And They’re OFF! To The Slaughterhouse!

You can forget about global warming and climate change and baby seals for a few moments and dedicate your time to reading about what is perhaps one of the most loathsome acts of hubris and cruelty wrought upon the earth by the hand of man — horse racing. 

They call it “The Sport Of Kings” when in fact it should be called the sport of mindless carnival people who have somehow managed to sneak into polite society whilst breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best, and then killing the rest  for dog food and people who like to eat horses.  You know who paid for all the finery that surrounds horse racing?  Dead horses, that’s who.


There are two major types of horse racing that seem to matter in the USA and Europe.  Thoroughbred racing and harness racing are the culprits in question here and it’s hard to decide which is the more disgusting since both are quite sickening, and both are steeped in false pomp and ceremony laden with heavy doses of maudlin sentiment and silly tradition.

After careful examination of the facts, however, one can conclude that harness racing is considerably more horrific because its inner workings are more often fraught with scandal, illicit use of drugs, and inept supervision by whomever  is supposed to supervise these kinds of primitive spectacles.  

 As gruesomely grotesque as it may sound, thoroughbred racing’s self-policing seems to be a bit more sophisticated, and their dirty laundry gets tossed into a Citizen’s Relief bin with nary a blink from PETA or the SPCA and others who should be looking into this.  

The thoroughbred industry is great at hiding their filthy linens but harness racing opts in the other direction; preferring to run their disgraces up a flagpole.  The stupidity is beyond comprehension.  

While it seems that caginess is next to godliness in the world of Bluegrass and twin spires,  the trotting or harness racing industry is fair game because they seem to take some kind of sick pride in announcing their scandals.  For some odd reason they believe that fans of that game will be more inclined to line up with a $2.00 bet if they are made aware of the miscreants within their walls.  Have you ever heard of something so stupid?  

Of course harness racing’s openness about the bad apples in their midst is done under the guise of being fair and honest, but realistically it’s done because the governing body behind this industry, The United States Trotting Association, or USTA, is either too dumb to realize how just how dumb they really are, or it’s the only way they can get any publicity or attention.  I assume both assumptions to be correct since their website makes decent money selling access to a database wherein all fines and suspensions and violations are made public.  But does the betting public use this source to help them pick a winner?  No, they do not.  Most often, it’s people within the industry itself who use that information to gossip on message boards.

You’d be surprised how many people are not familiar with harness racing, and that’s as it should be,  but sufficed to say that the trotting and pacing horses who participate in this sport — if one can call it that –are subject to more medical experimentation and illicit drug use than lab rats at a pharmaceutical laboratory. You need only look at the post-race drug positive tests and penalties that the USTA so eagerly publishes on their website (for a fee) to find the culprits and the drugs in question.  This does not include, however, the drugs that are not being caught by the testing labs.  The draconian measures that are now being taken against trainers at The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, NJ, USA, are ample testament to the fact that about 90% of drugs being used go undetected. 

In thirty years or so, harness racing has gone from being a standing-room-only sport, to a feeble death march that’s kept alive by casino money, but for some reason, the people who run this business seem to think that they can conjur up some magic remedy to draw in new fans.  It’s not happening. 

Hundreds of harness racing trainers have been caught using drugs the likes of which would boggle the mind and fall into the pages of a Physicians Desk Reference — or perhaps a really long  story that reaches far beyond the scope of this blog.   In spite of all this drug use, nefarious harness trainers need only to lawyer up and appeal and appeal and appeal.   Despite the fact that these drugs — mostly red blood cell stimulants and anabolic steroids —  have killed hundreds or perhaps thousands of animals, about 99% of the offenders get back to racing with little or no punishment. 

Thoroughbred authorities tend to just throw the accused out of the business and go on with the game as if nothing ever happened.  While this may seem like a fascistic way of doling out justice, it seems to work because thoroughbred racing is not viewed as negativley by the public as is harness racing.

