A “commentary” in Monday’s Paulick Report, presented with my replies in bold…

“Don’t Let Animal Rights ‘Terrorists’ Make Horse Racing Go The Way Of Circus Elephants” – by Alan Pincus, an attorney in Pennsylvania

“I went to work at the track in 1965 because of my abiding love for horses. No one can question my love for the animal.” I can, and I will. You can love horses. You can love horseracing. You can’t love both.

“However, there is a faction of society that does not love our game. These are the animal rights terrorists whose agenda is nothing less than the ending of racing altogether.” If that’s to be the definition of a “terrorist,” then yes, I am a terrorist.

“They don’t want horses to be subjected to the inherently dangerous sport of racing.” Yes. “Instead, horses should be treated as pets.” So – horses shouldn’t be treated as well as our dogs, Mr. Pincus? “They shouldn’t be treated with medication for their aches and pains…” Whence the “aches and pains,” Mr. Pincus? “They shouldn’t be hit with whips…” So, they should be hit with whips, Mr. Pincus? “They should be given a lifetime home when their racing days are over at anybody’s expense but the terrorists.” Of course it is we, the advocates, who should be financially responsible for this multi-billion dollar industry’s refuse. Speechless.

“The animal rights terrorists are not interested in the thousands of jobs that racing provides and the sheer joy that it gives its participants. They believe racing is an anachronism that must be ended.” Yes, yes, yes.

“If they stated the above positions people would not respond to their radical agenda. So they nibble at the edges, getting na├»ve and frightened stakeholders in the industry to slowly accede to their demands. But have no doubt we are on the slippery slope toward the animal rights terrorists’ ultimate goal. These people cannot be placated. They are true believers who are much more dedicated to their goals than the leaders of our industry are to ours. In that sense they are tougher than we are.” No “nibbling at the edges” here at HW; our goal is clear and concise. And yes, we are more dedicated than you – ending cruelty and killing is quite the motivator.

“So we try to calm them down by suggesting that we should use cotton balls instead of whips. We try to get them to stop screaming by stating that one breakdown is unacceptable when we can never guarantee that to be true. …we must admit that there is no way to guarantee that horses will not break down.” Thank you.

“The Stronach Group has presided over the death of California racing. What used to be the crown jewel of racing is now a laughing stock. Congratulations. They tried to appease the animal rights terrorists by implying that Lasix is somehow linked to breakdowns. Are you serious? And now, they have used Jerry Hollendorfer as a sacrificial lamb.” While right on the last two counts, what is Pincus doing here but scapegoating Stronach? Horseracing kills horses, everywhere. In 2018: Turf, 45 dead; Charles Town, 60 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Gulfstream, 55 dead; Los Alamitos, 40 dead; Prairie, 24 dead; Laurel, 39 dead; Penn, 45 dead; and on and on and on.

“Are there no horseman’s groups willing to defend our game? Are there no industry groups that will defend racing against the onslaught of the animal rights terrorists? Or are we cowering in the corner hoping no other horse breaks down lest we lose the game we love entirely?” Good luck fighting facts, truth, and right.

“Now is the time for people to stop apologizing about the greatest game in the world before it goes the way of elephants in the circus.” I’m sure you love a good bet, Mr. Pincus; care to wager on Racing’s future?

As all familiar with this site know, I estimate that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. One of the factors affecting my estimate is the missing data on morning training (some states claim that those kills are not reportable events). As if to confirm my assessment, a racing fan whose wife works in the industry took to Twitter a couple weeks back:

Ironically (though other adverbs apply), this guy cautions the industry about these things – dead horses in the morning, that is – going public, publicly. Wow.

In a recent CNN piece that, for the most part, zeroed in on wayward trainers, racehorse owner Scott Herbertson had this exchange with journalist Nick Watt:

Watt: “When Jerry Hollendorfer claims one of your horses?”

Herbertson: “You just cringe.”

