Shedrow Secrets

Shedrow Secrets, Installment 7

Royal Finder
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)

Bred and owned by a prominent racing family, Royal Finder took his first wobbly steps as a newborn in Texas. One might expect Royal Finder would race successfully then find a soft landing at the end of his career, after having fattened the bank accounts of his father-son owner and trainer team. The handsome grey gelding did in fact earn $64,000 in 11 starts as a 2- and 3-year-old. He was running in allowance races with purses well in excess of 20K and was also stakes-placed. A full year passed, however, from his 11th start in an allowance race to his next race as a 4-year-old. In his 12th start, he was dropped into a claiming race, a frequently used “business plan” for owners to dispose of an injured horse. Such was the case for Royal Finder, and although he placed first for another 10K in earnings, he was claimed that race.

Royal Finder raced less than three weeks later for his new connections. He came in a dismal 10th, and the track comments for his next three races were telling: “Early speed, tired,” “Pressed pace, tired,” and “Close up, gave way.” And finally, his last race, “Clear, broke down.” Royal Finder’s knee had collapsed. Even after such a catastrophic injury, Royal Finder was forced to walk back to the barn in what must have been excruciating pain. And yet, his ownership was transferred again, to a small-time trainer who believed he could get one more race out of the wounded gelding.

When our racehorse rescue volunteers walked the shedrows of Michigan’s Great Lakes Downs during the closing week of its 1999 meet, they knew they would be intaking many injured horses – horses of nomadic trainers who would not want to pay to ship them to the next meet in another state. And so it happened for Royal Finder. His new trainer decided against taking the gelding with him and approached the rescue volunteers about purchasing him. One look at the pitiful grey horse – ears back, head down, and non-weight bearing on the injured leg, which was grotesquely turned outward from the knee down – and the rescue matched “meat price” then quickly searched for the private racetrack veterinarian.

Although track vets see equine injuries on a regular basis, Royal Finder’s collapsed knee was so severe the vet was shocked and outraged at the suffering the gelding was left to endure for well over a week. Then in less than an hour’s time, Royal Finder was purchased by the rescue, liberating him from the industry that destroyed him…then euthanized with the caring volunteer at his side, releasing him from his agony. Royal Finder, having run in 17 races and earning $75,000, was dead at the age of four.

Fast forward to July 2012. Multiple reports from racing media outlets, including BloodHorse, the Daily Racing Form, and the Paulick Report, told of 10 broodmares found at the Round Mountain horse auction. Located in Marble Falls, Texas, the auction is known to be frequented by kill buyers. The presence of broodmares at any horse auction is a common occurrence, so why did these particular mares make the headlines? Because of the man who sent them there: Keith Asmussen, patriarch of the prominent Texas-based Asmussen racing family and father of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen.

Only months earlier, many of the mares had delivered 2012 foals, and 8 of the 10 were bred back. Now, 9 were rescued from likely slaughter by businessman and Thoroughbred owner John R. Murrell. Keith Asmussen claims he was unaware kill buyers (purchasing for Mexican slaughterhouses) are present at the Round Mountain auction. Asmussen: “I didn’t even know there were any slaughterhouses left.” Amazing…to be oblivious to the slaughter of horses when his own website – the Asmussen Horse Center – exclaims “Horses are, and always have been our ONLY business!” and, by the way, “Starting our 52nd year…”

The Asmussens – Keith and Steve – were the breeder/owner/trainer of the ill-fated Royal Finder. And much like the 10 Asmussen broodmares dumped at the auction, Royal Finder was unloaded into a claiming race. Less than 3 months later, he was dead.

At least 3 racehorses died yesterday on American tracks: 3-year-old Sixes Slinky Secret fell in a $3,500 claiming race at Evangeline Downs (he had been claimed, by the way). 4-year-old She’s a Listener broke her cannon bone during the 2nd race ($4,500 claiming) at Finger Lakes. And at Belmont, 2-year-old Witchofwallstreet, who had yet to run a race, broke her tibia “while galloping” on the training track and was killed on the spot. The last two bring NY’s 2013 death toll to 105. This is horseracing.

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The following, unless otherwise noted, were “vanned off” American tracks this week.

Tuesday:
2-year-old Dirty Lil Secret, Mountaineer, race 3 (broke down)
2-year-old Tiz a Jungle, Parx, race 6 (“in apparent distress,” vanned off)

Wednesday:
3-year-old Miss McKeown, Aqueduct, race 9 (confirmed dead)
6-year-old Tobes the Man, Churchill Downs, race 7
5-year-old High On Ruston, Delta Downs, race 6
3-year-old Bunny La Jolla, Delta Downs, race 9
3-year-old Excusemeplease, Remington, race 2 (“in distress,” vanned off)
3-year-old Bling Time, Remington, race 6 (“in distress,” vanned off; her 3rd DNF, including 1 prior van off, at Remington in last 14 months)
2-year-old Regal Tam (1st career start), Turf Paradise, race 9

Thursday:
6-year-old Bringingdown Babel, Aqueduct, race 3
6-year-old Clever Shoes, Delta Downs, race 7
3-year-old Sixes Slinky Secret, Evangeline, race 7 (confirmed dead)
4-year-old She’s a Listener, Finger Lakes, race 2 (vanned off, confirmed dead)

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Paul McCartney once famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Not everyone, of course, but you get the point. For the record, all animal slaughter is horrific. All of it. And the animals we routinely raise (in the cruelest of conditions), slaughter, butcher, and eat are just as intelligent and every bit as sentient as horses. But, consistent with this site, the focus here is on horse slaughter, perhaps the worst of racing’s wrongs.

