Back in November, I reported on the goings-on in Oregon, where Grants Pass owner and coffee mogul Travis Boersma is hoping to install slot machines (he calls them “Historical Racing Machines”) to prop up the state’s only remaining commercial racetrack. (I had written on this before – here, here.) As I wrote, Boersma’s plan is being fought by the state’s Indigenous tribes, who rightly claim they alone are legally permitted to operate casino gaming, which is exactly what those “HRMs” would be.

Now, owing to a delay by the Racing Commission so they can consult (per the advice of the governor) with the tribes and get Justice Dept. approval, Boersma is acting the part of spoiled brat. This from Oregon Live: “In an interview Monday, Boersma issued an ultimatum to state leaders: Approve his plan or he shuts everything down. The races won’t begin in April as scheduled, and the operation’s workers could be headed for the unemployment line. ‘If we don’t get approval, we’re going to lose 156 jobs…and horse racing in Oregon will be dead,’ Boersma said.”

Give me my millions (slots are lucrative) or I’m taking my ball and going home, and when I do workers will be “headed for the unemployment line.” The man is shameless. Anyhow, here’s a reminder of what the industry Boersma wishes so fervently to continue has wreaked in Oregon over the past few years.

(This list is quite obviously not a complete reckoning.)

Hawks Main Interest, killed racing at Grants Pass: “open, comminuted fracture”
Jemsek, killed training at Grants Pass: “severe fracture; severe hemorrhage”
Papa Said Ya, killed racing at Grants Pass: “multiple traumatic fractures”
I’lbeamonkeysuncle, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “vessel ruptures in lungs”
Four Times Lucky, killed racing at Harney Fair: “internal bleed”
Sexy Momma, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “ankle fracture”
Captain Shaddock, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “ankle fracture”
Storm the Channel, killed training at Portland Meadows: “fractured cannon bone”
Memphis Mobster, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “pastern fracture”
Bellicose Boy, killed training at Portland Meadows: “cannon fracture”
Ozark Daredevil, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “injury, [euthanized] a week later”
Hot Tub, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “ankle fracture”
Coming in Hot, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “sudden death”
To the Brink, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “shoulder injury”
Polished Rock, killed training at Portland Meadows: “fractured ankle”
Gold On Tap, dead at Portland Meadows: “died in stall”
Cinematic Cat, dead at Portland Meadows: “colic”
Rome New York, dead at Portland Meadows: “tibial fracture”
Semiprecious, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “limb fracture”
Regalstone, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “carpal fracture”
Stardemalion, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “fractured leg”
Chick Meter, killed racing at Oregon Livestock: “collapse – sudden death”
Jess a Lil Lacey, killed racing at Grants Pass: “fractured leg”
Itsastormynight, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “fractured leg”
Wizsito, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “fractured leg”
TNT Party, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “fractured [both] front legs”
Fnf Bruja, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “fractured leg”
Rolling Thunder, killed racing at Portland Meadows: “fractured leg”
Penny’s Maeham, killed racing at Oregon Livestock
Stormin Angel, killed racing at Portland Meadows
Tsunami Kidd, killed racing at Portland Meadows
Papa’s Angels, killed racing at Portland Meadows
Cu At Sunup, killed racing at Portland Meadows
Joanie’s Ticket, killed racing at Portland Meadows
Cowboy Clyde, killed racing at Portland Meadows
Corporate Comet, dead at Portland Meadows
Hye Choose Hope, dead at Portland Meadows
I Got My Wings, dead at Portland Meadows
Alota Action, dead at Portland Meadows
Special Cafeina, dead at Portland Meadows
Really a Hero, killed racing at Oregon Livestock
Demetrius, killed racing at Portland Meadows

A recent column in Saratoga Today by attorney and owner William G. Gotimer Jr. shows that there are still plenty of clear-eyed folks within the racing ranks. The piece, a general assessment of the industry heading into the new year, begins with some good (for Racing) – stronger economic numbers over covid-impacted 2020 – but then Gotimer warns of “ominous clouds ahead.” Here are some excerpts:

“The industry in general, including NY racing, survives in large part with hefty subsidies…. In many jurisdictions these subsidies were guaranteed only for a certain period and as is the case in NY authorities are now questioning to what extent they should continue. A proposal [which HW has a hand in] to eradicate these subsidies to racing and direct them to more generalized needs has already been proposed in NYS. While this current proposal is unlikely to succeed it would be naïve to think it will be the last attempt to ‘decouple’ casino revenues from racing subsidies. Decoupling…means divorce and this is and should be a frightening word to the racing industry as it is unclear which if any racing circuits could survive a full decoupling.

