One of my very first posts (2013)…

Equine advocates often decry the racing of two-year-olds, and for good reason. But what many may not fully understand is that forcing two-year-olds onto the track is only marginally worse, medically speaking, than doing the same to three and four-year-olds, for the horse does not reach musculoskeletal maturity until an age when racing, for the most part, has already deemed him washed up.

First, a little history. A couple centuries back, racehorses were asked to run multiple heats of four miles each…on the same day. Shockingly, at least to us, a race-day in excess of 12 miles was not uncommon. But in the late 19th Century, futurities changed racing forever. As the name indicates, these contests were initially intended to generate interest in tomorrow’s “stars.” But because everyone knew that racing three-year-olds for many miles was a bad idea, futurities were run as sprints instead of marathons. The public loved them, and the profits flowed. And so was born modern horseracing and with it, the decidedly unready two- and three-year-old racehorse.

The science of a horse’s physical maturation is well-established. To simplify, although some bones will reach full length early on, the filling out (girth) takes longer. And the higher up the body, the slower the process. What’s more, growth plates in the spine are still unfused at three, with those in the base of the neck the last to fully close, somewhere around six. Only then, does a horse reach skeletal maturity.

While the current racing model may have begun by accident, preserving it is anything but. Although fully aware that a racehorse will not reach his “athletic prime” – run his fastest – until 6-10, horseracing deftly markets its three-year-old product as the pinnacle of competition. They do this because waiting for maturity would be cost-prohibitive. With this ruse firmly entrenched, media and fans rarely, if ever, question the wisdom of forcing adolescents to perform like developed adults. But make no mistake, a Derby horse is physically more Little Leaguer than 30-year-old pro.

Still, some apologists ask, if considered safe and acceptable to place a 13-year-old gymnast on a rigorous regimen, why not a 3-year-old colt? Well: When injured, she gets rest; he gets dope. When broken, she gets crutches; he gets pentobarbital. When “retired,” she goes to college; he goes to the abattoir. She is an end; he is a means. Not the same at all.

Last week on U.S. flat tracks (racing only):

California Rone “vanned off” at Mahoning
Icomefromdowntown “went bad, vanned off” at Penn
Caliche “fell, vanned off” at Sunland
I Am the Juan “fell over rival [above], DNF” at Sunland
Far Mo Power “injured himself in the starting gate” at Parx
Russian Melody “pulled up bad, vanned off” at Penn
Izshefrosted “vanned off” at Tampa Bay
Yes I’m Evil “vanned off” at Gulfstream
Raagheb “went wrong, vanned off” at Turf
Glory March “pulled up lame, vanned off” at Charles Town
Uncle Trey “vanned off” at Sam Houston
Lets Take It Izzy “vanned off” at Tampa Bay
Striking It Lucky “vanned off” at Tampa Bay
Hot N Sweet “bled” at Turfway
Temper Mint Twist “vanned off” at Turfway
Mugaritz “vanned off” at Golden Gate
Macho Appeal “pulled up in distress, vanned off” at Oaklawn
Jim Edd Who “vanned off” at Sunland

While not all the “vanned” end up dead, most do, as borne out by our year-end FOIA reports. But even if death is not the ultimate result, the above are victims nonetheless, suffering painful injuries – in the case of the bleeders, pulmonary hemorrhage – so that some men may gamble, others chase pots of gold. (For any new confirmed deaths during the week, please see our running annual list.)

Back in March, I posted this video of 8-year-old Rated R Superstar being mercilessly beaten by jockey Ramon Vazquez in a half-million-dollar race at Oaklawn:

Almost a year later, Rated, soon to turn nine, is still being whipped for cash. Yesterday (photo below), after a $90,000 win at Oaklawn, owner Danny Caldwell said this in BloodHorse: “They’re old, hard-knocking horses and they know their job.” Yup, they “know their job” all right – all you have to do is beat the hell out of ’em.

Sky Writer in the 4th at Mahoning yesterday: “took a bad step pulling up near the eighth pole…euthanized on the track.” He was six; this was his 40th time under the whip. Complicit in the kill: owner Susan Yoder, trainer Lori Yoder, jockey Sonny Leon, Mahoning Valley, and anyone who wagered on any race run in America yesterday.

Also Friday, at Gulfstream, Rakasa “suffered a catastrophic injury past the wire” of the 9th. She is almost assuredly dead – at the pubescent age of three.

This is horseracing.