From this week’s Santa Anita Stewards Report:
(5/22/14) EDWIN OROZCO was in the office this morning in response to a complaint filed against him for his actions on a difficult horse during training hours yesterday. According to Safety Steward LUIS JAUREGUI, word was received from the outriders that Mr. Orozco used the strap end of his belt on the horse WAR ACADEMY, which had “frozen” at the finish line in the middle of the track and refused to move.
The exercise rider, who took over riding the horse after it injured another rider two weeks ago, admitted that he did use his belt, but stated he did not have a whip and given the horse’s position on the track he felt that the issue of safety outweighed using the belt. He also said that one of the morning outriders attempted to help him, but to no avail. In retrospect, Orozco realizes he made a mistake, but says he was attempting to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.
Horses, the apologists say, are born to run, love to run; the modern Thoroughbred is the most exquisite of athletes, sleek and powerful, with, most importantly, an instinctive will to compete. Ignore, they continue, the diminutive humans perched atop, for both the jocks and their snapping appendages serve merely as guides. In short, you can’t force a racehorse (or any horse) to do something he doesn’t wish to do.
It matters not whether the above springs from conditioned naivete or deliberate dishonesty. It’s pure, unadulterated bunk. Of course horses are compelled to race, a compulsion that often ends in calamity. Witness Sunday’s 1st race at Fair Grounds, when a 3-year-old named Sweet Basil suffered the following under the guiding Richard Eramia:
After gaining “under a right-handed whip in upper stretch, [she was] switched to a left-handed whip outside the sixteenth-pole, drew alongside the winner late and just missed then pulled up in heat distress and was vanned off.” Whipped with both hands, heat distress, ambulanced off. Chasing – for her jockey and “connections” – a $41,000 purse. The athlete as slave. That is the racehorse.
From the UK comes word that 10-year-old Thoroughbred Mad Moose (below) has been “banned” by the British Horseracing Authority for, as Horse & Hound (1/13/14) puts it, “being reluctant and refusing to race one too many times.” In his last race in December, he started but “[pulled] himself up” before the first hurdle, the seventh time in 14 months that he has refused to participate. Horse & Hound adds, “The horse even got Nigel in trouble with the BHA last November, after the trainer chased after him waving a belt to try and get him to start at Cheltenham.”
While British media is having a bit of fun with this – calling him “quirky,” “naughty,” “headstrong,” and “serial” – I see something different. For me, this is a tale of quiet yet resolute rebellion, an exploited animal saying, in the only way he can, ‘no more.’ No more will I be whipped into doing your bidding. No more will I risk my limbs for your game. No more. Odds are, Mad Moose will soon be dead anyway, for there can be little value in an “old” (comparable to a twentysomething human) gelding who won’t run. But for now, this is one track event worthy of applause. And for that, Mad Moose, we thank you.
Oscar Pistorius, the “Blade Runner” sprinter who became a media darling at the London Olympics for competing without legs, ran a race last December against an Arabian horse in Qatar, ostensibly to raise disabilities awareness. A sorry spectacle, sure, but noteworthy here because of the merciless flogging administered to Pistorius’ equine adversary. In a 100-meter race that took about 11 seconds to run, the horse was struck at least 20 times, roughly 2 lashes per second. Imagine that.
Pistorius, of course, claims to have been unaware of the excessive beating going on behind him, a beating that would qualify as criminal had it occurred in NY. In one way, however, this video is a gift: Side-by-side, stride-for-stride, two supremely conditioned beings “compete.” One, an autonomous and self-driven embodiment of human athleticism, runs free and easy to the finish line. The other, a half-ton piece of movable property, is set (and kept) in motion by a whip. Here, in but 11 seconds, the idiocy in calling horseracing sport and the racehorse athlete is laid bare for all to see.