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“She [Eight Belles] 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.”
“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 Pesky (Deadspin)
“Chemical horses produce chemical babies. Performance-enhancing drugs must be banned if we are going to survive as an industry and if thoroughbreds are going to survive as a robust breed.” — Arthur Hancock, Breeder of Three Kentucky Derby Winners
* * * *
AFTER SOME STUDY it seems pretty obvious that American horse racing has bred itself into a situation where racehorses will die and keep dying with no end in sight. We aren’t the only ones who see it, as the above quotes show.
Can it be fixed? Not in the short term. However, from where we sit, no one in horse racing seems very interested in fixing it in any kind of term, long or short — or they would fix it — right? They amazingly have no kind of plan. Just repeating themselves year after year, death after death, accompanied by the wringing of hands.
So on it goes.
BRED FOR RUIN
Here’s the bottom line. It begins in the shed.
The insidious doping of the American racehorse and continuous inbreeding have weakened their structural viability.
What can be done? Perhaps the following.
By banning the use of drugs proven to be debilitating to the soundness of the American racehorse’s gene pool.
“Reminiscent of the eugenics movement during the Hitler regime the development of perilously inbred pedigrees fatefully arose. The influx of vulnerable gene pools began predominantly with the immortal Native Dancer.
“By the time Native Dancer had reached age 4, when he started only three times through August, he had gotten so sore due to a chronic inflammation in his ankles . . . that his owner and breeder, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, was forced to retire him to Sagamore, Vanderbilt’s Maryland farm.
“It was here at Vanderbilt’s Sagamore farm that Native Dancer went on to even greater renown as a stud, emerging as one of the most influential sires in the history of the breed. In particular, his grandson, the Canadian born Northern Dancer, was the founding sire of the most fashionable and prolific sire line in the world.
“After Northern Dancer’s death another Native Dancer grandson called Mr. Prospector — extraordinarily fast but unsound — moved to the top of the commercial market to become the next superstar sire who would continue to infuse the bloodlines with speedy but compromised genes in terms of soundness.”
“As a result of commercialization, market forces and greed the entire global Thoroughbred population is now so inundated with the blood of Native Dancer that any counterbalances that would thwart the passage of these vulnerable genes has virtually been absorbed leading to an escalation in the amount of inbreeding currently present in the racing world.”
EIGHT BELLES — CASE IN POINT
Six generations back takes Eight Belles to Native Dancer (foaled March 1950), along with all 20 of the horses in her Derby, and many horses racing in the United States that same year.
Much opinion has been published in the press stating that there may be a connection between the fact of inbreeding stemming from Native Dancer, with the weak ankles seen in horses today, leading to Eight Belles’ demise.
The Los Angeles Times went so far as to headline its opinion piece that today’s horses are being “bred for death”. Hmmm, that has a familiar ring.
“Stop trying to figure out the differences between these horses. Start thinking about what all these horses have in common. Every competitor is a descendent of a horse named Native Dancer”, opined Jon Weinbach of the Wall Street Journal.
That was 2008. Look where we are now? Still treading the same old dangerous waters.
So where do we go from here?
INFLUX OF NEW BLOOD
• Other racing nations
How about consulting other countries around the world who are able to race sound horses, whose horses do not suffer catastrophic breakdowns as a matter of routine? How about finding out what they are doing. Aren’t they in the same proverbial boat, dealing with the legacies left by Northern Dancer, Native Dancer and Mr Prospector to the modern day racehorse?
Bear in mind, these self same countries do not administer a catalogue of illicit, performance enhancing, bone weakening, calcium leaching drugs as the US does. This means illegal racehorse drugging must be destroyed, as can be humanly possible, before American racing even begins to make any attempt to strengthening the breed.
• Original Origin
Before you go, consider this — the Thoroughbred’s original origin.
The Thoroughbred as it is known today was developed in 17th- and 18th- century England, when native mares were crossbred with imported Oriental stallions of Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman breeding.
This may hold the key to breeding racehorses who would — through good breeding practices and knocking destructive drugs on the head — eventually become sound and beat their brothers and sisters around the world. This would entice other racing nations to strengthen their gene pools as well.
Isn’t it about time American horse racing stopped cowering in the corner like a bunch of cowards and man up on behalf of these horses.
Is it time to think seriously about the appointment of a Racing Commissioner to hold sway over all of horse racing. This idea has been met with such vehemence and resistance in the past, one has to wonder why, but let me make a guess.
Without a chief Commissioner, horse racing venues can go about their daily, deadly drugging business with little to no interference from anyone.
It is clear the various organizations that oversee U.S. horse racing — if you can call it that — are not getting the job done. For all intents and purposes, they simply act as apologists.
California has done such a piss poor job it inspired a ballot initiative ridding the State of horse racing altogether. No. We can’t see any of them having what it takes to make a move and shaking it all up.
