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While 2019’s Santa Anita death toll was factually not unusual — this track has averaged 50 dead horses a year going back to 2007 — what was new is the red-hot media glare on the industry exposed. This unprecedented attention afforded us activists a golden opportunity to present our case.

For far too long horse racing has been given cover under the banner of sport — indeed, “The Sport of Kings” — when, in fact, stripped to its core, it is nothing but an archaic, largely nonviable gambling business that exploits, abuses, and kills sentient beings, inherently. In other words, it cannot be fixed or reformed; it is wrong from the start.

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Source: Horseracing Wrongs

The typical racehorse is torn from his mother as a mere babe, thrust into an intensive training regimen at 18 months — long before his body is even remotely mature — and first raced at two, the rough equivalent of a first-grader. From there, the incessant grinding — again, on an unformed skeleton — begins, because if he’s not racing, he’s not earning. He is kept locked, alone, in a tiny 12×12 stall for over 23 hours a day, commodified (lip tattoos, auctions, “claiming races”), controlled (cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties), and cowed (whips). And quite often, killed.

Through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, Horseracing Wrongs has documented — with names, dates, locations — over 5,000 confirmed kills on U.S. tracks just since 2014. We estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. And just to be clear, death on the track is neither clean nor tranquil. It is cardiovascular collapse; it is pulmonary hemorrhage; it is blunt-force head trauma; it is snapped necks, severed spines, shredded ligaments, and shattered legs — occasionally shattered so severely that the limb remains attached to the rest of the body by skin or tendons only.

But that number, 2,000, staggering though it is, tells but a part of the story. Each year, hundreds more die back in their stalls from what the industry conveniently dismisses as “non-racing” causes — things like colic, laminitis, “barn accident,” or are simply “found dead in the morning.”

race horse in stall

Source: Horseracing Wrongs

Then, too, slaughter. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its zero-tolerance policies in defense, we do have statistics from which to draw conclusions. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, using USDA data, in the nine-year period 2008-2016 over 1.2 million American horses were sent to slaughter (the last equine slaughterhouses on U.S. soil closed in 2007; now we simply ship them – itself a horror – to Canada and Mexico). That 1.2 million translates to over 134,000 every year.

A “Wild for Life Foundation” study found that from 2002-2010 fully 19% of the horses slaughtered were Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a far lower percentage, say 12, we’d still be left with well over 15,000 Thoroughbred racehorses brutally and violently bled-out and butchered annually. For comparison, the Jockey Club’s official registry for new Thoroughbreds, or in a telling bit of language, the “Foal Crop,” has numbered roughly 21,000 in each of the past seven years. In other words, that’s 20,000 or so coming in, 15,000 or more going out via slaughter. In other words, slaughter has been – and remains – this industry’s primary method for disposing of spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses.

All this – the “bad steps,” “went wrongs,” and “broke downs” of race day; the “sudden cardiac events” and “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhages” in morning practice; the colic, laminitis, “found dead in their stalls”; and the exsanguinations – leads to a single inescapable conclusion: The American horse racing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage.

The fact is, horse racing is in decline, and has been for some time. Just since 2000, U.S. racing has suffered a net loss of 33 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, field sizes, “foal crops,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down, some of these 50% of what they were just 30 years ago. But even more telling is this: The bulk of the racing industry is being heavily subsidized, with many tracks wholly propped up by slots and other gaming revenue. Clearly, independent, full-service casinos and state lotteries are winning the market, and the competition is becoming that much stiffer with all-sports betting. But legislators, swayed by industry talk of job loss and “tradition,” keep sending lifeboats, which is not only an affront to our free-market principles, but allows for the continued abuse and killing of horses in the process.

Beyond the economics are the changing times in which we live. Sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially regarding entertainment, are rapidly evolving. In just the past few years, Ringling Bros. has closed its doors for good, ending 146 years of animal abuse; SeaWorld, after being exposed by the film Blackfish, has discontinued the captive-breeding of orcas and remains in steady decline; the National Aquarium has vowed to release all of its remaining captive-dolphins to a seaside sanctuary by the end of next year; both Illinois and New York have outlawed the use of elephants in any form of entertainment; there are rodeo bans in cities as diverse as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Fort Wayne, and Pasadena; and perhaps most relevant to the issue at hand, last November Floridians voted overwhelmingly to phase out greyhound racing in that state, a monumental win for animals that will in one fell swoop shutter 11 of the nation’s final 17 tracks, leaving dog racing in America all but dead.

So the question becomes, why should horse racing be exempt? In a landscape that abounds with myriad other gambling and entertainment options, has not the time at long last arrived for us to stop gambling on and being entertained by the suffering and death of animals? End the cruelty. End the killing. End horse racing.

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