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.

This summer, Saratoga Race Course marks its 150th anniversary. Proudly billing itself the oldest sporting venue in the country, the august track, and indeed the entire region, is waxing nostalgic and celebrating the racing elite who trod (trotted) over those hallowed grounds. It is, in fact, a well-crafted illusion of the grandest order, for in no other “sport” are the athletes condemned to a life as chattel, mere things to be used, abused, and trashed whenever and however an owner decides. Sure, there are worse things we do to animals but never for a more frivolous reason than the gambling at horseracing’s core.

So while experimentation or fur is perhaps more cruel, horseracing – from separating foals and moms, to racing young adolescents, to whipping, to doping, to buying and selling, to patching with nuts and bolts, to horrible falls, to deaths on the playing field, to running them till their bodies have nothing left to give, to auctions, to slaughter – is cruel nonetheless.

Last year, 16 Thoroughbreds died at Saratoga Race Course; from 2009-2012, 51 perished in the pursuit of purse money. Countless more, of course, were injured, and how many of the briefly feted ended up being shot, shackled, hoisted, slashed, exsanguinated, and butchered over the past 15 decades, we’ll never know. What matters, though, is not an exact reckoning of the suffering and death, but rather that it happens at all. This is 2013, gamble to your heart’s content on inanimate slots and scratchoffs; leave the horses out of it. They’ve (been) sacrificed enough.

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.)