Amazon is set to build two giant (combined 1 million+ sq feet) warehouses directly on the shuttered Pinnacle Race Course near Detroit. And that’s just a start. From the Detroit Free Press: Christopher Girdwood, executive director of the Detroit Region Aerotropolis Development Corp., said Amazon will use fewer than 100 acres of the site’s total 650 acres, which will leave room for future development. “This is not the only thing you are going to see at Pinnacle,” he said. “This is a large piece of property, and this project is just a small piece of it.”

Pinnacle closed in 2010 after just two years of racing. It closed, as the paper put it, because of “mounting operational losses, embarrassing water and electric shutoffs and unsuccessful efforts to create a ‘racino’ at the track with slot machines.” Which only goes to further underscore that new racetracks simply do not open in the 21st Century without being heavily subsidized (and still, only two – besides Pinnacle – have). But here’s the best part – and the definitive answer to the industry’s query of “what about the jobs?” (if tracks close) – the new-jobs projection for just the warehouses portion of the redevelopment: 1,000 – or more than Pinnacle produced when it was open. Case closed. Again.

Another American racetrack has closed its doors for good. Gulfstream Park West, formerly known as Calder Race Course, ran its final race Saturday. How we got here is, regarding the industry at large, quite instructive.

Calder opened on May 6, 1971, to a capacity crowd of over 16,000. Over the years, those crowds, like the ones at the vast majority of U.S. tracks, waned. In 1999, Churchill Downs Inc. purchased Calder; in 2010, Churchill introduced casino gaming, making the track a racino (which, as we know, is designed to subsidize the horseracing). As part of its (casino) licensing, Churchill was required to run at least 40 days of racing. But as the years passed, Churchill (as it has at many of its other properties) grew less and less interested in racing. The money, after all, was in the slots, and for Churchill, a publicly traded company, profits are all that matter.

So, in 2014, Churchill leased Calder to the Stronach Group, owner of nearby Gulfstream Park, and the track was rechristened Gulfstream West. In a move that underscored how little Churchill cared about the horseracing there, in 2015 the grandstand was razed – i.e., no fans allowed. Still, it appeared that Churchill was stuck with this arrangement. Until, that is, the company found a loophole in state law.

In order to maintain its gaming license, Churchill had to offer parimutuel gambling, with the most prominent form being, of course, horseracing. But, it turns out, jai alai would do, and Churchill went about building a fronton (a jai alai arena) in the hope of supplanting horseracing. Eventually, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (and various state courts) decided jai alai would indeed suffice, rendering racing unnecessary. And so here we are. While true that Gulfstream will absorb some of the Calder dates, not all will be made up. In the big picture, another racetrack has been shuttered. (Florida will be left with but two Thoroughbred tracks, Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs.) And that’s progress.

Truth is, Churchill is not alone: There are many track owners across this land who would be more than happy to rid themselves of costly, dirty, and, increasingly, embarrassing (negative coverage, dead horses) horseracing. But they can’t and still retain their gaming licenses. That’s because the “horsemen” lobby is strong and have the politicos’ ears. Recently, though, that has begun to change (see Governor Wolf in Pennsylvania). Would that that trend continues and this corporate welfare propping up a cruel, declining industry gets redirected where it belongs – education, infrastructure, property-tax relief, etc. For now, we savor another victory.

When its current meet ends on November 28, Scarborough Downs, a harness track in Maine, will be closing – for good. This will leave one active racetrack in Maine (Bangor Raceway) and but two in the whole of New England (the other, Plainridge Park in Massachusetts). Relatedly, both of the remaining tracks are racinos, meaning they are being wholly propped up by government subsidies.

Scarborough opened in 1950 as a Thoroughbred track, but it eventually (1970s) went exclusively harness. Like most of horseracing in general, and virtually all of the harness variety, Scarborough has been in incessant decline for decades. To make matters worse, back in 2016 the track was forced to remove all its horse barns because manure was seeping into local groundwater. The final nail came in 2018 when the massive property was sold to a developer with an eye, the Press Herald reports, toward “a town center with housing, shopping, dining, offices, an interconnected road network, trails, recreation facilities and more.” Yeah, I’d say that’s a whole lot more appealing – not to mention economically stimulating – than an archaic, decrepit racetrack. And an added bonus of a little something called moral progress.

Shuttered U.S. Racetracks (Since 2000)

The Redevelopment of Shuttered Tracks

“Then it happened suddenly. Cabezudo heard an explosive crack, he would later testify, like that of a tree branch snapping, then Rivera scream. He continued looking straight ahead, but the sound was gut-wrenching. He knew what it meant.

“White arrived less than five minutes later to find a sickening sight: The filly’s right foreleg was held together by nothing more than hide and ligaments. Her cannon bone, slightly above the ankle, looked like it had detonated. But that wouldn’t have killed her on the spot. She must have fractured her neck or spine, or maybe suffered a heart attack as she crashed to the ground.”

The preceding excerpts are from an explosive new article from Ryan Goldberg on Vice: “The Death of a Racehorse.” Last year, you might remember, Ryan highlighted our work in Deadspin. His latest is long but worth every bit of your time – in equal measures exhaustive, shocking, and gripping. Please read, then share widely.

Last year, California enacted a law that gives the California Horse Racing Board the authority to “at any time, immediately suspend a license to conduct a racing meeting when necessary to protect the health and safety of the horses…. The suspension shall remain in effect until the board determines that the matters jeopardizing the health and safety of the horses…have been adequately addressed.” It was, of course, a direct response to the Santa Anita Spring, at which, at the time, 36 horses lay dead. To date, this authority has yet to be exercised.

This year, Santa Anita’s neighbor, Los Alamitos, has claimed 29 lives. With pressure mounting, the CHRB held an emergency meeting Thursday, with the prospect of a shutdown (which surely would be only temporary) on the horizon. I mean, if 29 kills in a little over six months doesn’t set a threshold, what will? Well, Friday the CHRB decided to kick that question down the road. Los Al will remain open, but is on a 10-day probation during which it must come up with a “plan” to address the carnage. A “plan” – ‘twould be risible if not for the fact that horses are suffering and dying.

In defense of the track, Bob Baffert – yes, that Bob Baffert – told the Board Friday, “As a track surface, I consider it the best surface. Los Alamitos is sort of the standard of all track surfaces. That is the safest racing surface that I’ve trained on.”

Greg Avioli, president and CEO of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, concurred: “The TOC would support the continuation of training and racing at Los Alamitos.”

And Dr. Rick Arthur, the Board’s equine medical director: “I see no evidence that it’s a track surface problem. I do not believe that Los Alamitos is an unsafe track.”

“Best.” “The standard.” “Safest.” 20 – count them, 20 – killed racing or training on that surface (an additional 9 have perished back in their stalls). And now this track, on “probation,” working diligently on its “plan,” has probably claimed another. In the 6th yesterday, 2-year-old Alltime Favorite was, according to the chartwriter, “injured, vanned off.” As I’ve oft written, that description at that track almost always means dead. (I have reached out to the CHRB for confirmation. Nothing yet.)

So the question, California, is where do you go from here? If the ethics of animal use are to be taken seriously, if the phrase “animal cruelty” is to have any meaning, then you, as the nation’s leader on matters like these, must act now. End this madness.

Voice your outrage: Link this post. Cite data from this website. Tell them horseracing is animal cruelty; horseracing must end.

Governor Newsom
Senator Feinstein
Senator Harris
California state legislators