And They’re OFF! To The Slaughterhouse!

“Casinos like to kill people’s dreams and credit scores, not their horses.” [ D.  Mattia  <– Racehorse trainer and TV writer. ]

You can forget about global warming and climate change and baby seals for a few moments and dedicate your time to reading about the annoyances of 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.

Do 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 standardbred (harness racing).

It’s difficult to decide which is more troublesome since both are in a down-slide, and relying now only on an aging fan base and slot machine revenue to keep them afloat.

After careful examination of the facts, however, one can conclude that harness racing is closer to the edge of the cliff because its inner workings are more often fraught with scandal,  illicit use of performance enhancing drugs, and inept supervision by whomever  is supposed to supervise or govern it.

Thoroughbred racing has troubles too, but they seem to be quite adroit at putting them out to the curb.

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 the roving eye of people in animal rights or fans who have lost the rent money and are looking now for some slime to throw around.

While the thoroughbred industry is great at hiding their filthy linens,  harness racing opts in the other direction; preferring to run their disgraces up a flagpole.    Sounds like a pretty dumb thing to do, but that’s the course they have taken — and it ain’t workin’.

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 and demented pride in announcing their scandals.

For some odd reason the powers — or the powerless — behind harness racing believe that a fan of that game will be more inclined to bet on their product if he or she is made aware of any and all malfeasance therein.

Why?  Why would they do something so counterproductive?   It’s like a deli clerk telling you how the balogna in your sandwich came to be .

Of course harness racing’s openness about the bad apples in their midst is done under the guise of being transparent and honest, but realistically it’s done because the governing body behind this industry, The United States Trotting Association, or USTA, is run by people who are not skilled at all when it comes to marketing and branding.  It seems that the word “mystique”  is outside the realm of their vocabulary.

The United States Harness Racing Association’s website makes  money selling access to a detailed database wherein all fines and suspensions and violations are made public, but nobody seems to be using this information to pick winners.   For the most part, it’s people within the industry itself who use that information to gossip on message boards.

The average person in the USA and abroad is not familiar with harness racing,  but sufficed to say that the trotting and pacing horses who participate in this sport were, and to some extent, still 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 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  probably 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.   Public tastes are changing with regards to entertainment brought forth by animals in captivity.

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 (EPO) 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.

It’s safe to assume that many more trainers have never been caught in the act and have somehow managed to evade detection in post race urine and blood analysis.   Then there are other trainers with huge stables and a large presence in the industry who probably go unpunished because it would be too much of a blow to the industry.

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 for them.

These days, racetracks who put on standardbred (harness) racing, call themselves “racinos” because they have cooked up a business model with casino magnates wherein slot machine are installed at the racetracks to attract customers.

This  alliance — which probably annoys the hell out of the casino execs — has kept both forms of horse racing afloat in the USA and Canada, but it’s mostly harness racing that benefits from Aunt Mary’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 to see that harness racing really needs Aunt Mary’s quarters and dimes.

Without the slot machines, harness racing would be just about finished.

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 accidents and scandals waiting to happen?

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.”  D.  Mattia  <– Racehorse trainer and TV writer. 

Yonkers Raceway, a harness racing track just north of Manhattan, was once a gleaming hot-spot of action on a hill, but more recently, it had degraded to a dump where cheap horses raced for cheap money.  Nowadays,  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.

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  home to a  place called Atlantic City, and there’s 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?   To them, anything that connects them to racing is a burden — it’s a welfare check.

New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, is not very racetrack friendly.

Governor Christie was moments away from wiping harness racing off the map in the Garden State due to the fact that it had become a money pit, but in the final moments, Jeff Gural, a NYC financier and harness racing lover, made an eleventh-hour deal to lease the track.

“Jeff Gural is a very passionate man who loves the harness racing game.  He has mercifully put harness racing at the Meadowlands and parts of New York State on a kind of comfortable life support until the public or politicians eventually decide to pull the plug.   His heart is in the right place but it’s probably in the wrong business.”[ David D. Mattia – Harness racing trainer and journalist.]

Now the Meadowlands, which was once the greatest harness racing track in the world is almost a  grade B track but it’s holding its own.

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.


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 must be aware.

