I'll Have Another retired due to swollen left front tendon. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Our racehorses are broken America, writes Barry Petchesky

This article came across my desk as I was watching the video of I’ll Have Another running around a paddock, kicking up his heels, at his new home in Japan where he arrived recently to continue his racing career as a Thoroughbred Stallion.

Cross-posted from Deadspin


I'll Have Another retired due to swollen left front tendon. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
The front legs of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, are shown during a news conference at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on Friday, June 8, 2012. I’ll Have Another’s bid for a Triple Crown ended with the shocking news that the colt was out of the Belmont Stakes due to a swollen left front tendon. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Our horses are sick. Our thoroughbreds are thoroughly inbred. They are locomotives sitting atop toothpicks. They are fragile and friable, designed to run but not to recover from running. And each time they break down or wear out, we chalk it up to an individual horse’s shortcomings, rather than the decades-long decline of the entire breeding industry.

I’ll Have Another, who withdrew from the Belmont Stakes two days before the race, was not a healthy horse. The New York Times reviewed his veterinary records, and at just three years old, after just seven career races, I’ll Have Another had the legs and joints of an elderly horse. He had been suffering from osteoarthritis for “a period of time.” The tendinitis that scratched him from the race had also been a chronic problem for a while. He was receiving regular injections of multiple painkillers and anti-inflammatory fluids. A completely legal drug cocktail was the only thing keeping him going.

I’ll Have Another, like all of his other distant cousins that make up American thoroughbred racing, was built to go fast, but not to go far, or to go fast repeatedly. The reason, says legendary horse writer Andrew Beyer, is that today’s breeders are in it for a quick buck, and the quickest bucks can be found in producing sprinters, even at the expense of stamina.

You would think I’ll Have Another could serve as a cautionary tale. This is what an unnatural horse gets you: the shortest of careers. But to the hundreds of commercial breeders out there, he’s an aspiration. He won nearly $2.7 million in prize money in his career, and he was just sold to a Japanese stud farm for $10 million. His genes, which served him well in the short term, and threatened his life and his livelihood in the long term, are the ones that the market has chosen to pass on to as many descendants as possible. Brief and self-destructive wins out over protracted and viable, again, as it does thousands of times every foaling spring. Horse racing continues to go the wrong way.

Read full article: http://deadspin.com/5925057/our-race-horses-are-broken-america


I'll Have Another wins the 2012 Ky Derby.  Matthew Stockman / Getty Images.
Close up of I’ll Have Another winning the 2012 Kentucky Derby. He went on to win the Preakness but was sidelined with what his connections reported as an injury just before the Belmont. I’ll Have Another was quickly sold and shipped off to Japan to begin a career at stud. Matthew Stockman / Getty Images.

What I’ll Have Another’s connections did with him in my estimation is despicable and represents to me everything that is wrong with the thinking in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry. Not many will agree with me. That is the way the game is played now, they say. You just don’t understand, they add. Oh, I understand well enough.

And before you attack me, I grew up in horse racing and worked in it both sides of the pond. I know just how fickle a business it is, and I know the difference between right and wrong.

Apart from that, I’ll Have Another’s story illustrates what I have been told repeatedly by both Thoroughbred breeders and trainers over the past few years.

Breeders say that trainers take their beautifully bred horses and destroy them with unscrupulous drugging and training practices. Trainers say that breeders are producing horses they can only win with if they use every drug and therapeutic technique they can get their hands on to get and keep these horses on the track.

It seems a hopeless business to me.

For those of you who work in the industry in the U.S. and do what is right, you are the unsung heroes of the game. –Ed.

14 thoughts on “Our racehorses are broken America, writes Barry Petchesky”

  1. I Agree with comments regarding the Moss’s they even take care of their retired horses. Horses love to run, they do not need drugs to win. How did horses win decades ago? They ran and won without drugs. So, How is it working to drug them? the way humans treat any animal is disgusting. So much cruelty involved with the greed of the human race. We have little representation in D.C. to speak for the animals they are too busy doing nothing. If our leaders would relate to reality and watch how animals get along, they teach us how to do it. But our disgusting society has to do it “bigger” and “better.” and they do no care what the cost. Horses are a living creature, not a machine to run into the ground.


  2. Racing is sickening. Is it truly a wonder why there has NOT been a triple crown winner since the late 70’s? Everything in horse racing is so contradictory. You cannot have a registered thoroughbred if there has been an artificial insemination. BUT, due to the fact that January 1st makes every horse 1 year older, it is beneficial to have a foal born closest to January first. THUS the use of ARTIFICIAL lighting to bring the mare into season for breeding.

    “Locomotives sitting atop toothpicks” is such a great visual for those in blinders. Yes, thoroughbreds are bred to run, but can we not let them mature? Even if taken a “natural course” (no steroids to pump their muscles up), their structures cannot handle the stress of such a professional sport at their age. And taking into account that most of these animals are indeed injected with such drugs, there is obvious added weight their delicate, immature, soft bones and tendons must support. You would not take your 5 year old son and throw him into the major league NFL would you? Would you pump your 5 year old child full of steroids and pain killers? Of course their legs break, tendons & ligaments tear, delicate lung tissue rip to suffocate, spinal cords snap. Need I go on to the injuries these poor creatures endure?

    Then you wonder about the life these slaves endure daily. Mass murderers and rapists get a better life than these race horses. Is being stalled 23 hours a day really “the life” A solitary confined prisoner gets more freedom. In essence, a 12×12 stall is their jail cell.

