In the 10th at Santa Anita Saturday, Formal Dude “took a bad step” and was “vanned off” (Equibase). “Took a bad step” is one of this industry’s euphemisms of choice for dead. And indeed, we have confirmation that the 4-year-old was euthanized – for a broken pelvis. The LA Times quotes the CHRB’s Dr. Rick Arthur: “With few exceptions, fatal pelvic fractures have pre-existing stress fractures at necropsy.” As if this somehow makes it better: “Pre-existing stress fractures” are a direct result of the incessant grinding – training and racing – racehorses are forced to absorb, and, by the way, another reason the killing is inevitable.

Santa Anita has 34, not the 28 being reported in the press, dead animals on its decidedly ignominious ledger. Shut it down.

Psychedelicat, killed racing at Santa Anita Dec 30, 2018
Tank Team, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 4, 2019
Unusual Angel, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 4, 2019
Secret Street, killed training at Santa Anita Jan 8, 2019
Derby Treasure, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 11, 2019
Noise Mandate, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 18, 2019
Amboseli, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 20, 2019
Like Really Smart, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 21, 2019
Last Promise Kept, killed racing at Santa Anita Jan 21, 2019
Dancing Harbor, killed training at Santa Anita Jan 23, 2019
Spitfire, killed training at Santa Anita Jan 25, 2019
Kid Cantina, killed racing at Santa Anita Feb 2, 2019
Comegowithme, killed racing at Santa Anita Feb 3, 2019
Jager Time, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 17, 2019
Unusual Rider, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 18, 2019
Hot American, killed racing at Santa Anita Feb 22, 2019
Battle of Midway, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 23, 2019
Just Forget It, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 23, 2019
Charmer John, killed training at Santa Anita Feb 24, 2019
Eskenforadrink, killed racing at Santa Anita Mar 2, 2019
Lets Light the Way, killed training at Santa Anita Mar 5, 2019
Princess Lili B, killed training at Santa Anita Mar 14, 2019
Arms Runner, killed racing at Santa Anita Mar 31, 2019
Commander Coil, killed training at Santa Anita May 17, 2019
Spectacular Music, killed racing at Santa Anita May 19, 2019
Kochees, killed racing at Santa Anita May 25, 2019
Derby River, killed training at Santa Anita June 5, 2019
Formal Dude, killed racing at Santa Anita June 8, 2019
unidentified, Jan 14-Jan 20, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Jan 21-Jan 27, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Feb 25-Mar 3, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Feb 25-Mar 3, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, Apr 1-Apr 7, died off-track at Santa Anita
unidentified, May 20-May 26, died off-track at Santa Anita

Tuesday, AP sportswriter Stephen Whyno published an article that could just as easily have come from the New York Racing Association’s PR department. He begins:

“The home of the Belmont Stakes is laps ahead of other U.S. racetracks when it comes to keeping horses safe. Belmont Park and other tracks around the state of New York have had some of the fewest horse deaths in the sport. Amid the 26 [it’s actually 33] horse deaths at California’s Santa Anita Park since late December, the Belmont will be run Saturday on a track that national observers say is among the safest and best maintained in the country.”

Whyno goes on to cite the ubiquitous, but largely meaningless, “fatality rate per 1,000 starts” for Belmont and how it compares favorably to other tracks, including the other two Triple Crown venues, Churchill and Pimlico. The secret, he says, is in the “the attention given to [the] track surfaces”: “[NYRA] keep[s] copious amounts of data using ground-penetrating radar and sensors that track the moisture content in the tracks. They also have a weather station that tracks rainfall and wind speed.”

Very impressive. Count the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Steve Koch as a fan: “At Belmont Park, NYRA racing, Glen Kozak and his team and the way they do things up there, that is going to be our industry benchmark.”

May I present the “industry benchmark,” “some of the fewest horse deaths in the sport.” In just the past three years, the three NYRA tracks – Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga – have recorded the following kills:

2016 – Aqueduct, 11 dead racehorses; Belmont, 39 dead racehorses; Saratoga, 16 dead racehorses

2017 – Aqueduct, 17 dead racehorses; Belmont, 40 dead racehorses; Saratoga, 21 dead racehorses

2018 – Aqueduct, 15 dead racehorses; Belmont, 29 dead racehorses; Saratoga, 13 dead racehorses

Since 2009, when the Gaming Commission’s database went live, which, incidentally, only came in the wake of outrage over Eight Belles and calls for greater transparency, 423 horses have lost their lives at Belmont Park, an average of 42 every year; at all NYS tracks, over 1,300 deaths – 137 annually. The best U.S. Racing has to offer? Vile.

As Santa Anita continues to reverberate, NYRA issued a statement last week that in addition to promoting the spring Belmont season, regurgitated the now-standard litany of “safety initiatives” that have (supposedly) been implemented at NYRA tracks. The whole Goebbels-esque statement can be read here, but here’s the gist:

“In addition to accreditation…by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, a variety of initiatives have been put in place since 2013 at all three NYRA racetracks…in areas such as racing surfaces and race-day scrutiny, as well as capital improvements and collaborative efforts…to ensure the safety of all participants. These extensive reforms and commitment to improving the safety of NYRA’s racing operations have led to demonstrably safer races.”

