Tim Wilkin is a fine sportswriter, even if one of his duties is to cover horseracing for the Albany Times Union. (Of course, horseracing is as out of place on the Sports pages as blowing away Whitetails in autumn.) But his latest contribution (“Loss Leaves Empty Feeling,” 8/27/13) on the aftermath of Sunday’s 9th race in Saratoga almost seems written with the express purpose of eliciting sympathy for those at the heart of this exploitative business. Pity the poor horseman, for he so loved his former charge.

Wilkin on Charlie LoPresti, trainer of the late Kris Royal: “His heart was breaking because of stall 16. It was empty. Kris Royal, a 5-year-old chestnut gelding who was there on Sunday, was gone on Monday.” Little, Wilkin says, can “soothe [LoPresti’s] aching heart.” And LoPresti himself: “It just makes you sad, number one, because he’s just a neat little horse if you knew him. If you look there and you see his empty stall … what a nice little horse to be around … a fun little guy … he never bothered anybody … he tried. It really makes you rethink what you do. I kept waking up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘It didn’t really happen, did it?'”

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Perhaps, Wilkin writes, the rain-starved fast turf was simply too much for these horses. LoPresti, however, magnanimously refuses to blame anyone. His “fun little guy” just took a “bad step,” “hit a rough spot.” But if you delve a little deeper, certainly far beyond what this article is willing to reveal, you’ll find the root of snapped Thoroughbred legs everywhere: $2 bets and the resultant pots of gold that men like LoPresti relentlessly chase. The tragedy here, is horseracing itself.

NEWS10 is reporting that Stillwater police have arrested horse trainer Joseph DeCarlo for abusing a Standardbred under his care. DeCarlo was charged under Article 26, Section 353 of the Ag and Markets Law (“overdriving, torturing and injuring animals”), a misdemeanor. NEWS10 says that the gelding suffered “severe and extensive internal and external mouth injuries.” More information to come.

By any measure, Thoroughbred trainer Don Roberson has been successful in his chosen profession: 1,190 wins, almost $11 million in career purses, and 27 in-the-money finishes this year alone. But it’s equally safe to call him a cheat, a cheat who puts the animals in his charge at grave risk. Roberson has just begun serving a two-year suspension in Delaware for a July 13th stable search that yielded “injectable medications, syringes, and needles.” This, though, should not surprise: According to the website Thoroughbred Rulings, Roberson has been fined multiple times in multiple states for various administrative infractions. And for drugs…

9/30/08, West Virginia, phenylbutazone (or bute) overage, Seaboard (who finished 1st)
5/29/10, Iowa, phenylbutazone overage, Black Gulch (who finished 1st)
2/19/11, Louisiana, methocarbamol present, Smokey Belle (who finished 2nd)
6/17/11, Iowa, methocarbamol present, Christina’s Dream (who finished 2nd)
6/28/11, Iowa, failure to declare correct medication, Pick a Tizzy
8/13/11, Iowa, methocarbamol present, Let’s Get Crackin (who finished 2nd), suspension
6/22/12, California, phenylbutazone overage, Karen’s Good Boy (who finished 1st)

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Because horseracing leaves each state to do its own thing, Roberson’s abuses of the pain-killing, injury-masking bute were reported and penalized as “first offenses” – $200 in West Virginia and $250 in Iowa, no suspensions. And in California, since trainer Roberson had “no similar violations during the last 365 days [and promised not to do it again], an official warning was given.” Not even a fine. This is just one of the ways trainers mock the “system.” While good that one state has finally banned him, Mr. Roberson remains free to practice everywhere else. This is horseracing.

Derby and Preakness-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, known as “Drug” O’Neill in some circles, has been suspended twice (Illinois 2010, California 2012) for elevated TCO2 levels in his horses, a condition commonly achieved via an illegal (on race day), fatigue-fighting concoction known as a “milkshake.” In an interview with NPR (5/9/12), New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich says O’Neill has 15 career drug violations. Worse still, according to the Times (5/10/12), the esteemed trainer has an injury/breakdown rate that is more than double the national average.

For his part, O’Neill denies “milkshaking” his Thoroughbreds, but accepts responsibility for the high casualties (The Washington Post, 4/29/13): “We had a period when we had a rash of injuries and I had to look in the mirror. I was running horses too often; I was a little sloppy there.” “A little sloppy”?

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So it was against this backdrop that some of California’s brightest decided to “roast” (honor) their animal-abusing friend this past Saturday night. The Paulick Report (8/4/13) notes that “Milkshake” was both the evening’s theme song and featured dessert. This gem from radio host Tim Conway Jr best sums the night’s humor: “Most horses when they’re done go out to pasture or to stud. Dougie’s go to the Betty Ford Clinic.” Sitting on the VIP throne, “Dougie” laughed right along. There are some who argue that comedy should have no bounds, that we should be able to laugh at ourselves and the world around us. But there are lines when the fodder comes from cruelty to others, innocents, in this case. Those horses have no choice but to take what Doug O’Neill does to them, gives to them. Sorry, not funny.