Ignore everything you read and hear from the apologists. This is bad. Very bad. For an industry that has been under relentless siege for over a year now, the federal indictments that came down yesterday against some 27 people in, or associated with, American horseracing – including seven veterinarians (who merit an especial contempt) and renowned trainers Jason Servis (he of short-lived Derby winner Maximum Security) and Jorge Navarro (killer of X Y Jet) – couldn’t have come at a worse time. But it’s important not to get too far into the weeds on this.

As I wrote in the wake of PETA’s undercover investigation of another famous trainer’s (Steve Asmussen) barn in 2013, it’s more about the human-horse relationship than the case particulars. On this relationship, horseracing is more amoral than immoral, for traditional rules of morality simply do not apply. (Defrauding bettors is a topic best discussed elsewhere – i.e., I don’t care.) Racehorses are pieces of property, assets, things to be made, used, and discarded; you can no more act immorally toward your racehorse than you can your house or car. Accordingly, virtually anything goes. And that is the story here. And make no mistake, Navarro, Servis, and the rest, like Asmussen and Blasi before them, are horseracing, and anyone who says different is either lying, ignorant, or self-deluded.

Anyway, here are some of the indictments’ “highlights.”

“[Dealer Sarah] Izhaki represented that ‘The Devil’ was ‘[s]omething very new, you put it in the horse, you can use coke: it will come back negative.’

“On or about October 2, 2019, [veterinarian Louis] Grasso counseled [trainer Thomas] Guido on the proper administration of misbranded and adulterated PEDs, and specifically discussed the death of a horse that Guido was training and stated had been doped with a PED…noting, ‘it happens,’ that the deceased horse’s trainer had ‘probably over juiced him,’ and that the suspected cause of the horse’s death was not unusual: ‘I’ve seen that happen 20 times.’

“On or about October 17, 2019, Grasso reiterated to [assistant trainer Conor] Flynn his willingness to provide prescriptions without verifying medical necessity, advising…that his fee was ‘$100 per script,’ regardless of the prescription: ‘I don’t give the fuck what it is.’

“On or about October 23, 2019…Flynn indicated that he was willing to inject misbranded and adulterated PEDs of unknown composition into his racehorses because he was ‘a fucking desperado….’

“On or about January 2, 2016, [dealer Scott] Robinson forwarded the following customer complaint to [dealer Scott] Mangini: ‘I ordered some [PED-1]…starting bout 8 hours after I give the injection and for about 36 hours afterwards both my horses act like they are heavily sedated, can barely walk. Could I have a bad bottle of medicine, I’m afraid to give it anymore since this has happened three times.’ Commenting on this complaint, Robinson wrote, ‘here is another one.’

“On a February 1, 2019, intercepted call between [trainer Nicholas] Surick and [collaborator] Michael Tannuzzo discussing [trainer Jorge] Navarro, Surick stated: ‘You know how many fucking horses he fucking killed and broke down that I made disappear. … You know how much trouble he could get in…if they found out?’

“During an April 3, 2019, call between Navarro and [trainer Marcos] Zulueta, the two discussed, among other things, Navarro’s administration of PEDs to XY Jet in the weeks leading up to, and on the day of, the race in Dubai, and Navarro explained: ‘I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.’

“Following XY Jet’s victory in Dubai, [veterinarian] Seth Fishman congratulated Navarro on the win via text message, and Navarro replied, ‘Thank u boss u are a big part of it.’

“On or about May 29, 2019, Navarro held a conference call with the operators of a racing stable in California, for whom Navarro is a trainer, during which they discussed a series of poor performances by “Nanoosh,” a racehorse trained by Navarro. During the call, one of the operators questioned whether Navarro was ‘giving them all the shit,’ later asking, ‘Is this horse jacked out? Is he on fucking pills or what or are we just fucking -,’ to which Navarro responded, ‘Everything…he gets everything.’

“On a March 5, 2019, intercepted call between [trainer Jason] Servis and Navarro, Servis recommended ‘SGF’ to Navarro, stating, ‘I’ve been using it on everything almost.’ Navarro stated…that he ‘got more than 12 horses on’ SGF-1000….’

“[D]uring an intercepted call between Navarro and Tannuzzo, Navarro explained, in part, that he otherwise would have been caught doping: ‘[The racing official] would’ve caught our asses fucking pumping and pumping and fuming every fucking horse [that] runs today.’