Lost, I’m sure, by practically all casual viewers, and further buried by the controversy of Hall of Famer Hollendorfer being banned from Santa Anita the day after CNN first ran the story, is the fact that this whistleblowing would-be good guy had his horses, including the now-dead Kochees, up “For Sale” in the first place, leaving them utterly vulnerable for anyone, including Racing’s current persona non grata, to snatch up. Above all else, it is this, the claiming race – where every horse is on the market prior to, and by far the most common type of race run in the U.S. – that exposes the lie of “they’re like our children.” In other words, there’s no meaningful difference between the Hollendorfers and Herbertsons of the racing world. Exploiters, all.

Last Wednesday, Ray Paulick penned an opinion piece in his eponymous Paulick Report entitled “Horse Racing At The Crossroads: Reform Or Die.” Sounding the alarm (again), Paulick rightly points out that the media is swarming and not letting go.

“We’ve written before about how society has changed, that a public opinion survey in 2018 made animal welfare the No. 1 issue that Americans care the most about. That was before the glare from the mainstream media spotlight on racing fatalities at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., made virtually everyone in this country aware that hundreds of Thoroughbreds are dying each year on American racetracks.”

Fairly straightforward to this point. But then Paulick can’t help but get prickly about the siege in which his beloved “sport” currently finds itself: “The media smells blood, and I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’ The piling on is unfair, with graphic and often misleading articles and video segments on horse racing fatalities on everything from Voice of America and National Public Radio to CNN, Fox News and HuffPost.com (which referred to Santa Anita as ‘horse hell’). Who ever said life was fair?”

“Unfair,” Mr. Paulick? How dare you talk of inequity toward an industry that has been allowed to exploit and abuse animals for 150 years with, for the vast majority of that time, nary a peep from the mainstream media. “Graphic,” Mr. Paulick? Not hardly enough: This should be in newspapers coast to coast. “Misleading,” Mr. Paulick? Misleading is only mentioning the “hundreds [and actually it’s well over 2,000] of Thoroughbreds dying” on-track while conveniently omitting the hundreds dying back in their stalls or the multiple thousands being strung up and slashed every year.

The Ray Paulicks of the racing world are, in many ways, our greatest enemies – wolves in sheep’s clothing. Sounding intelligent, caring, and thoughtful, their opinions and ideas can, at least to the lay public, be utterly persuasive – you know, all Racing needs is a good housecleaning, a return to its roots, the “Horseracing Integrity Act.” And if they get what they want – and to their everlasting shame – countless more horses will suffer and die for it.

At the April California Horse Racing Board meeting, the vice-chair, Madeline Auerbach, was rude and condescending, suggesting activists take up children’s causes instead. Oh, and she also said this: “Our horses do not go to slaughter.”

As I wrote at the time, she is either unforgivably ignorant or a cynical liar. Well, Ms. Auerbach has doubled down. Yesterday, at the May meeting (audio here, May 23, Segment B, beginning around 35:00 mark), Auerbach said the following in response to an activist’s presentation of slaughter facts:

“Had you paid attention to anything I said, but you weren’t paying attention, maybe you will now. I spoke about California, I spoke about our Thoroughbreds, and I spoke about what we do if we ever find out that anybody has shipped a horse, one of our Thoroughbreds to slaughter, and that is banning them from the sport.

I know you think I’m powerful, but if you think I can control what goes on in the rest of this country and be responsible for it, I can’t. The only thing that I am able to do is to make sure that in California we take not only care of our Thoroughbreds, keep them away from any harm, but ban people who would cause harm to them, that’s why we are the only state that has a program that when these horses retire we have a way to take care of them, make sure they go to good homes. We do not, we will not, allow slaughter for our Thoroughbreds in California…”

Board chair the Honorable Chuck Winner (really, that’s his title) chimed in:

“You can stand up here and talk about all the numbers and do everything that you want with respect to slaughter, but I don’t think you know the facts about California and what we do for aftercare. …We absolutely prohibit it, we don’t want it, we will not allow it to happen, period.”

