Finding material for this blog is never difficult. Besides the obvious – naughty trainers, routine breakdowns, slaughtered retirees – practically every time a racing insider opens his mouth, gifts (for me) fly out. On 8/26/13, the Paulick Report relayed the story of a husband and wife training team in a bit of trouble with Pennsylvania racing officials for a Lasix violation. (Although not a vet, the wife was preparing to administer Lasix to one of their horses, and too close to race-time, at that.) While admitting the error, Mike Rogers insists his wife was just “trying to help the horse.” But unable to leave it at that, Rogers goes on to unwittingly indict his entire profession:

“[Strong Resolve] had bled tremendously before. This BS that horses don’t bleed is insane. They actually bleed so much, they’re drowning.”

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Lasix is controversial. There are some who argue that because running horses bleed, “naturally,” it is inhumane to withhold therapeutic furosemide. Others, though, see it solely as a diuretic performance-enhancer, one so entrenched in American racing that attempts to ban it on raceday invariably meet stiff resistance. Either way, racing looks bad: If primarily used to make horses run faster, it’s a superfluous medication, meaning all dispensing veterinarians are breaching ethical standards and should have their licences revoked. But if, on the other hand, what Rogers says even approaches the truth, each and every Thoroughbred owner and trainer in the U.S. should be arrested for animal cruelty.

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In addition to Sarava’s Dancer, Kris Royal, and Saginaw, a two-year-old filly named Ocean Breeze also broke down and died last week in Saratoga. But because the child-horse was only training, attention was noticeably lacking. Still, I believe the Times Union, as a racing apologist, was being less than truthful when it called Saginaw’s “the fifth race day death of the Saratoga meet.” Technically correct, but were not Black Rhino, Ricochet Court, and Ocean Breeze also Thoroughbred “athletes” who perished at the Saratoga Race Course? The 2013 Death Count stands at 8.

When a racehorse breaks down, especially one as popular as former-claimer-turned-stakes-winner Saginaw, the garbage starts to flow. In the Times Union account of Friday’s death in the 3rd race at Saratoga, jockey Junior Alvarado said, with “tears in his eyes,” “It’s very sad, there are just no words to explain it. It’s just very sad for everybody. When there were horses going by him, he tried to chase them. In his mind, it was ‘run, run, run.’ I wish I could have helped him, but there was nothing I could do. I knew it was bad.”


Saginaw, the TU reports, “was visible in the ambulance, his eyes looking out at the applause that followed him down the track.” Mike Repole, a competing owner, “lost interest in the race after he saw the breakdown.” He said: “It’s a tough sport. These athletes are going 45 miles an hour on legs that are the size of my wrist. An NBA player tears his ACL, he comes back a year from now. These horses break a leg, he never comes back. He doesn’t always survive. It’s sad.”

Twice in the past week, the Times Union (“Grieving for Kris Royal”), being a publication clearly sympathetic to racing, has attempted to manipulate readers by underscoring the horsemen’s sorrow. See, they cry when their horses break; their hearts ache when the pink courses; they struggle with their professions. The horse people care. Meanwhile, the utter insanity in “athletes” whip-forced to go, as owner Repole helpfully reminds, “45 miles an hour on legs that are the size of my wrist” gets glossed over, whitewashed. “His eyes looking out at the applause”? Times Union, have you no shame?

To Charlie LoPresti, Junior Alvarado, Mike Repole and everyone else in and around horseracing: Your “sport” is not a sport. These “accidents” are not accidents. And your “love” is not love. Racehorses are slaves and you are their masters. If you truly wish for no more broken sesamoids, cease and desist. Cease and desist.

Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets, Installment 4

Brave Miner
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

I first saw Brave Miner in 1999. It was opening year of Thoroughbred racing at Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon, Michigan, and having been a lifelong fan of the “Sport of Kings,” I was thrilled to have live racing only 45 minutes from my home. Brave Miner was larger than life to me, a gleaming chestnut that exuded confidence, class, and dignity. As I watched him prance in the paddock, I could only dream of having him as a member of my beloved equine family.