The industry quote of the week comes from a recent BloodHorse article by longtime racing writer/apologist Jay Hovdey. The piece began by acknowledging what we at HW have long known (and exposed): not all kills are treated equally. Hovdey:

“I have no idea why, in the scheme of things, those emotionally invested in Thoroughbred racing would mourn the death of one horse to an exponentially greater extent than any other. That’s just the way it is, the way it’s always been.”

Indeed. A $5,000 claimer breaks down at Parx, no one cares. Shoot him up, scrape him off the dirt, stuff him in a van, dump him in a pit, and wait for the “disposal service” to haul him away. A star, or budding star as was the case with Taraz, the subject of Hovdey’s column, and it’s an outpouring of grief – the “black crepe trail,” as Hovdey calls it – “prayers and condolences to the connections,” and excrement like this from Garrett O’Rourke, GM of Juddmonte Farms, Taraz’ owner:

“[W]e felt like she was something special. You live to have a chance to be in the presence of such talent. For all of us here, it hurts to have that taken away.”

But the aforementioned quote, the golden moment as it were, came in a larger discussion on fatal injuries and the fragile physiques that make them so common. Hovdey, again:

“A hard fact remains – the sport cannot save its injured athletes at a rate that will ever satisfy the general public.”

No it cannot, Mr. Hovdey. No it cannot. And with each passing day, the pressure mounts and a groundswell builds. Your beloved industry is living on borrowed time.

You know it’s bad when even your staunchest supporters are calling you out. John Cherwa is, of course, an unabashed racing apologist and, not unrelated, the paper he writes for, the Los Angeles Times, is a decidedly biased source of information on all things racing. (I have twice submitted editorials offering the activists’ perspective, to no avail; I and others have repeatedly reached out to Times staff in an effort to correct the record and/or lodge objections to Cherwa’s reporting, but again, nothing.) So imagine my surprise when Mr. Cherwa’s Tuesday column began thus:

“We’ve often said that statistics can be used to prove whatever point you are trying to make. For example, Santa Anita likes to use one about the number of horses that have been on the track, racing and training, to prove that the horse fatality rate is much lower than what people think. It’s in the tens of thousands of horses for this meeting. While it is true horses have been on the track, as they are several days a week, if only for a jog, it’s a made-up figure. The track just extrapolates the number of horses it has and comes up with an average. It would be shredded by an auditor. When you’re going to give a number is [sic] the thousands or even millions of a percent, you better be 100% correct. It’s why I don’t use that figure.”

And what exactly are the numbers Santa Anita is reporting? On their “Horse Care & Safety” page, under “Statistics,” this: “Home to 2,000 horses over ten months of the year, Santa Anita Park is one of the largest equine training facilities in the world. Horses raced or trained at Santa Anita Park over 420,000 times in 2019 with a 99.991% safety rate.” But it gets worse: “407,578 HORSES HAVE RACED, WORKED, OR GALLOPED THE PAST YEAR AT SANTA ANITA PARK.” Factually incorrect: There aren’t even 400,000 active racehorses in the entire country – not even close.

More “statistics,” of course, follow – a barrage of numbers meant to distract and deceive. Overwhelmed, the average person (and much of the media) will likely retain but one: “99.991%” – or, exactly as intended. (In addition, you have to scroll through all the “good news” to get to the bad – the “incidents,” as they call them. How many give up long before then?) But even if that “safety rate” were true, what would it matter? Here’s what we do know with absolute certainty: (at least) 8 horses have died at Santa Anita just since the first of the year; 43 dead in 2019, 48 in 2018, 46 in 2017; since 2007, over 600 dead racehorses at Santa Anita. Each of those lives had inherent value; to reduce their unequivocally wanton deaths to a percentage or ratio (see also The Jockey Club’s celebrated “Equine Injury Database”) is as callous as it is sad.

Then there’s this: Two separate studies have shown that the majority of spent American racehorses are brutally and violently bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end. In fact, the industry itself has even admitted as much: Last fall, Alex Waldrop, head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, told USA Today that 7,500 Thoroughbreds are going to slaughter annually. Let me repeat, one of the most powerful people in racing acknowledges that multiple thousands – it’s actually more in the 10,000-12,000 range – of his industry’s erstwhile “athletes” land in equine hell every year. This fact alone not only guts their vaunted “safety rate,” but renders their declarations of the “primacy of equine welfare” positively obscene.

