Horse Health

Santa Anita’s Current Killing Season Is No Anomaly – It Averages 50 Dead Racehorses Annually, Almost 600 Dead Since 2007

Source: Re-blogged from Patrick Battuello of Horseracing Wrongs

According to official CHRB statistics, in the 11-year period 7/1/07-6/30/18 Santa Anita averaged 50 dead race horses annually

In the wake of 23 dead horses since Christmas, Santa Anita cancelled racing yesterday and is closed indefinitely. But let’s identify this for what it is: marketing-101 damage-control, nothing more, nothing less. After being hammered in the media – practically every major outlet in the country has covered the killing – and after a big HW-sponsored protest there this past Sunday (with more to come), the suits of California Racing are scrambling. But to be clear, this move is not because they think the track (weather) is the culprit or that further “testing” (“Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester” – please) will do any good. Nor is it because they care about the deaths in and of themselves, for if they did, they would have shut down – permanently – long ago.

According to official CHRB statistics, in the 11-year period 7/1/07-6/30/18 Santa Anita averaged 50 dead racehorses annually. And it’s not as if one or two bad years skewed that average: Every 12-month period but one (’10-’11, when “only” 37 died) saw at least 40 corpses. What’s more, they can’t even claim they’re heading in the right direction as two of the three worst years were ’15-’16 and ’16-’17. Now, consider this comment by the board chairman kicking off the most recent annual report:

“The year 2018 was a good one for California racing in many ways, but the clear highlight was the progress we have made in reducing equine fatalities at racetracks and training facilities. Admittedly, even one death of a racehorse is too many, but it is a sign of progress that the industry is finding solutions to a problem that for far too long has perplexed all of us who care deeply about the safety and welfare of horses.”

As I’ve oft-written (Saratoga ’17, Del Mar ’16), this is not a multi-billion dollar industry for nothing. They’re quite adept at controlling the story, assuring an increasingly uneasy public (regarding animal exploitation in general) that they’re on top of this – that “even one death of a racehorse is too many.” Well, facts, as the great John Adams famously said, are stubborn things. And the facts here say, unequivocally, that the current killing season is no anomaly – no “blip on the radar,” as the CHRB’s Dr. Rick Arthur called it. Rather, it’s business as usual, here – and everywhere.

“Progress,” as imagined by the California Horse Racing Board:

2007-08 51 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2008-09 41 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2009-10 42 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2010-11 37 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2011-12 71 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2012-13 43 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2013-14 52 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2014-15 46 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2015-16 62 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2016-17 64 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
2017-18 44 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park
September 2018-March 2019 31 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park

July 1, 2007-March 5, 2019 584 dead racehorses at Santa Anita Park

Horseracing kills horses. Always has. Always will. And that’s all you need to know.

14 replies »

  1. Horse racing is a cruelty and death pit for these horses.
    They are merely profit slaves for their slavemasters as they are doped, beaten/whipped, run in to the ground or sent to slaughter.
    It’s a vile business with vile people in it.
    Horse racing needs to shut down now, and California taxpayers are paying for it.

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  2. Just incredible… they are all disposable product right?
    I would have thought Bob Baffert had more integrity after the great Justify was handled with so much respect, but now they are saying that Santa Anita will probably be reopening on or around March 22 (this month). Why is there no ethical and equal treatment of these horses? Got an answer, Bob? ($$$$$$$$$$)

    Pitiful.

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    • For what it’s worth, most (if not all) the horses in a trainer’s stables belong to other people, not the trainer. Trainers also have little or nothing to say about how a track is operated, though they can and should be selecting places and races based on the particulars of each horse’s training and conditioning levels.

      None of this excuses the Tsunami of leg fractures leading to fataliities, nor the sad truth that even those who don’t break on the track often as not end up killed for pennies a pound down the road.

      Many years ago I ran a boarding stable and had some new owners bring me their first horse to care for. He was an older gelding, about 8 years old as I recollect, who they bought off the nearby track. When I raised my eyebrows they assured me the track vet had passed him with flying colors through a vet check, and these innocent owners handed me the bottles of Bute pills the vet had said this horse needed twice a day to be comfortable. For the rest of his life. I took the horse, a stunning dark coal colored horse with a tan muzzle and enormous kind eyes, and led him to his new stall. As I did I heard some crunching noise so stopped and started again, looking at his legs. After doing this a few times it became clear this old boy had chips in all four limbs that were grinding and crunching just walking on flat ground without a rider. He was literally used up but they sold him to these newcomers who then had no recourse.

