And so, Preakness Day arrives. Surely, the focus, for the media and masses alike, will be almost entirely on Bob Baffert and a relatively inconsequential drug positive in the Derby two weeks ago. As advocates, it falls to us to shift that focus – to the everyday cruelty and the incessant killing of the U.S. horseracing industry. When they say “Baffert,” you say “solitary confinement”; when they say “betamethasone,” you say “chattel”; when they say “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act,” you say “slaughter” (on which the HISA has absolutely nothing to say). Remind them that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. Remind them that hundreds more die back in their stalls. Remind them that most of the horses being raced on U.S. tracks today will eventually have their lives snuffed by the butcher’s blade.

And you can also reacquaint them with some of the horses killed at Pimlico, the host of today’s big race, over the past two years:

Seeking the Sunset, May 17, 2019, racing
“vanned off, later collapse[d] in his stall – multiple pelvic fractures with severe acute hemorrhage”; also: “degenerative joint disease in fetlocks”

Congrats Gal, May 17, 2019, racing
“artery rupture with severe internal hemorrhage”
Dr. Daniel: “When she collapsed after the wire in right lateral recumbency, my initial thought was exhaustion or heat stroke. We quickly got cold water on her, tack off, and after a few minutes, attempted to get her sternal. She rolled back, her heartbeat became harder to feel, and she developed nystagmus. Within 30 seconds she started taking agonal breaths and died on her own.”

String Bean, May 23, 2019, racing
Dr. Walsh: “On the morning she broke down, she was being her usual, high strung self and bucked/jumped down the shed row instead of jogging. The groom had to place a lip chain on her to jog her. When the jockey was pulling her up before the wire, I immediately called the horse ambulance for her as she had an obvious left front lameness. Palpation and visualization showed a displaced mid body sesamoid fracture with the proximal piece comminuted and beginning to swell.

“The filly was being difficult to hold still and examine. I asked [owner/trainer] if he wanted me to have her taken to the barn so he could get radiographs and see if she was savable or if he wanted to have her euthanized. He said she would be difficult to keep quiet to rehab, he didn’t want to fool with it, and elected euthanasia. For safety of all involved and to allow the horse to settle, she was vanned to the pen for euthanasia verse [sic] doing it on the track so that she could be safely restrained….”

Polite Pearl, Nov 7, 2019, training
“RF leg fracture; subcutaneous hemorrhage on [both] sides of the cannon bone; blood and foam were coming from the nostrils; severe bruising over the right eye, right side of poll and neck and right side of head; right hock showing some degenerative joint disease; left hock showing some degenerative joint disease; LF fetlock showed advanced cartilage erosion/bone cyst; stomach had gastric ulcers present”

Yukon Eric, Jan 3, 2020, training
“horse pulled up and appeared to be exhausted…fell to the track and died – apparent heart attack”; also: “stomach: acute ulcers – presumptive stress” (just two years old)

Supercross, Mar 18, 2020, training
Dr. Meittinis: “The horse died on his own from head trauma before I could get there.”

Lotto, Mar 21, 2020, stall
“chronic respiratory disease; chronic left hock, developed laryngeal paralysis”; also: “[previous surgery] – shin had two screws” (just four years old)

Unbridled Outlaw, Mar 23, 2020, stall
“severe degenerative joint disease; suspensory tear”
Dr. Meittinis: “Basically, bad claim of a cheap horse.”

Long March, Sep 7, 2020, training
“flipped over and struck his [head] on the starting gate – trauma was so severe that Long March was immediately euthanized on the track”

Talent Scout, Sep 24, 2020, racing
“blunt trauma, catastrophic fractures, LF fetlock; open wound into joint, copious amount of blood, RF fetlock” (that’s both front ankles); also: “significant, chronic degenerative joint disease in both radiocarpal joints”
Dr. Daniel: “The horse was unstable and in severe pain. He was euthanized on the track.”

