By Paul Beattie
Before I get started one thing I believe in is transparency and so let me say this upfront, Emerald Downs is a sponsor of our website to the tune of $1,500 per year. I am also a racing enthusiast and used to work at Emerald Downs. The $1,500 Emerald Downs pays us for advertising would not come close to buying me to simply write a piece that frankly they may not even want me to write. So I am writing this because I have had enough.
I am talking about this made up “crisis” focused on horse racing. The words crisis and breaking news are now used so often they no longer hold their true meaning. The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is in theory a worthy organization trying to lessen unnecessary cruelty to animals, this is not to say there is a necessity for cruelty by any means and they have done many good things. But it is when do-good organizations over-blow their mission and not thoroughly think through what their mission truly is, where they lose many potential supporters. A great example for PETA was their position on tossing the dead salmon at the Fish Market at Pike’s Place Market claiming somehow this practice disrespected the fish. (I am not kidding click here to the story) I have no patience for such ridiculousness from an organization wanting to be taken seriously, so I don’t.
Well PETA has now seen their chance to once again go after the horse racing industry after an uptick in horse deaths on the track especially at the famed Southern California racetrack Santa Anita. This past season there were a total of 30 horse deaths due mostly from leg injuries on the track at Santa Anita. The activists were in full protest mode claiming this “alarming spike” in deaths were the result of this “barbaric” sport.
Well I am sick and tired of this gross misrepresentation of the racing industry. Let’s take a look at some of the facts first, the U-S Department of Agriculture does a census on the number of all horses, uses, ownership and locations of domesticated horses every 5 years. In 2016 there was a total of 9.2 million horses owned in the United States with 1.3 million being thoroughbred and 3.1 million quarterhorses. Out of the 4.4 million horses in these two categories 840,000 are race horses. National statistics show a range of annual deaths from all racing generally between 500-1,000 per year. The deaths range from broken legs to organ failure or in other words a heart attack most often. Let’s use the high number for statistical purposes, this is an annual death rate of .001%. That’s one-thousandth of 1 percent! This is the crisis?!
Of course we’d like this percent to be at zero but things happen in life. Marathoners in tip top shape collapse and die during a race, famed long distance runner Jim Fixx from the 70’s was found dead on the side of the road suffering a heart attack while running. For horses some injuries we take for granted as humans, such as a broken leg most times is cause for the horse to be euthanized because of the leg structure of the horse won’t allow a proper healing and those they attempt to save most times end up with a deadly infection.
PETA is claiming the uptick this year at Santa Anita is new and reason to end the sport. But let’s take a look at what would likely happen if indeed horse racing was ended. Thoroughbreds are bred and born for only one reason… to race. They can be a difficult breed to train for recreational use or equestrian events so there is not a huge demand for thoroughbreds outside of racing until they are retired. Retired Thoroughbreds many times make great jumpers or recreational horses mostly because they have matured and like many other animals they mellow. The point is if PETA has their way you can easily conclude a minimum of half of the Thoroughbreds and quarterhorses would not be alive. There would be no demand for them. Additionally, thousands of those bred don’t ever make it to the track and are then used for other activities. Another way to look at it is PETA wants to wipe out well more than 1/3, that’s 3-million of the overall national horse population because of .001% casualty rate at race tracks.
What is most disconcerting to me is how the good people involved in racing are all grouped together as uncaring, money grubbing, evil people when nothing could be further from the truth. What PETA and the so-called advocates lie to the public about is how the vast majority of horses are treated and cared for at the track. These so-called uncaring, money grubbers get up at 4am in the morning to feed their animals every single day, 365 days a year. They bathe them, walk or gallop them, groom them, have regular veterinary check-ups. Even the large operations have grooms designated to a small number of horses where they are waited on hand and hoof. There are so many stories of trainers and grooms literally sleeping in the barn with their horses and staying up all night when they are dealing with other health issues that are normal to horses.