      The horse’s name was “Rags.” He had excellent care with me but was of course never rideable nor free of pain. They moved on and I lost track of them all but will never forget that grand old horse. He deserved better, even though he had a happier life than most.

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  3. Thank you for that story IcySpots…
    More often than not, we know where most of these exploited horses end up, along with thousands of our precious Mustangs who are considered ‘disposable’.
    Being Santa Anita’s premier trainer, it is sad that Baffert won’t take a stand on the mobbed-up corruption there, and perhaps there in lies the core of the problem. No one, even if they cared to, is willing to let go that golden goose in favor of what is right and moral. Well, one of these fine days, that goose is going to turn around and bite where it hurts the most. As is said, karma is a b***h.

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    • I looked and while there is no official statement from Baffert, he indicated he is fine with continuing to work horses on the main track here:

      “Initially, the original plan was to close the main track for training on Monday and Tuesday. However that move was immediately opposed by multiple trainers, including Hall of Famers Jerry Hollendorfer and Bob Baffert, who voiced concerns to management, according to the Stronach Group’s chief operating officer Tim Ritvo.

      Ritvo said the group of trainers indicated they had important workouts scheduled on Monday and they were “comfortable” working some of their best horses over the surface – leading to the track management’s decision to allow training for Monday.”

      https://www.racingpost.com/news/santa-anita-closes-main-track-for-tests-after-equine-fatalities/367989

      One has to wonder why, even with state of the art footing adn so many people so invested in keeping horses sound, so many pedigreed horses are breaking apart, when so few wild horses do. Genetics anyone?

      I also think races would be both safer and fairer if they were straight line only, no turns. Much less stress and much more likely to find the truly faster horses.

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  4. Yes, Baffert is on board with the track being “safe” enough for his babies… man oh man. When are these guys going to wake up? The breakdowns and loss of life are staggering. And ol’ Bob practically ‘owns’ the place too, so he could make the call. So tragic and stupid.
    One of these days, IcySpots, one of these fine days…………….

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      • I have no doubt that would be 0 survival rate for these fragile creatures, who are bred to be gazelles, and only for the temporary thrill.
        The incredible Triple Crown champion Justify is a class unto himself; that head, that nose, those lungs, and those great bones… he’s a tank with a fifth gear and lots of heart. Baffert won’t be graced with another like him. Maybe I’ve watched the movie ‘Hidalgo’ too much, but I could swear that Justify is part Mustang. Well, to Baffert’s credit, he didn’t out Justify until he was a three yr. old, and let him retire in all his glory. This could be the reason that so many Thoroughbreds go down so swiftly, they are too young and are driven literally into the ground by a bunch of greedy morons. These people are so hardcore, they (like our ‘friends’ at the BLM and their bloody helicopter contractors), wouldn’t know common decency or humane sanity if it came down on their heads like an avalanche. I pray that it will happen.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Deborah, I agree with most of what you wrote, but it is important to recognize there is a system within which people are operating here, a system which is heavily front-loaded with costs and that drives racing (and honestly most of the horse industry) into pushing horses to perform much too young. By the time you get a winner (in any discipline) you’ve typically lost a helluva a lot more on others along the way.

        Humans love horses, surely, but most of those performing (in most disciplines, again) would not even be alive without competition and related purses or cash awards for winning.

        The right answer is to allow no competition until horses are age 6, when all their bones are done growing. What system can we make that would support that — again, across all disciplines?

        Years ago I bought a weanling qh stud colt, great foundation pedigree, color, disposition, almost no thoroughbred 23 generations back in his pedigree. His sire was a high point reining horse, and this colt was hilarious, he’d be cutting calves all by himself out in the pasture as a yearling. He had everything going for him, and I looked into getting him into some competition to get exposure and promote him as a potential breeding sire. Even then (back in the early 90s) a colt like this had to be ON THE ROAD COMPETING at 18 months… which meant a lot of serious weigh-bearing training before even that. I refused this for various reasons, but mostly because it was inhumane and guaranteed to break down a nice colt.

        However, if we push back against all forms of horse competition, we won’t have domestic OR wild horses in our lives anymore. They can’t all be pasture pets as we well know fewer and fewer people can afford to feed themselves, much less keep horses.

        How can we make our system support horses more humanely and ethically – and sustainably for them and for ourselves?