That’s right, “all [those] numbers” apply everywhere except California. Look, juxtapose the Auerbach statement “we take care of our Thoroughbreds, keep them away from harm, [and] ban people that cause harm to them” with this fact direct from the CHRB itself: over 5,000 dead racehorses at California tracks since 1998. And now, re-read their risible statements on slaughter. They deceive because they have to: Their product kills horses inherently and extensively.

When you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. When you have the truth on your side, pound the truth. When you have moral progress on your side, pound moral progress. When you have none of those, pound the table and distract like hell. Mr. Winner, Ms. Auerbach – your old road is rapidly agin’…the times they are a-changin’.

I have from the outset argued that death on the track is inevitable; while the numbers will fluctuate from meet to meet, track to track, state to state, death for the industry in the aggregate is unfailingly constant and, more or less, consistent (see my annual killed lists). Sure, there are things that can be done that would mitigate the killing somewhat, but because of horseracing’s very structure – how they’re bred, when they’re put into action, what they’re forced to do, how often they’re forced to do it, and how they’re generally treated – not in any significant way.

Still, it is easy for Racing to dismiss my cynicism – I, after all, “have an agenda” – not so easy, however, when said cynicism comes from one of their own. A recent Cronkite News article out of Arizona follows Dr. Verlin Jones, track veterinarian, as he makes his rounds at Turf Paradise. (Turf, you may recall, was hammered earlier this year for what was described as a double-the-national-average death rate in ’17-’18.) The journalist elicited Dr. Jones’ thoughts on two of the industry’s go-to “measures”: medication overhauls and veterinary vigilance. On the latter, Turf now requires a prerace exam for every starter (they used to only examine a sampling). Dr. Jones:

“I don’t really believe what I do in the morning (administering prerace exams) has a direct correlation on the deaths.” This bears repeating: The comprehensive prerace exam, one of the reformers’ magic bullets, is, says a 30-year veteran vet of the backsides, largely hollow. Imagine that.

Later, the article tackles the hot-button topic of drugs. Again, Dr. Jones:

“Right now in Arizona we have probably mid-level to low-level claimers. That population of horses comes with their own set of problems, so we deal with horses that have a higher level of injury… I think that right now these private practitioners on the back side, their hands are really, really handcuffed. When you’re dealing with this level of horse, they have a lot of problems. Those problems can be taken care of, but we have to have our full arsenal in order to do that.”

Then this: “I really feel like horses today are having to run in more pain. More pain leads to muscle fatigue, muscle fatigue leads to bone fatigue, bone fatigue leads to catastrophic breakdowns.”

In other words, less drugs may mean more dead horses, at least at the more pedestrian tracks – which is to say, the majority of tracks. Bullet two defused.

Finally, Dr. Jones addresses the supposed progress in the current season: “I can’t sit here and take credit and say that the reason we’re not having as many breakdowns is because we’ve done this or that, X, Y and Z. I honestly believe that the law of averages catches up with you, and the law of averages moved in our favor.” Exactly – fluctuating, but ever present. (To Dr. Jones’ point: From ’09-’18, with but one exception, Saratoga went in a perfect up-down pattern from one year to the next; deaths have ranged from 9-21, with an average, 14, almost right smack in the middle.)

One final thought: Let’s assume for the sake of argument that all those reforms were to actually make a difference and the killing (permanently) declines. What would such a scenario say about U.S. Racing? How should we think about people who could have been doing more to save horses all those years (decades) but chose not to? What to make of the good “horsemen(women)” who only now, with the heat red-hot, are taking dead animals seriously? Folks, if that’s not the definition of moral bankruptcy, I’m not sure what is. And I can’t for the life of me understand how anyone not directly profiting from such an industry could deem it worth preserving.