Anita T – “fractured shoulder”
Radio Tim, Feb 21, Los Alamitos R – “fractured fetlock”
Street Machine, Feb 21, Los Alamitos R – “fractured fetlock”
A Lonna At the Top, Feb 26, Golden Gate T – “sudden death”
Arguto, Feb 26, Oaklawn T – “catastrophic injury”
Princess Rashelle, Feb 28, Charles Town R – “broke leg…euthanized on the track”
Fist of Rage, Feb 28, Fair Grounds R – “went wrong, fell”
Montauk Memories, Feb 29, Aqueduct R – “leg injury”
Thousand Oaks, Feb 29, Golden Gate S
Keck, Feb 29, Golden Gate T
Chosen Vessel, Feb 29, Santa Anita R – “fractured ankle”
Super Touch, Mar 6, Turfway R – “collapsed and died – hemorrhage, shock”
Chickititas Favorite, Mar 8, Los Alamitos R
Arkyarkyarky, Mar 8, Oaklawn R – “catastrophic injury”
Krugerrand, Mar 9, Belmont S – “severe laminitis” (two years old)
Red River Chase, Mar 12, Fair Grounds R – “shattered leg”
Get Like Me, Mar 12, Golden Gate R – “went wrong”
Dynamite Dan, Mar 12, Oaklawn T (euthanized Mar 14) – “catastrophic injury”
Love Totem, Mar 12, Turfway R – “epistaxis from both nostrils”
Tudox Lifting Off, Mar 13, Turfway R – “open, complete diaphyseal fracture”
Battalion Won, Mar 14, Golden Gate T
Emely Heart, Mar 20, Turfway R – “[multiple] fractures, extensive soft tissue damage”
A P Dancer, Mar 21, Oaklawn T – “cannon fracture”
Starting Point, Mar 22, Belmont T – “sustained leg injury – euthanasia”
Glory Stars, Mar 26, Oaklawn R – “catastrophic injury”
Flokie, Mar 29, Los Alamitos R
The Cullinan Dream, Mar 31, Los Alamitos S
Peter’s Project, Apr 1, Belmont S – “colic, worsened throughout day…euthanasia”
Royal Callan Rocks, Apr 2, Los Alamitos T
Kahului, Apr 2, Oaklawn R – “ruptured vein in the pelvic cavity, hypovolemic shock”
Smiling Ali, Apr 2, Santa Anita T – “probable cardiac event”
Enchanting Eva, Apr 4, Golden Gate T
Joan’s Delight, Apr 4, Oaklawn T – “sesamoid fracture”
Tizaprincessa, Apr 5, Tampa Bay R
Blowinthebluesaway, Apr 10, Oaklawn R – “fractured shoulder”
Chromie, Apr 11, Los Alamitos R
La Dorada Czech, Apr 15, Los Alamitos S – “gastrointestinal”
M C Hamster, Apr 15, Santa Anita T – “fractured ankle”
Shes Our Dasher, Apr 16, Los Alamitos T
Pals Invader, Apr 17, Belmont T – “sustained leg injury at the 7/8 pole”
Isla’s Toy, Apr 17, Los Alamitos R
Muskoka Wonder, Apr 17, Oaklawn R – “catastrophic injury”
Appealing Briefs, Apr 23, Belmont S – “euthanized due to poor prognosis of cellulitis”
Mrs. Miniver, Apr 24, Gulfstream R – “heart attack” (three years old)
Last Renegade, Apr 24, Santa Anita T – “hit rail, passed away from injury”
Rockys Warrior, Apr 26, Oaklawn R – “carpus fracture”
Midnight Sway, Apr 26, Oaklawn R – “fetlock fracture”
Sean’s Idea, Apr 30, Gulfstream R – “went wrong”
O’Bushido, May 4, Belmont S – “found deceased in stall”
Call Paul, May 6, Belmont T – “sustained injury to LH leg…necessitating euthanasia”
Arky Vaughan, May 8, Golden Gate T
Rowboat Romeo, May 9, Los Alamitos T
Tap the Wire, May 9, Los Alamitos R
Ailish’s Buttercup, May 10, Golden Gate T
Tailback, May 10, Santa Anita T – “fracture of the right front leg”
Conquest Sabre Cat, May 14, Golden Gate R – “broke down”
Schiller’s Lit, May 18, Belmont T (euthanized May 21) – “acutely lame”
Lil Morning Star, May 21, Belmont T – “injury to left front leg”
unidentified, May 24, Los Alamitos S
Jabber Now, May 24, Los Alamitos R (euthanized May 26)
Shock Therapy, May 25, Belmont S – “pleuropneumonia, laminitis”
Bluegrass Jamboree, May 28, Belmont T – “cardiovascular collapse – expired on track”

“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.