Op-Ed in Concord Monitor
May 5, 2021
It’s not all mint juleps and fancy hats
When I was a kid, my favorite movie was “Phar Lap,” based on the true story of an Australian racehorse. I loved that movie and that horse. It was tragic and made me cry in heartbreak. A kind boy trains a mistreated horse, and then he wins and wins and wins horse races.
As moving and memorable as that movie was, it never made me particularly curious about the realities of horse racing. I thought jockeys were interesting, and the horses were extraordinary specimens of beauty, strength and agility. I would wonder about the treatment of the horses from time to time, but that was it.
Fast forward to today. Working with the NH Animal Rights League, I volunteered to research the reality of horse racing because of last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. And here are the facts.
According to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, nearly 10 horses died every week at American racetracks in 2018. This data is just the ones dying at the tracks. According to the organization Horseracing Wrongs, over 1,000 racehorses died on-site in 2019. That is about 20 a week and does not count deaths from other sites related to horse racing (private training facilities, euthanized on farms, the thousands of “retired” ones sold to slaughter).
Since 2010, state racing officials have tallied more than 1,400 thoroughbred deaths in Pennsylvania alone. That is one state (and the state industry is propped up by $3 billion in government subsidies.)
Although the use of illegal performance-enhancing and pain masking drugs is rampant in horse racing, even if a horse is drug-free, the strain of a 1,200-pound animal storming down the track at 40 mph exerts incredible stress on the horse’s comparatively fragile legs.
Once-great horses can end up in the lowest tier races. “It’s all about the money. You have wealthy owners that get a horse, it earns $1 million, then it’s dumped in a claiming race for a low-end trainer to run the snot out of the horse,” said Lee Midkiff, the part-owner of a Kentucky Derby winner. “Horses are discarded quickly.” (“Betting on Horses Lives,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/25)
And it seems horse racing cannot be reformed. Look at the example of Santa Anita in California. They hit the news in 2019 because of the near-weekly deaths of horses at one venue – 49 died between July 2018 and June 2019.
Yet despite the deaths and an extensive investigation, the District Attorney’s task force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park. So, business as usual. And that is the problem. Reforming an inherently cruel industry is impossible. Deaths are still happening at Santa Anita as recently as less than a month ago.
Ending horse racing is within our power. Look to greyhound racing for proof of that. Only three states now have greyhound tracks. After a long awareness campaign and the changing of laws by animal rights activists, we have realized that racing dogs for monetary profit is not okay, and the same is true of horses.
Horses have a long history of working for us. They helped plow our fields, pulled our wagons, went to war with us, and even died on our battlefields. Isn’t it time we do something for them?
You can educate yourself and the people in your life. Romanticizing the Kentucky Derby and horseracing is harder to do when you know the facts.
Don’t support the horse racing industry, even indirectly. Racetracks such as Santa Anita Park host many events, making them money. Do not attend any events at racetracks.
Support organizations helping horses and working to end horse racing (horseracingwrongs.org is a great resource), like Live and Let Live Farm in Chichester.
At Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, a horse with the horrible name of “Who Took the Money” was so upset pre-race she flipped to the ground, her rider falling off. Then she ran and desperately tried to escape the track. But there was nowhere to go, and it was heartbreaking to watch. This equine youngster did not sign up for this cruel life. She was scheduled to run in the fifth race but was “scratched” because of this incident.
The trainer of the horse who won the main event at Churchill Downs this year is Bob Baffert, who has over 30 drug violations through the years. Baffert should not be allowed near a racetrack after years of drugging horses, but instead, he is a hall of famer for having won seven Kentucky Derbies.
You will hear none of this from the mainstream media. Just a glamorization of silly-hatted folks drinking mint juleps.
(Emily Murphy is a board member of the NH Animal Rights League.)