Last year, 59,812 American horses were slaughtered in Canada. Thanks to the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, we know, more or less, how they died. The following comes from a 2010 undercover investigation at two of the country’s four equine slaughterhouses: Bouvry and Viandes Richelieu.





Three veterinarians reviewed the footage:

Dr. Debi Zimmerman:
“As a prey species, horses are naturally fearful and suspicious of anything they have not been conditioned to accept. All things at these slaughterhouses would fall into the category of unnatural, fear-producing stimuli; not the least of which is the vocalizations of fearful horses, the strange plant workers, the metal chute systems, the loud droning of machinery, the blaring music (at Bouvry), horses being felled in-front of or beside them (Richelieu), the smell of warm blood in the stun box and that spewing from the throats of horses only a few feet away from them, and the stench of excrement in high concentration in the chute system that is released from fearful and dying horses.”

“Every second a horse must remain isolated and confined in a strange situation, can be agonizing. Many horses were left over 3 minutes prior to being shot, including one horse left while workers hosed down the kill floor and went for their 10 minute break (#75), and one horse at Richelieu (Horse #1) which was left in the stun box for 20 minutes. One obviously panicked horse at Richelieu, flailed about in the stun box for nearly 3 minutes, before the shooter finally attended to him.”

“At Bouvry, many horses demonstrated voluntary movements, or obvious rhythmic breathing, upon being suspended. This indicates these horses were likely conscious as they were being hoisted high into the air with one leg bearing their entire weight, and while their necks were slashed on both sides (which entails using a sawing motion of the knife). A full bleed out takes minutes, and as some horses had their feet chopped off within 45 seconds of the throat slash, some horses may also have experienced the pain associated with this procedure as well.”

“At Richelieu, horses were routinely subjected to excessive whippings on their bodies, excessive use of electric prods (both stick and hand-held), and some struck repeatedly across their faces (i.e.: Miniature horses).”

“[The shooter] allowed a horse that became cast in the stun box, to flail about for almost 3 minutes while he carried on a casual conversation with a co-worker; he forced horses to step over the legs of fallen horses which had not yet been removed from the now very crowded stun box, and, he led horses through improperly closed gates on which they subsequently struck their heads. The shooter also whipped an older and obviously lame horse (#93) 19 times.”

“The fact that a .22 calibre rifle does not typically deliver a kill shot, along with the high rate of mis-shots delivered by the shooter, this excessive time lag between stunning and bleed offers numerous horses the opportunity to regain consciousness while they are being processed.”

“In addition to this psychological pain, these horses also suffered physically in numerous ways. These included slips and falls, fractures, numerous mis-shots with some horses requiring a second or even third bullet; some horses regaining consciousness before or while being suspended by one leg, and/or when their throats were being slashed: excessive traumatization during assembly; excessive whippings of their bodies and across their faces (Richelieu), and excessive use of electric prods (Richelieu).”

Dr. Mary Richardson:
“Far too often, the shooter was not able to render the animal unconscious on his first shot. Then, the horse experiences great pain for a prolonged period before the next shots are fired. It often took 3 or 4 bullets before the horse lay still. …sometimes [the time between shots] was several minutes.”

“The next step is shackling the back leg, and hanging the animal to bleed it. Before this is done, the animal must be unconscious. I never saw one attempt on the tapes to make sure of this.”

“Too often, the horse would be hung up, and then show conscious movement, and then have to be shot again, sometimes several times.”

“Because there were no attempts to ensure unconsciousness, it is possible horses are dying by being bled out…”

Dr. Mel Richardson:
“Loud music echoing off the walls, horses whinnying in fear, people yelling and using whips and electric prods and the smell of blood and death all equate to equine hell.”

Another Canadian plant (Natural Valley)…


In Mexico, a small puntilla knife is used to sever the spinal cord. Paralyzed but often still sensible, the horse is shackled, hoisted, slashed, and exsanguinated.


Twyla Francois, Canadian horse-slaughter expert:
“[They are] so frightened. You can see them in the [auction] ring, that they search the ring looking for a friendly face. We have been comfort for them, and then we take them to slaughter. We see this at the slaughterhouses too, where they’re still seeking out affection from even the slaughterhouse workers themselves.”

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“And one thing we saw that really broke my heart was, you would see the workers walking by the pens and the horses would rush the pens, looking for comfort from these men who were going to kill them. It just seems like such a betrayal. …nothing can prepare them for the journey they have ahead of them after they’ve been given up.”

Defend that, horseracing.

Miss McKeown, a 3-year-old filly making her 5th career start, broke down and died yesterday in the 9th race at Aqueduct. The kill occurred on-track. This single death, in a $20,000 claiming race a world away from sunny Santa Anita, serves as the perfect microcosm for horseracing. While the official NYRA replay talks of Miss McKeown’s “very poor start” (perhaps this tragic creature was amiss from the gate), causing her to “lag the field by several lengths,” her snapped leg, the ambulance, the screen (to hide the ugliness), and the pentobarbital garnered not a single mention. Nothing. But, as always, we get the winner’s circle. Racing is but one lie, deception, and diversion after another.

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