These days racetracks who put on standardbred (harness) racing are now calling themselves “racinos” because they have cooked up a scheme with casino magnates wherein slot machine or VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals) are installed at the racetracks to attract customers.   This unhappy alliance has kept both forms of horse racing afloat in the USA and Canada, but it’s mostly harness racing that benefits from Aunt Trixie’s, fixed income quarters and dimes.  Frankly — and all you need to do is look at the purse structure at racetracks who do not have slot machines —  without the slot machines, harness racing would be just about finished, and in due time, when the casino executives start to realize, if they haven’t already, that harness racing is just a drain on their finances, it will all come to a screeching halt. 

At these racinos, nobody watches the races — they just play the slot machines.   Think about it.  Why on earth would any competent, casino marketing man want to support a racetrack full of cheating criminals and doped up horses when all one really needs to make  money is a free standing casino where there are no horses or horsemen to embarrass you and take a share of your money?  Don’t think for a moment that this wasn’t their plan from the get-go. Riding alongside the horses is how the casino business got their foot in the door, but for how long will their marketing strategies actually tolerate horse racing?  Casinos like to kill people’s dreams and credit scores, not their horses. 

Yonkers Raceway, a harness racing track just north of Manhattan, was once a gleaming castle on a hill, but more recently, it was a dump where cheap horses raced for cheap money.  And,  with Uncle Max’s quarters dropping into the slots faster than the balance in his fixed-income bank account, the purses for the trotting and pacing races have risen dramatically. 

Bolstered by this “slots”  money, the usual cast of malfeasant  trainers and drivers (harness jockeys) are still in action while the remainder of the trainers  have been bussed over from New Jersey.  Yonkers Raceway is still a dump but they’ve simply attached a nifty casino next to the dump so that when the time comes they can knock down the dump and leave the casino.  How easy is that?

New Jersey does not allow slot machines at the racetracks and the racing industry there is sitting on the edge of a really jagged cliff.  New Jersey is the home to a little place called Atlantic City, and there ain’t no way on god’s green earth that those Atlantic City casinos are going to divert dollars away from their glitzy and gaudy halls and into the hands of New Jersey tracks.  Why should they?  New Jersey stats as per trainer criminality are the  dirtiest in all of harness racing.  If you don’t believe me, look it up.  

New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, is not very racetrack friendly and that’s a good thing.  He was moments away from wiping harness racing off the map in the Garden State due to the fact that it’s a money pit, but in the final moments, Jeff Gural, a NYC financier and harness racing lover, made some kind of deal to lease the track, and now the Meadowlands, which was once the greatest harness racing track in the world is a grad B track with Grade B talent on the racetrack itself.

I seem to have drifted off course here because my initial intention was to mock the hypocrisy of “racehorse rescue” and “racehorse adoption,” but I will get to that shortly.

So, all this new racino money has lead to the creation of more horses and when you have more horses you eventually have more dead horses.  There is very little use for horses once their racing careers are over.  Thoroughbreds tend to be edgy, difficult and more often, by the time they leave the track, they are either crippled or close to it. 

Harness racehorses, or standardbreds as they are called, are relatively quieter and more intelligent animals, but they have very little use for anything other than pulling a buggy in Amish country or Central Park when their careers are over.  Of course you have your standardbreds who are trained to ride after their racing is done,  but if every harness horse who left the track went on to riding school, the streets would be clogged with horses.  There are simply too many of these horses and when their careers are over they almost always go directly to a slaughterhouse or else they gradually trickle down like rocks and beans and lentils through a series of screens and then go on to a slaughterhouse.  You have to watch the sleight of hand sometimes.

Now here is where it gets tricky and I am treading on nasty ground. 

There are people, some very nice people, who try with all good intent to save these racetrack cast-offs.  They work tirelessly for no pay finding homes for horses who are headed for the slaughterhouse.  Many of these people are poorer than the fly-bitten horses they try to save, but on the other hand there is a certain degree of hypocrisy to racehorse rescue elsewhere that might go unnoticed by the untrained eye.  There are also very wealthy people in the racehorse rescue game — and deep within their culture lies the hypocrisy.

