$1,225,000. That’s what a filly relative of Barbaro and AP Indy fetched at the Saratoga Sale of Selected Yearlings this past Monday and Tuesday. All seemed happy with the final numbers: 108 horses sold for a cumulative total of $31.87 million. For those keeping track, a little over $295,000 a horse, or the price of a nice home in Loudonville. Wow. Even better for the horse people, the “buyback rate” (horses left unsold) was 21%, down from 2012’s 34%. According to house president Boyd Browning Jr, we have “a healthy marketplace.”
The Thoroughbred (cattle) auction is the modern day equivalent of the slave block, you know, the kind where strapping bucks and pretty wenches were gathered and traded in the center of town. Here, an interjection is necessary: As it’s a good bet that virtually every animal activist on the planet would have also embraced 19th Century abolitionism, no need to apologize for the parallel. If it looks like a slave, sounds like a slave, and acts like a slave, then a slave it is. That said, the racehorse buyer can’t even claim economic survival; he subjugates for fun. Think of the good that could have come from the obscene amounts expended this week on Thoroughbreds. On an elitist hobby. They should be ashamed. I know they are not.
Animal Aid (UK) reports that over 1,000 racehorses have died on British tracks since 2007. This total, however, is significantly understated (by up to 30%) as horses receiving “elective euthanasia” at the racetrack are not included in the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) official figures. It appears that the jump-race horse is the most vulnerable, with, according to Animal Aid, a 1 in 42 chance of dying over the course of a year. Animal Aid’s Dene Stansall says (The Guardian, 8/3/13), “…punters should be aware of a basic truth. And this is that betting on horses means horses will suffer and die.” A BHA spokesman counters, “Racing is a sport that carries risk, and British racing is honest and open about the risks involved.” So once again, here we are in the year 2013 still talking about “sport” and death. Public, awake.
Derby and Preakness-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, known as “Drug” O’Neill in some circles, has been suspended twice (Illinois 2010, California 2012) for elevated TCO2 levels in his horses, a condition commonly achieved via an illegal (on race day), fatigue-fighting concoction known as a “milkshake.” In an interview with NPR (5/9/12), New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich says O’Neill has 15 career drug violations. Worse still, according to the Times (5/10/12), the esteemed trainer has an injury/breakdown rate that is more than double the national average.
For his part, O’Neill denies “milkshaking” his Thoroughbreds, but accepts responsibility for the high casualties (The Washington Post, 4/29/13): “We had a period when we had a rash of injuries and I had to look in the mirror. I was running horses too often; I was a little sloppy there.” “A little sloppy”?
So it was against this backdrop that some of California’s brightest decided to “roast” (honor) their animal-abusing friend this past Saturday night. The Paulick Report (8/4/13) notes that “Milkshake” was both the evening’s theme song and featured dessert. This gem from radio host Tim Conway Jr best sums the night’s humor: “Most horses when they’re done go out to pasture or to stud. Dougie’s go to the Betty Ford Clinic.” Sitting on the VIP throne, “Dougie” laughed right along. There are some who argue that comedy should have no bounds, that we should be able to laugh at ourselves and the world around us. But there are lines when the fodder comes from cruelty to others, innocents, in this case. Those horses have no choice but to take what Doug O’Neill does to them, gives to them. Sorry, not funny.
On Friday, a federal judge halted, at least for the time being, the opening of horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Iowa. While this represents a small victory for equine advocates, the larger issue – where the slaughterbound come from and how we can stop it – receives secondary coverage at best. Polls show 70-80% of the American public opposes horse slaughter, but why is there not a similar distaste for one of slaughter’s primary suppliers – horseracing? This is where Robert Redford, Bill Richardson, and the like can have a greater impact. This is where their outrage should be focused.
Roughly 19% of the 175,000 American horses currently being shipped to foreign abattoirs are retired Thoroughbreds. And while definitive studies on the former Quarter Horse and Standardbred athletes butchered are lacking, it’s a good bet that the combined number either equals or exceeds the Thoroughbred count. So yes, continue to protest these hellholes, both here and abroad, but go after the source too. Oh, and don’t forget to remind the Europeans how their delicacy is produced. In the end, it’s the flow, not the site, that matters.
Imagine a world without horseracing. Imagine the racehorse as extinct. No whips, no dope, no snapped sesamoids, no slashed carotids, and…no stables (where, as an aside, horses are kept penned and isolated for the vast majority of their day). If, then this would never have happened. Yes, horseracing, the blaze that engulfed and destroyed 19 beautiful, helpless innocents at a barn (sans sprinkler system, of course) near Louisiana Downs Thursday afternoon is on you.
So regardless of what investigators find, it’s really as if those 19 horses died while racing or in a slaughterhouse. They needn’t have been there. They shouldn’t have been there. Imagine the sheer terror those trapped – literally and figuratively – horses must have felt. What happened at River Point Stables is tragic, but the greater tragedy is the industry that made it possible.