    And then there is their “destined” fate. Sold to auction after being broken down, most likely already injured, and deemed worthless to await their long torturous fate beginning at the auction barn until their final breath is breathed in the slaughter room (slaughter which is another topic in and of itself).

    And just think–these “2 year olds”–could have a much longer career if the building blocks were laid in place. Proper care from the beginning. Waiting a little longer until race day. Most any other equestrian discipline, the horse must be at least 4 years old to compete under saddle. Close to $13 million is nothing for a 3 year life span (probably 1 year performance span) if compared to 15 plus years most other horses do at the top level. Look at the London Olympic stats–the oldest dressage horse to compete was a Multi Champion 18 year old, with most of the mounts being 15 years and over.


    1. You are so right Kira. A very good example of letting a horse mature is Zenyatta. She would not have had the career she did if her connections decided to try to modify her to fit a specific timeframe.


      1. So true.

        NA is a rogue racing industry and out of control. Zenyatta is an exception to the rule and I love the Mosses for it.

        Two more stellar examples (of course not in NA) are Frankel (UK) and Black Caviar (Australia)…need I say more.


      2. John Shirreffs, ZENYATTA’S trainer is ONE OF A KIND My favorite trainer. Not many like him around.


  3. Thanks for this blog entry and especially for noting: “For those of you who work in the industry in the U.S. and do what is right, you are the unsung heroes of the game. –Ed”. I think we would all be surprised at the numbers of anti-slaughter horse industry personnel who would support anti-slaughter legislation if it was introduced and brought to debate on the floor of Congress.
    The problem is getting the legisation to debate in Congress. It seems that it is in some Congress members best interests to keep their payoffs from slaughter as quiet as possible. Who wants to be seen publicly defending horse slaughter on C-SPAN? Re-election get a little more challenging when constituents hear that their Congress and state governmental members are fond of killing pets and eating them ala “Roadkill Sue” Wallis (WY) and Andy Holt (TN).
    Who gets these special interest members of state legislatures in? Many times, outside money and from lobbies. When voters refuse to get informed and allow these elected reps to sit in office and live off of taxpayers, these paid shills for slaughter can block debate and passage of humane legislation. These elected officials have to be exposed in public media and removed by recall or voting out of office.
    When I contact these people re acting on slaughter, some simply refuse to respond. That choice tells me what I need to know about who will help the horses and who won’t. Some want the horses to be there for fun and profit but will not bother with defending their lives from slaughter.
    From personal experience, I will say that many voters are rarely informed of elected officials voting histories and resist taking the time to get informed before they go to the polls. I think some of the people I know have given up and instead simply deny reality about these office holders and what they really do.
    On the other hand, single-issue voters rarely succeed in attracting a mass amount of voters since the issue they advocate for is often not seen as important enough (for whatever reason) to get the right candidate into office.
    Candidates have to offer a full plate of useful activity in office before informed voters can advocate for election and raise sufficient funds to cause change of office. That is our job as voters and when we act, change happens. This is how our system works.This has always been true. If we don’t know that or bother getting informed or even participating in the election process, that is our own problem. If we have time for entertainment, then we have time for getting informed about crucial issues which affect all Americans futures. Voters also need to verify stated positions on candidates.
    (www.Congress.org, check for Mega Vote reports on office holders)


  4. Those who are in Horse racing must realize a restructure is needed , I was once told dont bring History with you unless you are going to build on it, here is a situation thats demands it, looking back Race horses would race for years with only minor problems, now 10 races they need to be scratched , retired, doesnt that alone start you thinking something is wrong here??????????


    1. In-breeding
      Unscrupulous owners, trainers and vets with the lust to win
      Money, money, money
      An attitude that horses are disposable….and why are they disposable? Because horse slaughter exists. Isn’t that convenient?
      An unrelenting industry that refuses to clean itself up and continues to deny the truth…band-aids versus remedies and strategies to restore.

      Not necessarily in that order but they all converge to the ugly truth…….

      Crash and burn scenario…..


      1. Well put and great way to explain. There are many honest owners and trainers playing by the rules who are fed up with the entire scenario resulting in them leaving the game.


        1. Agree Gina. There are lots of good people there. It’s all the bad ones that are taking them down.

          The power lies in the wrong hands and it’s all about money.

          Money seems to make the world go round. Virtue, honesty and compassion don’t seem to matter anymore, regardless of the subject.

          Business is business and unfortunately racing is no longer a so-called “pleasurable sport”, if you will, where people admire the beauty and grace of the horse simply because that is the beauty and exhilaration of it.all.

          Not any more, horses are machines and they, just like the can opener that doesn’t work anymore, for example, are tossed in the trash and a new and improved model replaces it.

          But as we can all testify to is that the “new and improved” model is usually flawed more than what it replaced because it isn’t engineered the same way and it is disposable……recycled trash.

          What a shame it all is.


  5. Great article. You brought up a great point: owners and trainers in this game can’t win when they are playing by the rules. More often than not they are running against a trainer with multiple doping violations and still training. There are no repercussions against the trainers, owners, and vets who are often in tandem with the doping positives. A multi faceted approach must become part of the penalties, a tough penalty system for cheaters, a National Racing Commissioner with broad powers in order to implement a system that works. The racing industry is in decline and they have nobody to blame but themselves.


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