This is one of the 2019 deaths at Pimlico’s sister Maryland track, Laurel Park (same owner, The Stronach Group):

I have long maintained that drugs in racing is given far too much attention. Yes, the (obviously) nonconsensual drugging and doping of racehorses is a wrong, but it’s only one of many – and not even close to being the worst. For the apologists, it represents an out: All we need do is clean up the meds, like baseball did with steroids, and all will be right with the world. For some advocates, it’s a clear case of missing the forest for the trees. Still, occasionally a drug rap is so big it merits all that attention.

By now, most of you have heard that Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, this year’s Derby “winner,” has tested positive for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone. Even if the split comes back negative and this does not become only the second drug DQ in Derby history, watching the industry squirm and its biggest, most successful trainer go apoplectic will have been satisfaction enough. Mr. Baffert to Sports Illustrated:

“We did not give it to him. The vet, no one, has ever treated him with it. This is a gut punch for something I didn’t do. It’s disturbing. … I don’t know what’s going on in racing right now, but there’s something not right. I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel like I was wronged. We’re going to do our own investigation.

“I do not feel safe to train. It’s getting worse and to me, you know going forward, how do I enjoy training? How do I move forward, knowing something like this could happen? It’s complete injustice but I’m going to fight it tooth and nail. I owe it to the horse, to the owner and our industry. … These contamination levels—I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I know not everyone is out to get me—but there’s definitely something going on. Why is it happening to me?”

Why indeed, Bob. Why indeed.

The “Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act” is a 2019 federal bill that would ban both the slaughtering of horses on U.S. soil (currently there are no active slaughterhouses, but that’s only because USDA inspections of those facilities has been defunded) and the export of American horses for the purpose of slaughter.

U.S. Horseracing, as we well know, is in a fight for its very existence. You would think, then, that all the major players would have enthusiastically lined up to back legislation that addresses the blackest of marks on their industry – the wholesale slaughter of their erstwhile “athletes.” But you would be wrong. For some – most conspicuously, The Jockey Club – support is still missing; for others, like the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA), it’s only now coming – after two years.

In a press release last week, the PHBA wrote:

Continuing to demonstrate its commitment to the health and welfare of thoroughbreds, the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association today announced its endorsement of the Safeguard American Food Exports Act.

The release continued:

PHBA Board member Hank Nothhaft said … the fact that many unwanted thoroughbred broodmares are found in slaughter pens proved to be a call to action. “There was unanimous support from the PHBA Board to mitigate the slaughter of broodmares,” said Nothhaft. “Older broodmares, especially, are not attractive candidates for equestrian activities, and thus they are not as easy to rehome as younger horses. This has really pushed us from sitting on the bench towards getting into the fray.”

Imagine that. Only now, two years after the bill’s introduction, only now, after decades of carnage (which all have been aware of) are the PA breeders “demonstrat[ing] [their] commitment to the health and welfare of thoroughbreds, [no longer] sitting on the bench, getting into the fray.” It is cynical; it is disgusting; it is horseracing.

Last week, I posted a video of 13-year-old Hes too Icy for Me taking a bad fall at Turf. Apparently, he’s alive, but amid public outrage Arizona may soon consider lowering the maximum age at which a horse can be raced (currently, it’s 13). Anyhow, I came across this quote in BloodHorse from Turf GM Vince Francia: “I like to say I have, as a general manager, time in the day to go through the entries and check everything, but I don’t. My concern since this meet began in January is singular—getting us through this meet with this virus. Talk about losing sleep at night.”

Who has “time in the day” to keep track of abused horses? Not this GM. He’s too busy “losing sleep” – not over animal cruelty, mind you, but whether the cash will keep flowing. Ah, honesty.

The “Essex Handicap” at Oaklawn yesterday was worth a cool $500,000, with the difference between 1st and 2nd $200,000. With that in mind, take a look at the beating jockey Ramon Vazquez administered to his mount, Rated R Superstar, down the stretch (Rated R is the 3 horse):

Folks, if this isn’t animal cruelty then what, pray tell, is?