“Additionally, regulation of horse racing by the Federal Government has arrived with the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which promises to provide oversight of the myriad racing interests. It is axiomatic that the power to regulate includes the power to outlaw. Those that think horse racing is too important or too ingrained in American culture to face extinction should be mindful of the recent history of live animal circuses and theme parks like SeaWorld. Public sentiment and regulations can turn quickly and dramatically. Whether horse racing likes it or not it is now subject (more than ever) to political (and by extension public) opinion.

“The criminal guilty pleas of former wonder trainer, Jorge Navarro (and his sentence to five-year imprisonment this week), and the ongoing prosecution of another wonder trainer, Jason Servis, publicly portray an industry that sees the criminal use of performance-enhancing drugs on animals by numerous players…and a general acceptance of such misdeeds by a host of industry members, licensed professionals, regulators, advertisers and gamblers. The official and public documents in the federal court cases are a damning condemnation of the sport and its participants. If you like racing it is a painful read bereft of ‘good guys.’

“It is truly sobering that these multiple guilty pleas and the future incarceration of former trainers and veterinarians is not the biggest scandal of 2021 racing. Sadly, that distinction lies with the sudden, yet unexplained [though not rare], death of…Medina Spirit. After his Kentucky Derby win [Medina] tested positive for a prohibited substance – an event that spawned a spate of denials then retraction of some of the denials, lawsuits, public ridicule on “SNL,” accusations of corruption at heretofore respected testing facilities, an attempted ban of [Bob] Baffert by the NYRA, federal court intervention preventing that ban on US Constitutional grounds and uncertainty as to which horse won the 2021 Kentucky Derby and which horses will be allowed to compete in the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

“While most, or all, of the above is still to be finally determined the outcome almost does not matter for racing’s reputation and by extension – its future. While I certainly believe there is a case for racing’s future – its participants and regulators are providing ample ammunition to its growing detractors.”

Indeed, Mr. Gotimer, “ample ammunition” like this.

A timely follow-up to yesterday’s post on the different types of racing people…

At first blush, this seems a good story, and indeed the end – a horse being saved from slaughter – is. But then there’s the rest of the story, a classic example of that delusion (cognitive dissonance perhaps?) I wrote about. While Mr. Miller presents himself as some sort of hero – virtue signaling at its worst, by the way – he is in fact anything but. Seemingly lost (by him) amid his great “self-sacrifice,” are all the hallmarks of what make this industry so vile:

“This dude always raced his heart out for me never missing checks. … This dude is the reason I could afford my first new truck.” (all emphases are mine)

Worse: “I leased him for awhile; had him claimed [bought].”

And worst of all: “Unfortunately I made the decision to retire him from racing due to an injury. Last I heard he was doing great as a barrel race horse.”

So, Mr. Miller, you exploited this poor animal for all he was worth, then you dumped him, directly or indirectly, into another abusive industry (“retired from racing” he was not). And you dumped him injured. And now you want us to laud you for saving him from slaughter? ‘Twould be risible if not for the deadly gravity of it all.

I’ve come to believe that horse-racers fall into one of three categories. In the first, surely the majority, are the grinders – those who race as career, for paycheck. Whether they were raised in the industry or came to it later, the bottom line with this group is always the same: It’s just business; the horses, to them, are but interchangeable cogs, resources, means to an end. No declarations of equine love here, just trade and transact – and often, especially in the claiming ranks (the bulk of American racing). And when one goes down, it’s plug another in and move on.

With the second, money, though always important, is not the primary allure. For these – whether blueblood racing families or rich celebrities mired in hollow lives – it’s about prestige, glory, ego. They hobnob and glass-tip, and cheer on their expensive pets. Yet where is that obscene wealth when rescues come calling? Better yet, where are their rescues? Truth is, while they play, many of their erstwhile toys are wasting away at the hands of an Ernie Paragallo or some misguided hoarder; more, still, are making their way through the slaughter pipeline.

In the last are those who not only believe that what they do is not unethical, but, in fact, is in the best interests of horses. When questioned, their responses are quick and predictable: “come visit my stable”; “my horses are treated better than humans”; “horses are born to run, love to run”; “a horse with a job is a happy horse.” Beyond merely protecting, they care – as evidenced by the tears, prayers, and condolences when one of theirs falls. Their horses, they say, are like “members of the family.” All of this, of course, is self-delusion par excellence. Not to mention, repugnant: True loved ones are not whipped, drugged, and sold – repeatedly – to the highest bidder.

In the end, though, the motive (income, hobby) or purported motive (love) is wholly irrelevant, for the core relationship between these people and their horses – exploiter-exploited – is inherently cruel. Quite simply, it cannot be otherwise.