Eight Belles — racing 10 years on

Horse in profile silhouetted against a night sky. Unattributed Google search image.

by JANE ALLIN

The Kentucky Derby this Saturday marks the tenth anniversary of the catastrophic breakdown of Eight Belles. Racing with the boys, she crossed the wire 4 ¾ lengths behind Big Brown, finishing second – the first filly since 1999 to run in the Derby — only to collapse with two shattered ankles and be euthanized on the track.

Memories of Barbaro’s anguishing ordeal, fresh in the minds of racing fans and the death of another horse on Kentucky Oaks day, cast a pall over North America’s most celebrated racing event and raised questions about the safety of horse racing.

Immediately the racing industry responded with the notion that more uniform regulations regarding equine health standards and drug use should be a top priority.

Ten long years and what has improved? Nothing.

Year after year, the industry holds conference after conference claiming that they are moving towards improved safety standards. Sadly, the efforts of the few that do care and want change, are lost to the greed of the rest.

These innocent souls are sacrificed to casino profits, allowance races, graded and graded stakes races and when they fail, relegated to claiming races and the slaughterhouse. It is estimated that 20% of slaughtered horses in North America are thoroughbreds — some picked up by the meat man at the track and sold by unscrupulous trainers and owners after a bad race, without a hope of finding a home. Disposed as garbage. Just throw-away items.

In fact, it seems the opposite to what the racing industry claims has happened.

The transparency, if there ever was any, is gone.

The doping continues, the trainers and veterinarians are one step ahead of the newest drug testing, the records available about trainer infractions are incomplete where serious penalties are hidden from the public, statistics only report deaths if a horse dies during a race, and horses, despite what the industry claims, continue to die in record numbers, all hidden from the public’s view.

All of this is a cover up, blatant lies, to attempt to convince everyone that the industry is above board.

Horse racing is a cruel, predatory business. You bet, they die.


QUOTES

Eight Belles

“She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles.” Blaming the breeders and investors, sports writer Sally Jenkins claimed,”thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it.”

Thoroughbred Racehorses

“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”.  — Barry Petchesky (Deadspin)

Insightful Perspective

“What he liked about horse racing was the minimal investment and the high returns. He didn’t mind horses at all; they were easy on the eyes and exciting to watch.”

“The horse industry in general was a zero-waste proposition: this was one animal you could take from birth, exploit all its qualities – speed, strength, tractability – through breeding, racing, eventing, caléche or companion service, and then profit from its flesh when it had outlived its usefulness.”

From the Book, GROUND MANNERS, A NOVEL, by Cynthia D’Errico »

Related Reading

More by Jane Allin including the groundbreaking The Chemical Horse »

Racehorse Memorial Wall Worldwide, began 2005 »

Horse Racing Wrongs, began 2014 »

©The Horse Fund

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

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

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 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.

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


REMEMBER EIGHT BELLES

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

Book Review: Missionville by Alex Brown

Missionville, written by Alex Brown (pictured with racing plates). By Vivian Grant Farrell.

(HORSE RACING) — Patrick Battuello, chronicler of racehorse killings at Horse Racing Wrongs, recently reported the death of 7-year old Sing the Dream in a claiming race for 4 yo’s+ at Aqueduct, Saturday afternoon, January 27, 2018.

It was Sing the Dream‘s 50th race. Battuello states the horse “fell heavily” (Equibase) and was euthanized where he lay.

American racing routinely kills its horses particularly in contests such as these — the claiming race.

Alex Brown, author of Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy, has written a book called Missionville which delves into the lives and activities of the people who work horses in the business of the American claiming race.

Missionville is a well crafted story with credibly drawn characters you can root for or against as the author gives you an unvarnished look at the day-to-day rigors of training and racing horses at a small track and its resulting consequences.

Eclipse award winner Mike Jensen, journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, in his review of Missionville puts it this way:

Alex Brown, a lifelong horseman, takes you on a journey few are capable of providing. He takes you to the underbelly of the sport. A terrific read”.

Missionville gives true to life insight into what happens to horses when their careers begin to take a downward spiral and tragically end up in the claiming race system.

Missionville is a must read for every racehorse advocate.

Buy it now »

Featured Image: Missionville, by Alex Brown (pictured with used racing plates) by Vivian Grant Farrell.

New York State lawmakers interested in tracking retired racehorses

Thoroughbred racehorse. Unattributed image.
Thoroughbred racehorse. Unattributed image.

HORSE RACING (via the Blood-Horse online). By Tom Precious, October 26, 2017.

An effort to mandate the tracking of retired racehorses in New York has now picked up support in both houses of the state Legislature.

Sen. Joseph Addabbo, a Queens Democrat who represents Aqueduct Racetrack, recently introduced a measure to create a seven-member Commission on Retired Racehorses to monitor the whereabouts and treatment of retired Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. The new Senate bill by Addabbo, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee, is the same as one introduced in the Assembly earlier this year by Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat who chairs that chamber’s racing committee.

“Horses have played a significant role in the history and culture of the United States,” a bill memo accompanying the legislation states, noting that racehorses in New York have generated billions of dollars in economic activity in the state.

“Despite what they may have contributed, many horses at a young age (that) are no longer profitable or affordable for the owner, wind up in international slaughterhouses to be inhumanely slaughtered for consumption abroad where horse meat is a major delicacy,” the bill memo adds.

The bill puts reporting requirements on horse owners, requiring reports to be filed with the state within 72 hours of any ownership change of a retired racehorse, along with contact information about owners and other recordkeeping rules. The death of a former racehorse must also be reported to a state registry within 72 hours. Each violation of the measure’s provisions can be assessed a fine up to $500–if violators are a resident of New York State.

Using Jockey Club data, the NYSGC spent nearly two years compiling the whereabouts of every New York-bred Thoroughbred that raced between 2010 and 2012. Of 3,894 horses that raced in that period, the commission was able to locate 1,871 horses. Of those, 356 were deceased, three sold at auction and 1,512 were retired in some form, such as 604 retired as broodmares or 155 adopted.

Read full report »