But Cherwa’s generous spirit had not quite run its course. Reinforcing the unassailable truth that this is a failing industry, Cherwa went on to compare the numbers from this year’s President’s Day at Santa Anita to the one in 2000:

attendance, 2000: 20,450 (and, he notes, it was raining that day)
attendance, 2020: 7,003

That’s a 66% decrease.

handle, 2000: $10,569,081
handle, 2020: $6,213,445

That’s a 41% decrease.

number of races, 2000: 10
number of races, 2020: 8

That’s a 20% decrease.

number of starters, 2000: 63
number of starters, 2020: 48

That’s a 24% decrease.

With demand for the racing product in steady decline, and the cruelty and killing at long last laid bare for the whole world to see, can the end, then, be far off?

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Belinda Stronach, president of The Stronach Group, calls the 40+ deaths at Stronach-owned Santa Anita last year a “wake-up call” and that safety should outweigh all other concerns. With that in mind, take a look at this (direct from CHRB):

2007-08 51 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2008-09 41 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2009-10 42 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2010-11 37 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2011-12 71 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2012-13 43 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2013-14 52 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2014-15 46 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2015-16 62 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2016-17 64 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2017-18 44 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park

In fact, Ms. Stronach, since your family purchased the track in 1998, over 1,000 horses have died at Santa Anita. 1,000 dead horses – on your watch. But now – in a year that if anything was a bit below average – is your “wake-up call”? Only now “safety should outweigh all other concerns”? As disgusting as it is transparent. In truth, Ms. Stronach, you are but a wily politician (actually were), willing to say or do anything to preserve your power. Fact is, neither you nor the rest of your insidious industry care about dead horses, for if you did, you would have had your come-to-Jesus moment a long time ago.

An updated list of some of the more damning (and thus, beneficial) statements from those within horseracing:

Various direct quotes from those within and around the racing industry…

“Those efforts [reforms] seem to be paying off as the breakdown rate, which soared earlier this year at Santa Anita, has returned to more normal numbers [italics added].” – Bill Finley, racing writer (Harness Racing Update, 12/6/19)

“The horseracing industry runs on a pack of lies, a bunch of swindles, hidden information, and many corrupt and illegal activities for the love of money, not for love of the horse.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 12/3/19)

“I will no longer support a fractured industry of disparate alphabet organizations now guided by greed. You have killed the game for me.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 12/3/19)

“It does not matter if you knew Mongolian Groom. I did not. But I did know horses now buried in infields of racetracks and in Claire Court at Saratoga Race Course. I walked shedrows and I pet them on their heads. Now they are dead. It has happened a thousand times before and will again.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 12/3/19)

“It happened slowly over the past few years as I wrote about rescue, slaughter and drugs. What put me off most is the great number of industry people who favor the latter two.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 12/3/19)

“The game is rigged at every level, with rampant cheating its finest art form.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 12/3/19)

“I am done supporting a sport that kills its stars.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 12/3/19)

“Trust me, there are horses I’ve won on that if I hadn’t used the whip, I wouldn’t have finished in the top three.” – Joe Talamo, prominent jockey (The San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/17/19)

“Is it possible to reduce the number of racehorse deaths? It is, and I believe that horse racing is already on a path to making it so. But some death is inevitable.” – Peter Fornatale, host of prominent horseplayer podcast (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/15/19)

“I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve done for it for 30 some years, but it’s reached a point where I’d like my people and me to be in the business as full-time professionals. So the idea is to buy a horse after a start or two, which we have been doing, develop them, and then either sell half of them or all of them for a profit. … I’ve now told people up front that going forward if you want to participate in these partnerships with me that our goal is to sell them and make money. … That’s the bottom line.” – Barry Irwin, prominent owner/breeder (BloodHorse, 11/13/19)

“Talk Veuve to Me still has a lot of racing in her, but we had some fun with her, made some money, and it was time to sell her so we can do it again with another horse.” – Barry Irwin, prominent owner/breeder (BloodHorse, 11/13/19)

“Part of the problem in horse racing is, we have commoditized horses, and when you commoditize horses, you treat them like livestock because they have a value. As one trainer told me, ‘I don’t like to leave any money on the table.’ But the other side of that is not good, because that means you want to get the last pound of flesh out of that particular animal.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (Town & Country, 10/27/19)

“The status quo is not good enough…horse safety…must be our number one priority, even before winning.” (admitting, of course, that heretofore “horse safety” wasn’t their number one priority) – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, 10/7/19)

“Worldwide, that [fatalities] is a very large number of horses. Many of you in this room, and this isn’t a criticism, are a step away from the flesh and blood of these fatalities. I’ve been there. Many of these fatalities are ugly, very ugly.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, 10/7/19)