We didn’t expect horse racing to respond to HBO’s hard hitting segment on horse racing. We figured they would just lay low for a good long while, until they figured people had forgotten about it. That’s what they usually do.
But they have responded, in a manner of speaking, via Alex Waldrop. What a gift! As soon as we saw his name, we knew we were in for downright, out and out nauseating spin. And he doesn’t disappoint.
We can’t remember the last time we heard such drivel. He is so full of it, he could run for President.
You will smell the biggest of rats as soon as you start reading. Un(*******)ingbelievable. Here we go.
Waldrop states as follows:
“Once again, HBO’s Real Sports presents a slanted, sensational and inaccurate view of horse racing by failing to learn about or acknowledge the important progress our entire industry is making with respect to safety, welfare and aftercare. While we understand the media’s right to cover a significant story, we will not tolerate the painting of our sport and our participants with inaccurate broad-brush strokes.
“When discussing equine drug testing protocols, you chose to focus on France. Of course, you chose not to acknowledge that U.S. horse racing has one of the most stringent post-race drug-testing programs in any professional sport. In 2018, a total of 258,920 tests were conducted in the U.S., according to the Association of Racing Commissioners International. Also, all but one racing jurisdiction now tests their samples using nationally and internationally accredited laboratories that are subjected to a stringent external quality assurance program. And we have recently developed an expansive out of competition testing program including a corresponding prohibited substances list and several states are now using the program.
“The fact is, in all U.S. racing jurisdictions, painkillers, stimulants and performance-enhancing substances are strictly prohibited and the medication known as Lasix is the only medication that can legally be administered to a horse on race day. You also failed to mention that anabolic steroids have been eliminated from U.S. racing competition since 2009. The industry is also considering how best to limit the use and structure of the riding crop to protect both horse and rider.
“In discussing horse slaughter, while replaying disgusting video used from a decade-old story, you failed to mention that most anyone in horse racing who leads a race horse to slaughter these days is leading himself right out of the business and the sport of horse racing as many racetracks now ban such a person from further racing at that track. Conveniently left out of your report was the fact that the industry has a national Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) that has accredited more than 70 Thoroughbred retirement facilities around the country.
“Today, possibly the strongest push for a higher degree of safety and integrity in racing is actually coming from within the racing industry. The fact is The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database (EID) proves undeniably that equine fatalities are on the decline. There has been a 16% reduction in fatalities nationwide since the inception of the EID and we are now in a position to mine the valuable data compiled by the EID over many years to identify risk factors. How HBO allowed a single individual to state that the industry is responsible for 2,000 equine fatalities annually without presenting any credible supporting data is in need of further examination and explanation.
“The fact is since its inception a decade ago, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s (NTRA) Safety and Integrity Alliance has led to a safer racing environment at racetracks across the country. The Alliance was at the forefront of the aftercare movement through the institution of programs at racetracks across the country, a fact ignored by HBO as it reverted to old footage to cast our sport in a negative light. The latest figures from the Equine Injury Database also show that Alliance-accredited racetracks that disclose their fatality rates achieved the lowest average rate for equine fatalities per 1,000 starts–1.45.
“Steps are being taken in jurisdictions across the nation to enhance the safety and welfare protocols already in place at many tracks. In March, the entire Mid-Atlantic region’s thoroughbred racing industry voted unanimously to formally adopt and fully implement a Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities. Many phases are already in practice stemming from the 2012 New York Task Force Report on Race Horse Health and Safety, which initially served as the model for regional and national industry reform. Since regional implementation of the task force’s recommendations, the incidence of equine racing fatalities in the Mid-Atlantic region has declined 29%. At New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks alone, the incidence of equine racing fatalities in 2018 was 1.29 per 1,000 starts, the lowest fatality rate in the state in decades.
“In April, The Stronach Group, owners of Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields, Gulfstream Park, and the Maryland Jockey Club, and Thoroughbred Owners of California adopted safety and welfare protocols that are among the most stringent in the world. Major racing organizations such as Churchill Downs, the New York Racing Association, Del Mar, Keeneland, Oaklawn Park and the Breeders’ Cup, among others, followed with safety and integrity reforms that will bring their racing more in line with international standards.
“The fact is those questioning the devotion of horse people to their equine athletes need only to spend a morning walking barns to have such concerns alleviated. When the destruction of the Lilac Fire descended onto San Luis Rey Downs last year, the world watched as our California horse people bravely put their lives at risk by running into burning barns to save the animals that are their world — and then worked tirelessly in the aftermath to collectively heal emotional and physical wounds. And if ever there was an image which embodied the beauty of this sport and the powerful hold these horses have over us, it is the now viral video of the young groom dropping to her knees, awash in tears and overcome with euphoria as she watched her charge War of Will win the 144th Preakness Stakes.