While I’m generally loath to use the word “lie,” to say that NYRA Racing is “demonstrably safer” since 2013 is demonstrably false. Whether it rises to the level of lying, I’ll leave to you to decide. Follows are the death totals (direct from the Gaming Commission) for the three NYRA tracks for 2013 and 2017:

2013 – Aqueduct, 23 dead; Belmont, 38 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 70 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 17 dead; Belmont, 40 dead; Saratoga, 21 dead; total, 78 dead

That’s an 11% increase in horses dying at NYRA racetracks from 2013 to 2017.

Okay, they’ll say, but those totals include deaths from “non-racing” causes (e.g., colic, laminitis). (By dubbing them so, the industry is effectively saying, “that’s not on us”; morally, however, the how matters not a whit – a dead racehorse is a dead racehorse.)

On-track (racing or training) only, then:
2013 – Aqueduct, 21 dead; Belmont, 32 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 62 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 19 dead; total, 62 dead

No change.

Increasingly desperate, I can then imagine them asking for racing totals only. Okay:
2013 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 6 dead; Saratoga, 5 dead; total, 25 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 12 dead; Belmont, 10 dead; Saratoga, 8 dead; total, 30 dead

A 20% increase. But wait. In 2013, the three NYRA tracks had 247 days of racing; 2017, 234. Deaths up, number of races down. Now, to be fair the 2018 numbers did come down a bit: Aqueduct, 15 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 13 dead – for a total of 57 dead. So, after five years of state-of-the-art technology (“ground-penetrating radar”), greater vigilance (multiple “inspection” and “observation” periods), better protocols (“enhanced levels of scrutiny”), the deaths went from 70 to 57. Is this what is to pass for “demonstrably safer”? Is this – only 57 dead animals for, I remind, gambling and entertainment – what we’re to call progress in 21st Century America? Citizens, awake.

In addition to another powerful showing (pictures below) from our side yesterday as Santa Anita re-opened for business, there’s this from yesterday’s Portland Monthly:

A permit application involving “initial phase redevelopment” of the 63.65-acre parcel that’s home to racetrack Portland Meadows was filed Wednesday, March 20, according to city records. A call to the track confirms the 2018–19 racing season, which wrapped in February, will be its last.

This monumental win – Portland Meadows has been around for 73 years – will leave Oregon with but a handful of “County Fair” dates over the summer. But don’t be surprised if those also vanish, as this 2012 article speculated: “The horsemen and women agree that if [Portland Meadows] folds, horse racing in Oregon will almost certainly die. ‘It’s hard to imagine many people wanting to keep thoroughbreds just to race at county fairs,’ [said an Oregon racehorse owner].” Let the dying begin.

Portland Meadows, as the aforementioned article details, was desperately trying to attract younger “fans.” It failed. Multiple millions in subsidies (from internet gambling fees) were funneled its way. That, too, failed. So its owner, The Stronach Group (yes, the very same), has decided to pack it in, and we have another moment to savor.

Some of our people protesting at Portland Meadows…

And at Santa Anita…

As Santa Anita readies to re-open this Friday, and the battle there resumes, I give you these truly remarkable and decidedly auspicious (for us) comments from a high-ranking racing official. In a recent interview with FoxLA, Rick Baedeker, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, said that the 26 dead racehorses at Santa Anita since Christmas and the ensuing media storm has been “a nightmare for everyone connected with Racing…and we can’t seem to wake up.” Then, in reference to Princess Lili B and her two broken legs (which the Fox affiliate caught) on March 14: “I don’t know what to tell you Hal…you just wonder if this dark cloud will ever lift.”

But it was toward the end of the interview that Baedeker broke, shockingly, with SRP (Standard Racing Propaganda) – you know, Racing will figure this out and come back stronger than ever – in answering the questions, “Is this possibly a Blackfish moment? Could that happen here?”: “It could. It could.” Then, when queried about the future of horseracing in California, Baedeker, in a stunning moment of raw, unfiltered candor, said: “Well, I think it’s at risk. I think it’s at risk.” Prompted to expound: “The voters authorized [it] back in 1933; they have the ultimate call.” Wow.

If ever there was a moment for unrelenting pressure on this vile industry, this is it. If you are in the LA area (or even thinking about taking a trip), please consider joining the Santa Anita protest this Friday. The horses need us – to stand for them, to speak for them, to save them. If unable, voice your protest in any number of other ways – signing petitions (Cal, NY), writing letters-to-editors, being active on social media, calling or emailing politicians, and simply talking to anyone and everyone you know. Horseracing is staggered and, as the above clearly shows, feeling ever so vulnerable. Let’s not waste this golden moment. Let’s press the thing.

(full Fox video)