“The result [of claiming races] is a culture where horses tend to be treated as commodities…the U.S. racing business model amplifies that.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, 10/7/19)

“[During Santa Anita] the racing press understood that there is a normal fatality rate in horseracing; the non-racing press and public did not.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, 10/7/19)

“There are those who argue that whipping doesn’t hurt horses, but that’s nonsense, and we all know that. Whips are noxious stimuli; they hurt, that’s why they’re used. Run fast or I’ll hit you again.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (International Conference of Horseracing Authorities, 10/7/19)

“[The Jockey Club] will not support a slaughter-free industry because it will cost $120 million per year to fund the care of the 20,000+ horses bred each year.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 8/22/19)

“These aren’t pets. These are machines. People spend a lot of money on these horses to win.” – Synthia Campos, bettor at Santa Anita Park (Yahoo Sports, 6/16/19)

“A lot of people who otherwise don’t pay any attention to this sport are paying attention to its most horrific aspect. And they are asking for answers that don’t exist. The hard truth: Horse racing can’t stop these catastrophic injuries from happening. [F]atal injuries aren’t going away.” – Gentry Estes, sportswriter and racing apologist (Louisville Courier-Journal, 6/13/19)

“A couple of years ago, a friend from Georgia attended Keeneland for the first time. Her family enjoyed the experience. One thing bothered them, my friend told me. The whips. Why did the jockeys have to hit the horses with those whips? That might seem minor for those of us who grew up with the sport. It’s an accepted practice. We barely notice it. But in a society less Agrarian and more urban, using a whip to hit a defenseless animal stands out. People might not be able to see the drugs, or what goes on in the barns, but they can sure see those whips.” – John Clay, sports columnist and racing apologist (Lexington Herald Leader, 6/11/19)

“Covering this game, you’d think you’d get desensitized to the breakdowns over time. It’s a reality of the business, I know. But if I’m being entirely honest, I think it’s getting harder to deal with each time. It’s just crushing.” – Jeremy Balan, writer BloodHorse, after yet another kill at Santa Anita Park, February 2019

“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed. A fracture to the left lateral forelimb is most common in racehorses as they turn the track on a weakened bone and increased loading on the lateral condyle.” – Dr. Robert Brusie, Palm Beach Equine Clinic, July 2018

“It’s hard to win an argument that should we spend this money [racino revenue] supporting the horseracing industry or should we pay our teachers and give them school supplies or fix roads and build hospitals…it’s kind of a no-brainer; we’re not going to win that argument.” – Ray Paulick, prominent racing writer, on the corporate welfare propping up much of the racing industry (Paulick Report, 4/13/18)

“Since the Thoroughbred industry has not significantly corrected this situation, the same percentages – 20% of all horses sent to slaughter from the US are Thoroughbreds – are safely assumed to be correct present day.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 3/28/18)

“A sport that once was the pastime of the billionaire class has devolved over time into a sport in which an overwhelming number of its athletes are slaughtered to become a portion of some animal’s dinner.” – Mark Berner, racing writer/handicapper (HorseRaceInsider, 3/28/18)

“We will continue to try to locate these New York thoroughbred horses; however, the fact that in two years we have only found about half of the horses speaks volumes about the challenges of just how many retired race horses there are out there.” – Ron Ochrym, acting executive director of the NYS Gaming Commission (The Daily Gazette, 8/29/17)

“We breed 20,000 a year, so if we don’t fund the exit plan, we can’t control the arteries from bleeding out.” – Stacie Clark, operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (The Daily Gazette, 8/29/17)

“Did I ever ask them to, no. Does it happen at every racetrack, yes.” – Stephanie Beattie, prominent trainer, on jockeys using electrical devices – “buzzers,” “batteries” – during morning workouts and in actual races (Paulick Report, 6/28/17)

“Almost everybody did [illegally drug their horses on raceday]. Ninety-five to 98%. It was a known practice. We wanted to win.” – Stephanie Beattie (Paulick Report, 6/28/17)

“Goodness knows in society there are problems that are unsolvable; this may be one of them.” – Cliff Goodrich, former president of Santa Anita, on Del Mar’s dead horses (The San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/25/16)

“The anti-slaughter policies, they’re worthless. The track policies are not going to do anything at all. I’m not an extremist, I just love horses, and I have seen what is truly happening to our racehorses. What is happening is what no one wants to talk about. I have sat down with the head of The Jockey Club; I have sat down with some of the biggest owners and trainers in the country. I start talking and I promise you, they start staring at the ground. They do not want to hear it.” – Maggi Moss, prominent owner (Paulick Report, August ’16)

