Whipping a racehorse is the most conspicuous form of animal abuse this side of bullfighting and basically every rodeo “competition.” No need for undercover cameras here. Because of this – or to be more accurate, because of Santa Anita thrusting all things racing into the spotlight – the industry is desperately scrambling. What to do about something that has been a fundamental part of racing since time immemorial.

For most in racing, however, whipping is but a problem of perception. Indeed, at the monthly CHRB meeting just two days ago, new board member Wendy Mitchell said this: “The optics on it [whipping] are bad.” The “optics.” Not that we agree it’s cruelty, mind you; it just looks bad. Well. Back in ’15, the ABC (Australia) ran a piece on this very subject. The whole thing (below) is worth watching, but a couple quotes stand out.

Dr. Lydia Tong, veterinary pathologist, on the relative skin thickness of horses and humans: “The really interesting part is that right up in the epidermis, which is the top layer and that’s where the pain-sensing C fibres are, in the human specimen that’s thicker than the horse’s. So by the old argument of horse’s skin is thicker and they feel it less, actually you could argue human’s skin is thicker.” So have someone take a horse whip to your leg (which was done in the show) and report back.

Then this on horse nature: “If a prey animal shows its pain very overtly, they are more likely to then be noticed and picked out by a predator. So actually often prey animals they kind of shut up and put up.”

And finally, this from Australian Racing’s Peter McGauran: “That [not shifting from pain] would have been learned behaviour, agreed. Under the old days [prior to new whip/whipping rules] I concede that the horses learnt to absorb the punishment afforded them.”

The “old days”? 2009. Yes, that’s right, here we have a prominent racing executive admitting that as recently as five years prior, his jockeys inflicted “punishment” on his horses – punishment, by the way, seemingly well-“absorbed” due to learned helplessness. Imagine that. Yet I wonder, Mr. McGauran, does this mean that back in the “old days” you were sharing that opinion far and wide, or were you, like the rest, singing that decades-old industry line of the whip as “painless guide”? Please.

Oh, and one final note, Mr. McGauran: There is no past tense about this (“it was broken, so we fixed it”); as the piece (science, common sense) makes abundantly clear, a whip in the hands of a racehorse jockey will always be an instrument of intimidation, conveyor of pain. Put another way, your kinder, gentler whipping is a lie. To steal a line from Clinton ’92, it’s animal cruelty, stupid. And ever it will be.

From the Equibase chartwriter at Penn National (one of the more honest) Thursday:

race 1: “SULLEYS BOO had position between rivals to the far turn, was put to whip and stopped.” Sulleys Boo finished last, some 30 lengths back. She is three years old and has been put to the whip 10 times in total, the last 9, including yesterday, at the “maiden claiming” level – as low as there is.

race 5: “BEALESTREET DANCER came well out from the rail early on the backstretch, failed to respond to whip midway on the backstretch and was eased up.” Bealestreet Dancer finished last, some 45 lengths back. He is six and in this, his 33rd race, he was “For Sale” at $4,000 prior to. In other words, he’s utterly expendable.

This is horseracing.

It appears officials in Australia “missed” clear signs – welts – of animal abuse inflicted on the winner of this year’s Melbourne Cup. In a new article in Horses and People, Cristina Wilkins writes: “Vow And Declare’s post-race whip welts contradict racing’s official line that padded whips don’t hurt. The welts show up on a number of images we have obtained, as a series of blisters (raised skin lesions), grouped into almost parallel linear patterns that match the site of the whip strikes he received during this year’s Melbourne Cup. His jockey did not breach any whip rules. A veterinary pathologist has reviewed the images and says the raised marks were most likely caused by trauma.” Full article – with pictures – here.

I’ll say this about the chartwriter at Finger Lakes: He (or she) is honest. Monday:

“ACCABONAC HARBOR away well, set the pace off the rail, asked into the lane and then was whipped to the wire for the win.” For having administered that beating, jockey John R. Davila, Jr. secured over $11,000 for this filly’s “connections” (trainer Chris Englehart, owner Cedar Meadow, and Davila himself).

Then, “winners” at that same track yesterday:

“OXLEY GAP away on top, showed the way along the two path around the turns, remained clear and was under the whip to the line.”

“GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY vied for the lead early, tracked after that, gained to take on the leader at the top of the lane and drew off while under the whip.”

Beating horses so that some men may gamble, others chase pots of gold – this is horseracing.

At the International Conference of Horseracing Authorities in Paris October 7, these statements from Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board (my comments in bold):

“Social ethics toward animal use have changed dramatically during the lives of everyone in this room. Horseracing must adapt to meet society’s changing ethical standards or it will not survive.”

Yes, “dramatic” it has been – Ringling, SeaWorld, dogracing, fur, veganism ascending, etc. As to the second, there’s no re-framing the exploitation, abuse, and killing of horses for $2 bets; it is what it is, and America is on to you.

“There is a real risk that in California, the fifth-largest economy in the world, and in many ways, an international trend-setter, racing could end.”

“Could” – no, will.

“The status quo is not good enough…horse safety…must be our number one priority, even before winning.”

So, horse safety wasn’t your number one priority prior to your current crisis?

“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.”

“That is a very large number of horses” – at last, someone from within not hiding behind a sterile, misleading ratio; “ugly, very ugly” – indeed.

“The result [of claiming races] is a culture where horses tend to be treated as commodities…the U.S. racing business model amplifies that.”

Commodities, chattel, things, assets to be expended and trashed. Exactly.

“[During Santa Anita] the racing press understood that there is a normal fatality rate in horseracing; the non-racing press and public did not.”

Can there be a more powerful (self) indictment of this horrid industry? Yes, we know a certain number of horses will die – and we do it anyway.

“For anti-racing animal-rights advocates, the Santa Anita racing tragedy is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. They are not letting up. Animal-rights activists are making sure that the internet, print and electronic media, and elected officials are aware of each and every racing fatality.”

ABSOLUTELY. We’ve only just begun.

But Dr. Arthur saved his best for last:

“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.”

After a century of lies – that whips are but harmless guides; that a horse’s thick hide precludes any unpleasantness; that they’re really just responding to the sound; that whips are not even whips, they’re “crops” – the chief vet of California Racing, and perhaps the most high-profile in the nation, comes clean: “Whips are noxious stimuli; they hurt, that’s why they’re used. Run fast or I’ll hit you again.”

The prosecution rests.