Of course a very wealthy bunch of ladies-who-lunch can save a lot more horses than a poor lady who barely has time to wolf down something from the drive-thru dollar menu, but where did the wealth of the ladies-who-lunch come from?

I am going to pick on the ladies because they are usually the element inherent to the hypocrisy.  Many or most of these women are the wives of trainers, breeders, jockeys, drivers and so on and so on.  Perhaps over the course of a year they find homes for fifty horses,  and at the end of that year they throw themselves a banquet wherein they bestow upon one another medals of valor for meritorious service dedicated to rescuing retired racehorses — but it’s a big, fat, stupid distraction and a half of a half of a half of a truth about which they themselves are blissfully unaware.

They drive away from their gala in a BMW or a Porsche or Range Rover,  but where did they get the  money for that flashy car?  Who paid for the pretty dress?  Where did Miss Do-Good get the the money for her Prada shoes?  And what about the rest of her splendid world?

Well, 90+% of the time that fabulous money can be traced down the line to that which was hard-earned  by a horse who is now D-E-A-D!  — slashed in a slaughterhouse from stem to stern.

Why posture and say that you save horses?  Everything these rescuers own, right down to their kid’s new jet ski, was wrought from the sweat of a racehorse who went to a slaughterhouse.   Of course, being mindless charity buzzards who see themselves only as do-gooders, these rescuers don’t see the animal-earned money that once stood behind the BMW they drive or the garish MacMansion in which they live, or the flshy boat they take out on booze soaked weekends, or the tuition check that sends their clueless kids to college.  They don’t see that they are not only part of the problem — they are the problem, and rescuing horses from slaughter is not only totally useless, it’s grotesquely  selfish and sickeningly  sanctimonious to the point of being demonic.

Of course there are those amongst you who will say that I am punishing a good deed or that no good deed goes unpunished — or whatever else it is that silly people say, but I most certainly am not.  As I said, there are plenty of people who rescue horses with true goodness in their hearts, but for the most part racehorse rescue has become the false crusade of the very people who kill the horses simply by living their lives.   In other words:  These people live well because horses die unwell, and that’s all you need to know.

The big horse breeders and wealthy owners are perhaps the biggest offenders. 

A horse named Ferdinand won the Kentucky Derby in 1987 but after a failed stud career he wound up hanging from the ceiling of a Japanese slaughterhouse.  Where were the gleeful owners who greeted Ferdinand in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on that heinous day when the bullet hit the bone?  According to those in the know, these previous owners were unaware  of this, but thankfully now there is a voluntary donation called “The Fernando Fee”  where one can have money taken out of a horse’s earnings and put aside so that this doesn’t happen again, but then again how many horses win the Kentucky Derby and how many owners will donate that small percentage — next to none. 

In harness racing, where high class horses still race for really good money, it’s not unsusual to find a horse in a kill pen who has earnings of a half million dollars or more.  It’s true.  That horse worked its whole life to make somebody a lot of money, but now it’s about to get a bolt shot into it’s head. 

In horse racing you’re only as good as your last race, and it’s the rare horse who finds himself rewarded for his work.  No matter how much money horse owners and trainers and breeders have, when push comes to shove, they will not dish out the $400 per month it costs to keep a “useless” horse in a pasture.  Statistically about 1 out of every 553 horses will live out its life in the company of the people it made rich.  Kids in Guatemala treat hamsters better than this.

So, if these sanctimonious racehorse rescuers want to rescue racehorses, they should stop making more racehorses to carry on the tradition animal slavery.  They should stop telling themselves what humanitarians they are.  It’s as easy as that.  Of course this blog should never deter anyone from adopting or saving a retired racehorse, but it should serve as a scathing reminder to those in the harness and thoroughbred businesses that they are marketing death — but thankfully their days are numbered.  As the years go on, fewer and fewer people come out to watch this spectacle.  The new generation of fans upon which the sport will depend seems to not exist and now the casino people are gradually moving away from their marriage with racing. 

Damien LeGallienne reporting for