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.

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.