Eight Belles Memorial & Horse Racing Headstones at the Kentucky Derby. Source: Flickr.

Horse Racing Wrongs: Open Letter to Bob Costas; Eight Belles



The following letter was sent to Bob Costas, host of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage. To date, no reply. The sentiments expressed, of course, are applicable to all at that network, but most especially to Jon Miller, president of sports programming. Since my letter was mailed, an article in Sports Business Journal quotes Miller as saying: “Horse racing is an underappreciated and undervalued property that we were committed to growing and developing, and restoring to its status as a major sport in this country.” At once, repugnant (referring to the wholesale killing of horses for $2 bets as “sport”) and delusional (the U.S. racing industry is not coming back). Anyway, please read on.

The Letter

Dear Mr. Costas:

My name is Patrick Battuello and I am the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to ending horseracing in America. First, let me say that as a life-long sports fan I have always respected your work. You are knowledgeable, eloquent, and thoughtful – truly one of the finest broadcasters of this or any generation. As a result, your words and actions hold great sway. Most recently, your stance against the NFL’s handling of the brain-injury issue and, more broadly, your detachment from football itself is both weighty and admirable. But your support and enthusiasm for horseracing is, I feel, profoundly disturbing, all the more so because of those aforementioned qualities.

I would like to share some information you may or may not already know. Since 2014, when I began filing FOIA requests with state racing commissions, I have been publishing first-of-their-kinds “Killed” lists – confirmed deaths on U.S. tracks. These annual lists have been roughly 1,000-strong, but after considering various factors (which I enumerate on the website), I have come to conclude that upward of 2,000 American racehorses are killed racing or training every year. Over 2,000. And this is not just a “cheap track” problem: Last summer, 21 horses died during hallowed Saratoga’s decidedly brief meet. The two summers prior, it was Del Mar. Truth is, there are no answers – death at the track is, always has been, and always will be an inherent part of this industry (please see “The Inevitability of Dead Racehorses”).

In addition, countless others, perhaps just as many as those killed on-track, succumb to what the industry conveniently dismisses as “non-racing” causes – things like colic, laminitis, “barn accident,” “found dead in stall.” In truth, however, these animals are no less victims of the business than the ones who snap their legs on raceday. Furthermore, the prevailing wisdom (fully explained on the site) is that most – likely an overwhelming majority of – retired racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered once Racing deems them expended. In short, I don’t think it hyperbole to say that the U.S. horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Yes, carnage.

As an animal advocate, I seek to draw parallels between “us” and “them” – to help people forge connections they may not have previously thought existed. That said, I can certainly appreciate that although we share much with the rest of sentient creation – the most relevant being the capacity for suffering – an exact equality is neither tenable nor necessarily desirable. In other words, I am not saying that a CTE-afflicted former football player and a “broke-down” racehorse are the same things. But the question is not whether dead horses and dead people matter equally; rather, do dead horses matter at all? If they do, what level of destruction must be met before we as a society say, enough? For me, of course, one dead horse for $2 bets is one too many. But what, respectfully, is that number for you?

Mr. Costas, I implore you to dig deeper, to look beyond the juleps, hats, and horns, for that is racing on but a handful of days, at a tiny fraction of tracks. The rest of it, Racing’s very core, is ugly and mean. It’s spirit-crushing isolation and confinement for over 23 hours a day (which, by the way, makes a mockery of the industry claim that horses are born to run, love to run); it’s needles and syringes and injury-numbing chemicals; it’s absolute control and utter subjugation – lip tattoos, nose chains, metal bits, and leather whips; it’s anxiety and stress (in the most detailed FOIA documentation I have received to date, the Pennsylvania ’16 report indicated the presence of ulcers – most extensive to severe – in virtually every one of the dead horses); it’s buying and selling and trading and dumping; it’s shattered limbs, imploded hearts, head trauma, and pulmonary hemorrhage; it’s kill-buyers and transport trucks, shackles and butchers’ knives. It’s exploitation and cruelty. It’s suffering and death.

Football may indeed be embarking on a slow, steady decline, and it’s probably just as well. For it is a violent, unforgiving game, with many of the participants’ lives forever altered. But in the final analysis, they, as fully-autonomous human beings, have a choice. Horses do not. In fact, and pardon the inflammatory language, the racehorse is but a simple slave – a thing to be used, a resource to be mined. When future generations cast a critical eye, what is to be our collective defense? That we countenanced the above for entertainment? For gambling? Mr. Costas, your position on football has changed – evolved. We ask only that the same thoughtfulness and caring that went into that be applied to “The Sport of Kings.” Please, for the horses.

Patrick Battuello
Founder/President, Horseracing Wrongs
website: horseracingwrongs.com
email: patrick@horseracingwrongs.com


Eight Belles falls to her chest as she fractures both front legs after crossing the finish line in the 2008 running of the Kentucky Derby.
Eight Belles falls to her chest as she fractures both front legs after crossing the finish line in the 2008 running of the Kentucky Derby, May 3, 2008. (click to enlarge)

10 years ago today Eight Belles died at Churchill Downs. ESPN wrote this:

Eight Belles crossed the wire 4 3/4 lengths behind favorite Big Brown. Then, with the second-largest crowd in Derby history still whooping it up, Eight Belles collapsed with two broken front ankles.