Shortly after, I became involved with a Thoroughbred racehorse rescue and rehabilitation organization. My responsibilities included walking the shed rows to take listings for the owners and trainers. Brave Miner was now 6 years old and had accumulated 18 wins – including 4 black type which are the highest level – from 48 starts on dirt and turf, going long and short. He was extraordinarily beautiful, but the wear and tear on his body was already evident. I had never seen ankles that large and misshapen. Becoming acutely aware of the fate of so many racing TB’s, I made myself and Brave Miner a promise that I would take him from the track before his body and spirit were broken beyond repair.

Over the next 7 years, from 2000 to 2007, I watched and waited. I made frequent requests and monetary offers for Brave Miner, and he was actually promised to me on two separate occasions. The first promise was broken when he was sold to yet another racing owner/trainer for a measly $500. By the fall of 2007, the courageous gelding had run an incredible 131 times and had stuffed his connections’ wallets with over $340,000 from 31 wins, 18 seconds, and 19 thirds. But in his last several races, as a 13-year-old with weary, hurting legs, he struggled to come in anything better than last.

In October of 2007, the second promise made to me by his current owner was just one race away. Only one more race and I could take him home! It didn’t matter to me that he no longer possessed the physical beauty as when I first laid eyes on him 8 long years ago …I just wanted to take him from the place where he had been the best, but now had left him stripped of everything he once was.

At Hoosier Park in Indiana, on October 13, Brave Miner ran in his 132nd start. Since I would be picking him up the next day, I had my truck and trailer packed and ready to go. I watched the clock that evening, waiting for when the race replay would be available for viewing. With my heart in my throat, I watched the replay through my fingers with the sound turned down to barely audible. I heard his name called only once and never saw him cross the finish line.

Brave Miner broke bones that night that would never be repaired nor could ever heal. 31 times he had stood in a crowded winner’s circle, but on that night, he laid in the dirt alone…only the track vet kneeled beside him, administering the lethal injection to end his suffering and his life. Human greed had taken from that amazing creature – one with a heart few can comprehend and even fewer appreciate – everything he had willingly given.

My promise to Brave Miner was broken and so was my heart. But the pain I felt was nothing in comparison to the pain and suffering he endured. There were plenty of opportunities to retire the overworked warrior and give him the chance to live. Instead, the people responsible for him dug his grave and ran him into it. Brave Miner’s story doesn’t have a nice, pleasant ending…but then, neither did his life.

Tim Wilkin is a fine sportswriter, even if one of his duties is to cover horseracing for the Albany Times Union. (Of course, horseracing is as out of place on the Sports pages as blowing away Whitetails in autumn.) But his latest contribution (“Loss Leaves Empty Feeling,” 8/27/13) on the aftermath of Sunday’s 9th race in Saratoga almost seems written with the express purpose of eliciting sympathy for those at the heart of this exploitative business. Pity the poor horseman, for he so loved his former charge.

Wilkin on Charlie LoPresti, trainer of the late Kris Royal: “His heart was breaking because of stall 16. It was empty. Kris Royal, a 5-year-old chestnut gelding who was there on Sunday, was gone on Monday.” Little, Wilkin says, can “soothe [LoPresti’s] aching heart.” And LoPresti himself: “It just makes you sad, number one, because he’s just a neat little horse if you knew him. If you look there and you see his empty stall … what a nice little horse to be around … a fun little guy … he never bothered anybody … he tried. It really makes you rethink what you do. I kept waking up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘It didn’t really happen, did it?'”


Perhaps, Wilkin writes, the rain-starved fast turf was simply too much for these horses. LoPresti, however, magnanimously refuses to blame anyone. His “fun little guy” just took a “bad step,” “hit a rough spot.” But if you delve a little deeper, certainly far beyond what this article is willing to reveal, you’ll find the root of snapped Thoroughbred legs everywhere: $2 bets and the resultant pots of gold that men like LoPresti relentlessly chase. The tragedy here, is horseracing itself.