PETA wants you to believe the horse men and women of the racing industry are evil. This is such a low down slimy claim by these supposed do-gooders it stains the very character of all in the industry. The horse men and women in racing so dearly love their horses and can’t be more exemplified by this story. There was an incident at Emerald Downs a few years ago where a horse had such great potential that serious buyers looking for a potential Kentucky Derby horse were interested in the horse. The small owner and trainer combination decided to run him one last time and then take offers. For such a small operation to have a horse of this caliber is not common and there was such emotion from the young lady training him she had a hard time believing she was likely going to lose him.
Tragedy then struck and during the race the horse suffered a fracture and ultimately had to be euthanized. The trainer was so distraught she ended up taking her own life on her way home from the races that day. Additionally, the jockey aboard immediately retired. These are extreme examples but you don’t get extreme behavior without extreme caring. The entire racing community mourned with and for them all. This crisis is a complete fabrication and lie by PETA and in fact PETA are the money grubbers creating a crisis where there is none to simply raise more money for their alleged important causes such as the throwing of salmon. Has PETA bothered to find out how many other horses die each year from simply running free in a pasture or in the wild? What are those numbers? Should owners of these horses be held accountable for some reason or better yet in PETA’s view how about banning all horse ownership.
Yes, the incidents at Santa Anita were out of the norm this past Spring and PETA jumped at the chance to begin their fundraising campaign. This is not to say the racing industry does not bear any responsibility, of course they should look for better ways to do things, they should constantly look at making the sport as safe as possible and there is always a small percent of those who cut corners or don’t follow all the rules but that occurs in every aspect of life. All we have to do is look at Wednesday’s political circus in Washington DC and regardless of who you support one way or the other it is easy to say if everyone followed the rules and the intent of the rules then this report the political hacks have been talking about for 2+ years wouldn’t have been necessary.
But for PETA and their advocates to claim this holier than thou attitude about how something is cruel and the people are evil is a farce and it’s time the Horse Racing Industry said enough is enough. Horse Racing got a black eye when they first began by allowing betting. Well in my view Horse Racing was the only sport honest about gambling and honest on how much it is a part of sports. They not only were honest but they also created parimutuel wagering insuring the house has no interest in who wins and that odds only reflect your share of the pot if you win with no impact to the track.
The golden age of racing in Washington State came to an end when Longacres closed in 1992 and since then it has been a fight and a grind and the racing people make it happen. I feel bad and feel like I need to defend trainers like the Frank Lucarelli’s, Kay and Bryson Cooper’s, Howard Belvoir’s, Larry and Sharon Ross’s and jockey’s like Kevin Orozco, Gary Wales, Jennifer Whitaker and so on. To also stick up for the former jockey’s and trainers who have moved on to other positions in racing like Ken Doll, Danny Bryson, Doug Moore and Hugh Wales and the long standing families, owners, breeders and their legacies such as the Steiner’s, John Parker, Ron and Nina Hagen, the Spooners and so many more. These folks work damn hard and the racing industry is just a fraction of what it used to be mostly due to the expansion of gambling.
There are more than 150,000 human deaths each year from cars, guns and alcohol in the United States and not one law has been proposed to end the practice of any of these activities. But 30 horse deaths…yes let that sink in this whole crisis is over 30 horse deaths and there is a proposal in Los Angeles to ban horse racing. 150,000 human deaths annually no action, nothing at all but 30 isolated deaths in an unfortunate run at Santa Anita and a proposal has been submitted to the Los Angeles City Commission to ban horse racing. In Washington State alone the racing industry is a 300-million dollar business and much larger in California. Unfortunately it doesn’t come close to the auto, gun and booze business.
I have this final comment and it is directed squarely at the Horse Racing family, you work so hard, you love your animals, you care for them night and day 365 days a year. You continue to look for new ways to make it safer and to limit the tragedies and you have NOTHING to be ashamed of nor do you have any need to apologize to anyone for what you do. However, if you don’t start standing up for yourselves and demand the lies to stop or expose them you may get caught up in a ground swell that is apparently all the rage in this country right now and that is looking for victims and then to pretend to care about them while at the same time expecting others to cow-tow to their feelings and beliefs . There have been many attempts in the past to somehow unify racing well now we may be coming to a point where unifying is a must and not a maybe.