The magnitude of what happened was slow to reach the fans at Churchill Downs. Not only was a horse down, but it was the filly. And horse racing — with the memory of Barbaro still fresh and the death of a horse coming only a day earlier on Kentucky Oaks Day — had to confront grief one more time.

“There was no way to save her. She couldn’t stand,” trainer Larry Jones said. “She ran an incredible race. She ran the race of her life.”

And this . . . .

“Everyone breathed a big sigh of relief that everyone came around the track cleanly and then all of a sudden it happened,” said Dr. Larry Bramlage, on-call veterinarian.

That last statement sums it up doesn’t it? They “breathed a big sigh of relief that everyone came around the track cleanly . . . ”

Horse racing expects injury. Horse racing expects catastrophic injury. Horse racing expects death.

That’s horse racing. You bet. They die.

Please share far and wide. For the horses.

Quote Source: http://www.espn.com/sports/horse/triplecrown08/news/story?id=3380100

7 thoughts on “Horse Racing Wrongs: Open Letter to Bob Costas; Eight Belles”

  1. I am opposed to the racehorse
    business as racing a baby horse is
    Brutal …would you make your
    five year old son or daughter race until their ankles break ??
    And for a $2.00 bet ??
    The young horses are beautiful and
    They will run.
    I know a lot about Quarter and
    Throughbred racing my then husband
    had Arizona and California training
    Licenses. I wish it was cleaned up
    At least grow till five and run on
    hay and grain no drugs.

    Eight Bells was a terrible tragedy
    So sad.


  2. I believe that horses have been bred with lighter and smaller leg bones to try to increase their speed. The truth is that horses come with no muscle below the knee or hock aonly tendons and ligaments and bone. They are already purpose built for speed in flight. I may be wrong but racing times have not improved since Secretariat and if you look at a photo of him he looks like a workhorse in comparison to the race horses of today. Breaking both ankles, breaking legs ,as I see it, is a result of breeding and it is just a huge error and the horses pay the price.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A brilliant letter written by Patrick Battuello calling horseracing for what it is. Day after day after day, racehorses are dying for $2 bets and “entertainment”.
    It just beggars belief. And here we are in the 21st century….?


  4. Yes, all the cruel aspects of horse racing have come to light in the last few years after being hidden from the public for eons!
    Homo sapiens should not inflict such cruelty on the noble steeds, equus, for, “entertainment”! Now that these abuses are known, we cannot just turn our backs on the horses, we need to change the status quo as soon as possible. Otherwise, we are just as guilty as the perpetrators of such cruelty!


    1. Thank you Elizabeth. We have been knocking at the door for years on this issue. Coverage is intermittent in the media. It takes a death during a big spectacle like the Kentucky Derby when they are then forced to say something, anything. Sickening. Despicable.

      Horse racing ould change things if they wanted. But they don’t. They truly don’t. They want us to go away and let them get on with it.

      Even with the all the breakdowns and death few make any mention of horse slaughter, which all of horse racing around the world have in common even if they run racing better than the U.S.


  5. On Thu, May 3, 2018 at 7:18 AM, Tuesday’s Horse wrote:

    Tuesday’s Horse posted: “OPEN LETTER Introduction The following letter was sent to Bob Costas, host of NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage. To date, no > reply. The sentiments expressed, of course, are applicable to all at that network, but most especially to Jon Miller, president of….


  6. Horse racing is an antiquated business model whose daily operating procedures include doping to mask chronic issues, doping to perform, beating/whipping to perform, intense confinement, running them knowing that they are sore, maiming them, dumping them, and/or killing them (the PETA video or Death Lists on horseracingwrongs)
    Then there is the deliberate secrecy and total lack of transparency when it comes to the medical/doping records which affect the outcome of races in some capacity.
    All of these tactics are done to deliberately deceive the unsuspecting public while collecting billions in PUBLIC wagering profits it seems.
    Then there is the dumping – the non-stop dumping of racehorses at kill auctions, and subsequent death on slaughterhouse floors (Canadian Horse Defense Coalition, Canadian Department of Agriculture).
    If this weren’t bad enough our politicians ensure that this dying business gets BILLIONS in casino profits to keep them going because they wouldn’t exist otherwise.
    These casino profits were promised to essential community services not to support racehorses dying in the dirt while corruption is rampant https://www.paulickreport.com/tag/pennsylvania-corruption/.
    This is just one example of many, and the racehorses are the victims in these corruption schemes.
    There isn’t a fancy hat big enough or a mint julep strong enough to mask these FACTS about horse racing.
    When you place a bet – you support the massive pain, suffering, and dying of racehorses.

    Liked by 1 person

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