Every day, horses are killed on American race tracks.
In fact, through my seminal work at Horseracing Wrongs, I estimate that upwards of 2,000 horses die annually.
But that’s just on-track. Countless others die in their stalls from what the industry calls “non-racing” causes, with many more — likely thousands each year — meeting brutal, bloody ends in foreign slaughterhouses.
Until very recently, this wholesale carnage has been expertly hidden from the masses.
Now, the industry is coming increasingly under fire. And a pattern has emerged.
When not simply being dismissed as a mere anomaly (Saratoga this past summer), the latest “bad meet” (i.e., lots of dead horses) brings a promise of “thorough investigation,” followed, often, by a new “safety” initiative or two.
“We’re on it, they say. We care. Nothing is more important than our “equine athletes.”
And yet, the killing continues, and as the numbers on my site (horseracingwrongs.com) attest, continues virtually unabated.
The truth is, death at the track is, always has been, and always will be an inevitable part of horse-racing — inherent to what they do.
And here’s why:
First, the anatomy.
The typical horse does not reach full maturity — his bones are not done growing, plates not done fusing — till around six. The typical racehorse is thrust into “training” at around 18 months — and raced at two.
On the maturation chart, a 2-year-old horse is the rough equivalent of a grade-schooler. Imagine that. And this is something that will not change. Waiting until age 6 to train and race horses would be cost-prohibitive. It’s never going to happen.
Second, the horse race itself is an unequivocally unnatural act.
“Born to run, love to compete” is a lie, at least in how the industry means it. Horses running and playing in an open field bears no resemblance to what happens at a race track. There, perched humans compel their charges to a breakneck speed — with a whip.
There is no choice, no free will, no autonomy for naturally autonomous beings. Furthermore, in nature, horses understand self-preservation. So if injured, they know to stop, rest, and if possible, heal.
At the track, not only are many of the injured “urged on” by their whip-wielding mates, but in a cruel twist, they often try desperately to stay with their artificial herds. Again, no change is forthcoming, for the horse race can only exist by force.
Third, the economic realities of the business. The vast majority of racehorses are bought and sold multiple times over the course of their so-called careers, careers that generally don’t last long to begin with.
So, the earning window for the current connections is almost always short-term. It could be a few races, maybe a few months, or perhaps a year or two. But the bottom line is that as a rule, the long-term well-being of the horse is of no concern. It’s maximize profits now, by all means — e.g., pain-numbing, injury-masking drugs – available.
Finally, the fundamental relationship itself — that of owner-owned — guarantees bad things will happen. Guarantees.
By definition, a piece of property, a commodity, a resource, a means — all of which undeniably describe the racehorse — can have no meaningful protection under the law. In fact, it’s absurd to argue otherwise.
The truth is a horseman, if he so chooses, can run his horse into the ground, yes, even to death, with virtual impunity. There is no real accountability because this core relationship precludes real accountability.
Neither the industry nor our society will ever, could ever, seriously punish a property owner for crimes against his property. Again, to say differently is pure folly.
Moreover, as it is with all animal-exploitation businesses, the law, as represented by anti-cruelty statutes, invariably defers to “common industry practice;” for 150 years of American horse-racing, broken and dead bodies have been seen and treated as an unfortunate cost of doing business.
In short, no one is watching; no one cares.
In truth, to the racing industry, to government, to our society at large, a racehorse’s life does not matter. Alive or dead, it just doesn’t matter.
So because of all this, I’m here to argue that short of shuttering the betting windows altogether, there is nothing they can do to stop the carnage.
Nothing. And what’s more, they know it.
Patrick Battuello lives in the Capital District and has become a leading voice for truth on the subject of the massive killing of horses on America’s race tracks.