Melodeeman was a seasoned veteran who had amassed over $250,000 in earnings when he entered the gate at frigid Penn National on January 21, 2010. Running for $18,000 (thanks to racino money) in a $4,000 claiming race, the Thoroughbred, who was, according to an exercise rider, “clearly lame” prior to the race (NY Times, 4/30/12), broke his cannon bone on the homestretch. He was euthanized at the track. The necropsy revealed what his owner (his sixth) and trainer probably already knew: This horse was damaged goods. In addition to degenerative joint disease in both front legs, there was this (graphic). Oh, and he also had the banned sedative fluphenazine in his system. Now we know why.

On a cold winter night in Central Pennsylvania, with only hardcore gamblers there to watch, Melodeeman, almost ten full years into his servitude, died. This is horseracing. (For further reading on the racino effect, see this NY Times article.)

There is perhaps no better example of Saratoga (Race Course, that is) ostentation than that annual bit of track pageantry, the “Saratoga Hat Contest.” But beyond the folly lies a serious issue. While the participants, judges, and media see good, clean (and family, in some cases) fun, horse advocates see a lost opportunity to be accountable.

Instead of squandering money on fatuous headwear, the hat people, who are likely bettors too, could have instead donated their money to any number of Thoroughbred rescues desperately trying to save erstwhile “athletes” from cruel ends. It would seem, as supporters of horseracing, that this is the least they could (can) do. Hat contests are not just harmless marketing campaigns; a $2 bet is more than a mere guilty pleasure. There are dire consequences for the equine entertainers.

the ridiculous in all their splendor

Horseracing Wrongs is proud to present the first in a series of guest posts from two of the most respected equine advocates in the country, Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile. Both on their own and through their rescue, Saving Baby Equine Charity, Jo Anne and Joy have positively impacted the lives of countless animals, undoubtedly saving many from cruel and bloody fates.

The pair will publish under the heading, “Shedrow Secrets” and with this picture of Baby as their symbol:

Shedrow Secrets

Winds of Love
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile

On November 6, 2007, Winds of Love labored to a last place finish, beaten soundly by eight lengths. The nine year old gelding had run twelve times in just 5 months, managing only a pair of third place finishes for earnings of $2,493. Entered as frequently as every seven days, it was very clear that his racing days were over. He was running at a small low-level track in Michigan, far from the Florida racetracks where he had been a winner ridden by high-profile jockeys such as Pat Day and Cornelio Velasquez. But while the local betting public saw only an aging gelding running for the smallest purses, the stakes were actually much higher…Winds of Love was running for his life.

He had become an unfortunate member of a stable belonging to an owner/trainer duo known for running injured and ill-kept horses. Walking through their shed row, one would find the horses waiting until noon for their first meal of the day. Horses with big ankles and dull coats stood in urine-soaked stalls for hours on end. There were those that had only ever been cheap claimers, and there were former stakes horses bred by the most well-known and respected farms in Kentucky, Florida, and California. But royal pedigrees and impressive earnings were forgotten here. All of the horses were expected to “get a check,” and running with accumulated damage to joints and limbs was commonplace. Failure to run successfully and produce purse money would be tolerated only so long, and for Winds of Love, the clock was ticking.

On that cold late autumn evening, Winds of Love ran in his 102nd start. His lifetime earnings were $194,475 from 14 wins, 9 seconds, and 19 thirds. He had been racing for at least four years with three screws in his right front ankle, and he was tired and sore. During the race, his jockey heard the dark bay whinny, a sign of distress if done while running a race. He was eased across the finish line and brought back lame to the barn. On a heart-wrenching journey down to the lowest of the claiming ranks, he had run out of time.

Now the big gelding with the heart of a lion and the temperament of a lamb was headed for the auction and most certainly, the slaughterhouse. His years of faithful service- fattening the pocketbooks of his owners and trainers- meant nothing to those responsible for him. The quickest and cheapest way to rid themselves of the broken-down Winds of Love was their one and only concern.

On November 7, 2007, less than 12 hours after his last race, Winds of Love loaded willingly onto a trailer. He trembled from head to tail, but stood patiently while waiting for two other broken Thoroughbred racehorses to join him. But this trailer was not headed to the auction. A Thoroughbred racehorse rescue organization had purchased Winds of Love for $250 from his owner, and the three occupants of that trailer were headed to the safety of the rescue’s farm.

Winds of Love lived for another week. Evaluated by two veterinarians, including an equine orthopedic surgeon, the gallant gelding was diagnosed with severe end-stage arthritis that would make it impossible for him to live without pain. His ankles had been destroyed by the multiple steroid injections administered to them over the years. He was humanely euthanized. Winds of Love was loved and carefully attended to by his rescue caretakers those cherished last days of his life.

Winds of Love did not die before millions during a world famous race. There was no media coverage and no public outcry. The fact that he died due to multiple injuries sustained from racing was not acknowledged or recorded anywhere by the racing industry. Only the rescue cared, only the rescue recorded. Unlike Barbaro or Eight Belles, the only tears shed for Winds of Love were by the rescue’s volunteers. Though his suffering and death were not their fault, they told him, “We’re so sorry,” as they whispered kind words and gave him his last loving strokes.

Shortly after Winds of Love was euthanized, Joy Aten contacted the gelding’s breeder/former owner. The two had a lengthy conversation that consisted primarily of the owner’s memories of the “sweet, black horse.” Within several days, Joy was surprised to receive a package from the owner. There was a language barrier noticed during the telephone conversation, and that barrier must have led to some miscommunication because what was included in the package was never requested by Joy…a veterinarian invoice for Winds of Love detailing steroid injections into the gelding’s hocks, stifles, and ankles on March 7, 2003. How many injections Winds of Love endured over the course of his short life we will never know, but we do know the corticosteroids caused the lethal deterioration of his joints. No thought was ever given to a life beyond racing for the “sweet, black horse”…and Winds of Love never got that chance.