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  5. It’s a monster of a Gordian Knot, isn’t it?
    Personally IcySpots, I would love to see horse racing as we know it in the 21st century abolished completely.
    Of course, that’s not going to happen, as long as those wheels of the industry keep getting larger and more intricately corrupt with the billions and billions of dollars being generated for all involved.
    We can never return to a bygone era in which horses were held in esteem and honored as sacred beings, as with many ancient cultures. Perhaps we will never return to honoring any non-human being that we share this small planet with.
    My critical-thinking skills need some honing, but it seems that to use Occam’s Razor is appropriate here… there needs to be an Ethics Oversight Committee all across the board (in the racing industry specifically) that really puts the welfare of the horses first, and puts the rule of law as cast in stone to be enforced.
    We cannot expect people to have honor, ethics, sanity or a connection to their own souls…. but what we can expect is adherence to law and the consequences of breaking that law, right? This most understood in the racing industry as ‘ethics’.
    There is only 1% of the thousands & thousands of Thoroughbreds indiscriminately bred each year as fodder for this monster (racing) that actually win big, like the Kentucky Derby and so on. The vast majority of the unfortunate souls being exploited in this travesty are just short-term ‘bread and butter’ for the average promoters, or meat for slaughter pipeline. It’s a given.
    So, quality over quantity needs to be brought back, less indicrimanate breeding, and BETTER OVERSIGHT LAWS that are actually ENFORCED… changing the ridiculous rules (like racing young horses as two year olds; this really needs to change regardless of the ‘front loaded’costs ) and basically draining that swamp of the disease it is being consumed by. The illegal drugs being used on these poor horses as a ‘normal’ everyday practice is probably the most outrageous factor in the death rate on the track.
    Wouldn’t it be great to get Robert Mueller on their butts? 😉
    (Remember, he took down the Gotti Familia) There’s a system… wow.

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    • Deborah, great points. What if the system could be changed to make it legal only to race horses whose parents were tested and approved for breeding (as is common in Europe) beforehand, and permanent papers only provided once a stud’s offspring also pass the same tests? We could also shift the system to make racing horses younger than, say, age 5 illegal, and as mentioned if tracks were straight line only the injuries I think would be dramatically decreased, as would the nefarious shenanigans from jockeys strategizing and bumping their way around, trying to get running room for their mounts. It’s also worth asking here why, with all our technology and high-end tracks and training regimens, and the most optimized conditions imaginable, our race horses are still hardly any faster than they were in the 1930s. When records do fall, it is only by fractions of a second since Secretariat’s time (there may be exceptions but in general horses are not getting faster).

      Some sources of income might include an extra tax or fee on horse supplies and feed, and this could also be earmarked for end-of-life options for horse owners. One idea would be to locate a horse cemetery in every state, which every purchase would provide a small amount towards, that would provide better choices for humanelly ending the lives of most horses that simply don’t exist today.

      Of course all this would drive racing underground, to the bush leagues which are still thriving but mostly off the radar. I’m generally not a fan of more and more regulation, and the European model isn’t perfect, but it is better than what we have today. I suppose there is a reason it was called “the sport of kings,” based on fewer and wealthier owners and not a mass market commodification of innocent animals. Of course there are always crooked people, but the economics and numbers seem to work more towards a philosophy of “disposable horses.” Even these headlines are misleading, saying horses “died” at the track, hinting at a disease or something similar, when the truth is they were fine and healthy animals who broke under stress, and were then euthanized.

      If racing could be cleaned up and the best horses given a fair chance of shining, and at a sensible age, racing might reclaim some of its former glory. Barring that, it has mostly become a cheap form of entertainment that engorges itself on horse carcasses.

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  6. That is excellent!!!
    Can we nominate you to be the head of the Ethics Reform Oversight Committee? Really, you would be fantastic at the job, Icyspots. The only thing is, you would probably need lots of adept bodyguards……

    Through bringing awareness and truth, we bring change. Now, if only more people cared to do that… what a wonderful world it would be. The battles continue. Thank you for being the honorable man that you are….

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    • I don’t think such a committee exists, but probably should. I do think even the simple matter of straight line running would help a lot, and since technology today means most people are watching the races on screens anyways, why not try this? The oval track was originally intented to let onlookers actually see the race with their eyes, we now have drones and all kinds of mobile cameras so there’s no real need for an oval track. I get it that most tracks are now in urban areas, but they weren’t originally. The one across from my elementary school flooded out and was replaced with condos, and the track relocated further out into a rural area. With urban land values always on the rise this makes it an even easier sell. One could hope someone might at least try it.

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