“The fact is we will continue to work every day to do right by the athletes who make our sport so unique. And we readily acknowledge that we must do even more to reduce equine fatalities and work harder to find new homes and second careers for our retired horses. But to suggest we’re not actively pursuing meaningful change is to short-change those who have tirelessly devoted their lives to these magnificent animals.
“We in horse racing are accountable to our equine and human athletes and our customers who participate with their dollars in one of America’s oldest and greatest sports. HBO is accountable to its viewers and the sports it decides to cover. In this instance, your Real Sports segment on horse racing was profoundly distorted and intentionally vague. Horse racing and your viewers deserve better.”
From “Racing! The rebuttal to HBO’s Real Sports segment”
By John Cherwa | Los Angeles Times | May 26, 2019
Now you’ve read that tripe, go read Jane Allin’s horse racing reports. There’s a lot of it, so not sure many of you will be able to take the time. Still, take a quick peek. Just seeing the size of it and the topics she covers should tell you how many deadly problems these folks have. Deadly to racehorses of course. They are the ones that do all the dying.
How I wish horse racing in the U.S. would die. I doubt it will. But tracks are closing all the time. It’s already being predicted by some racing insiders that the three Triple Crown races might be all that survive.
Before I go any further, let me assure the reader that I am very knowledgeable about racehorses and horse racing. The work we have done on this issue at The Horse Fund is testament to that in and of itself. Plus this.
I don’t having a living memory without horses in it. In particular, thoroughbreds. When my Dad brought me home from hospital after I was born he took me first out to the barn, before going into the house, to have the horses breathe on me — a kind of “blessing” he wanted me to have. I went to my first thoroughbred race meet at 6 months at Haydock Park in Liverpool. I have had horses of my own throughout my life. And worked as a racing photographer in Britain and Europe for many years.
Then I came back to America with my Irish husband who had gotten a job with Allaire du Pont, the famous owner of thoroughbred horse racing Hall of Fame champion, Kelso, who still had a few horses in training and raced locally. Northern Dancer’s head collar hung in the entryway to her outer office. That’s some history.
As time went by I became shocked at what I was witnessing at racecourses and in training in the States. Since then, thoroughbred racing has done nothing but go from very bad to very, very bad to unconscionable. It is painful to watch. Two year olds’ dying while training? Really?
Quarter horse racing is equally rife with chemical abuse; the breakdowns are just as brutal and horrifying.
I am based in Louisville these days and have witnessed much.
Drugging horses and cheating has always been a part of American horse racing. That is a matter of record.
Take Jack Keene for instance. Keene was kicked out of both Europe and Russia because of racehorse doping. So what did he do?
Jane Allin tells us in The Chemical Horse:
Unable to race horses in Europe, and now banned from racing horses in Russia, Keene soon returned home to Kentucky and his family farm – Keeneland – where he laid out the track that bears his name, and helped build Lexington into the influential Thoroughbred racehorse breeding and sales center it is today.
North American horse racing is as steeped in tradition as in its drug use.
Ray Paulick, who runs a horse racing blog called The Paulick Report writes:
“With so many racehorses dying every year in America, how long will horse racing itself survive?”
That’s the fundamental question asked by correspondent Bernard Goldberg on HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” which aired a 20-minute segment on equine fatalities in Thoroughbred racing in the U.S. on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET.
The [HBO] feature, entitled “Raced to Death,” was prompted by the spike in racing fatalities this winter at Santa Anita Park and begins with videos of horses sustaining fatal injuries while racing at the Arcadia, Calif., track. “The fallout was fast and furious, the deaths quickly becoming a national story,” Goldberg says. “This much is known: what happened to the horses at Santa Anita is just the tip of an iceberg the public knows virtually nothing about.”
If you follow us, you know about it. We have been covering it and sounding the alarm for more than a decade.
Take a look at Horse Racing Wrongs and you will see that this is not just about a rash of racehorse deaths at Santa Anita, although they seem to be especially successful at killing horses.
I can tell you right here and now that American horse racing is never going to stop drugging racehorses, or killing racehorses — in training, on the track, or by sending them to slaughter when they are through with them or run them into the ground.
Can horse racing in America be saved? Can any amount of reformation help now? No — is the definitive answer. It is too damn late. It is way past too late. What took decades to destroy will take even longer to rehabilitate or restore, if it can even be done. I’ll tell you why tomorrow.
And why even do it? Except for the Kentucky Derby who gives a damn about horse racing in America these days, even though at one time it was a major “sport” and much beloved? Only a small, insular group plus racetrack and online gamblers remain dedicated to horse racing.
American horse racing is on its knees and on the brink of destruction — a self-imposed destruction in which they remain entrenched and continued denial about.
Watch HBO’s “Raced to Death” if you can. Amazon has it online with Amazon Prime. HBO also has it online. They are offering a week’s free trial at the moment.
Let us know what you think. See you back here tomorrow with more. Much more. Thanks for stopping by.