“We accept the risk that comes with it…but that’s part of it. Where you have livestock, you have dead stock.” – John Wheeler, prominent trainer, after three horses were killed in a single day at a New Zealand racecourse (New Zealand Herald, 6/8/16)

“He [a Jockeys’ Guild official who argues that the new more-liberal California whip rule is not abuse] might want to bring that up with my 15-year-old daughter. Brought up in a family where both parents work in the racing industry, she has zero interest in the sport and when asked why said it is because she doesn’t like to watch the jockeys beating the horses.” – Bill Finley, prominent racing writer (Thoroughbred Daily News, 5/27/16)

“The public has changed. We’re using animals for entertainment here. And, all you have to do is look at the circus where they’ve eliminated elephants from the show…look at SeaWorld. We have to do everything possible for the safety and health of these horses because we’re using them for entertainment. That’s the bottom line.” – Ray Paulick, prominent racing writer (Paulick Report, 5/27/16)

“The worst part of it is, we never will really know how good he really was.” (not that he died) – Michael Matz, Barbaro’s trainer (AP, 5/9/16)

“We’ve all heard about the ‘bad step.’ It isn’t true.” – Dr. Lisa Hanelt, track vet, Finger Lakes (BloodHorse, 7/8/14)

“That horse raced and was pulled up with a broken leg, with his leg dangling, and had to be euthanized on the racetrack. It was crushing, because I felt like I had notified people [of a stress fracture in the horse]…and no one seemed to care. Nobody cared and that horse died because of it.” Dr. Kathryn Papp, track vet and racing apologist (NBC, 5/15/14)

“Everything that’s given to the horse is with the main goal in mind, which is having them run well, win races, pay well to the owners and to the trainers. And anything that they can give the horses – whether it be legal, illegal, even non-necessary substances – they will do…in an attempt to have a winner or improve their horse.” – Dr. Kathryn Papp, track vet and racing apologist (NBC, 5/15/14)

“Every day, I almost quit. Every day, I decide I don’t want to see 2-year-olds that haven’t even run yet be euthanized in a dirt pit at the back of the racetrack because somebody trained them too hard, medicated them too much, pushed them too far.” – Dr. Kathryn Papp, track vet and racing apologist (NBC, 5/15/14)

“Our industry is permeated with those who have no regard for the welfare of the horse. The horse becomes only a tool for fulfilling their own agendas of WIN AT ALL COSTS. Most trainers have little or no investment in the horses they train, whether it is financial or emotional. They will run red light after red light in pushing that horse until it fails and then they will call the owner and spin him a story. [T]hose trainers will tell the owner that the horse ‘just took a bad step’ and ‘that’s horse racing.'” – Bill Casner, prominent owner (Thoroughbred Daily News, March ’14)

“The economics of horse racing does not allow for that. Horse racing is on the decline. If a horse needed a year to heal up, they would go to the killers up in Canada or Mexico [slaughterhouses].” – Dr. Phillip Kapraun, Illinois vet, on his liberal use of the banned substance “snake venom” (The New York Times, 9/21/12)

“It’s getting much easier for me to run my horses out East so that I don’t get so personally attached to them. This is a business.” – Maggi Moss, prominent owner, on running “claimers” (The Iowan, July ’12)

“Everybody just wants a horse, and they want him now to race in 10 days. I want a horse today and I don’t want it tomorrow. I’m a businessman. If somebody takes my bad horses, it’s good. This is a game, and we have to know how to play.” – Juan Serey, trainer, on racinos/claiming races (The New York Times, 4/30/12)

“If horses don’t win, people just get rid of them.” – Maggi Moss, prominent owner, on racinos/claiming races (The New York Times, 4/30/12)

“It’s [the racino/claiming equation] strictly self-centered greed of not thinking about the horse but thinking about maybe I can get one more race out of him and get a piece of the game.” – Dr. Tom David, former chief vet, Louisiana Racing Commission (The New York Times, 4/30/12)

“If the public knew how many medications these horses were administered after entry time, I don’t think they would tolerate it.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (The New York Times, 4/30/12)

“It’s hard to watch these poor animals running for their lives for people who could really care less if they live.” – Dr. Margaret Ohlinger, track vet, Finger Lakes (The New York Times, 3/24/12)

“It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.” – Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, California Horse Racing Board (The New York Times, 3/24/12)