They might 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?  90% of 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 or remember the average horse who earned the money which paid for the BMW they drive or the garish MacMansion in which they live, or the flashy boat they take out on booze-soaked weekends, or the tuition check that sends their 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  sanctimonious.

Of course there are those amongst you who will say that these comments are punishing a good deed or that no good deed goes unpunished, but that’s not the case.

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 their horses eventually die unwell, and that’s all you need to know.

Did you ever hear the expression:  “Money is no object?”

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?

In harness racing, where high class horses still race for really good money,  it’s not unusual to find a horse in a kill pen who has earnings of a half million dollars or more.   Some poor horse worked its whole life to make somebody a lot of money, but now it’s about to get a bolt shot into its 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 when he’s no longer pulling in the dough.

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 453 horses will live out its life in the company of the people it made rich.  Kids in Third World countries treat chickens better than this.

So, if these sanctimonious racehorse rescuers want to rescue racehorses, they should stop making more racehorses to carry on the tradition of 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 the only way to stop racehorses from being slaughtered is to stop making racehorses.   That’s not about to happen, so what’s the plan?  

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

17 thoughts on “And They’re OFF! To The Slaughterhouse!

  1. you really had to but a horse slaughter picture? 🙁 waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! it hurts my horsey heart!

  2. Sorry, Angeline, but this had to be shown because the harness racehorse industry has conned themselves and the public into thinking that they work tirelessly into the night to find homes for retired horses. Truth is that about 90% of unraceable horses end up in some kind of killer situation and the people who profited from these horses make themselves feel better by running racehorse rescue charities which in many cases find only a few homes for a few horses. Thank you for reading and I am genuinely sorry that the picture upset you, but you had the brains to write to us and express your distaste — most people just turn right over to the gossip page.

  3. I don’t run around celebrating pigs and cattle and chickens with great pomp and ceremony — and I do not play a pretend game where I save them from slaughter after I’ve made a profit off of them. Learn to read — it makes life so much more wonderful.

  4. While its true that there are those who do expose a horrendous light on the world of horse racing, there are also the crusaders who extend an alternative career when the horse has left its racing career. Having been involved in the world of racing for over 30 years, I have had the great pleasure of transforming the racehorse(both harness and thoroughbred) into wonderful riding horses. There are several thousand organizations who do just that and are quite successful at what they do.
    Perhaps you will one day write an article on these unsung heros who devote their time, energy and finances to this very cause. There is always two sides to a story!

  5. I agree that there are plenty of wonderful people who work tirelessly to find homes for horses and I mention that in my piece, but I find it to be very disingenuous when someone who has lived a life of leisure and wealth wrought from the sweat of horses, saves a few and then feels like they did a good thing. For example: Let’s say your father was a great trainer and over the course of 50 years 10,000 yearlings passed through his hands — then you would have had, of course, a great life — but what heppened to 99% of those horses over the past 50 years? They most likely went to the killers at a rate of about 80%. Nobody keeps track of every horse they’ve owned or trained or driven from birth to the horse’s death from natural causes — and until one can say one did that, there is no reason to think that finding homes for a few horses absolves one’s entire life. I also did write the following:
    >>>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<<<< If you would like to write a piece about your organization, I will gladly post the story and offer my own praiseworthy comments. I will also put up pictures as well -- whatever I can do to help. Damien

  6. I truly feel sorry for you. Yes in the business of harness racing, but also in all areas of the horse business, there are more horses bred than needed. What happens to the rest? Your picture shows the worst side of it. I have raced standardbreds. I liked to think that when we had them, it was a good place to be. We did not believe in drugging them up. We gave them time off for a rest when needed. If the people in charge would throw out the bad trainers, and owners would not turn to them to try and “get ahead” of the rest of the pack, drugs would not be a problem. Have you looked into what the 5-gaited show horses go thru to gain the rack gait they are known for? It might give you something else to vent on. I am sorry you have had a bad experience with harness racing. When I was in it, the majority of people I met cared about their horses, how they were treated, and most breeders actually raced their own horses. Unlike thoroughbred horses, in harness racing most owners have an active roll with their horses. Owners can jog, and even learn to train and drive their own horses. How many thoroughbred owners can do that? As they say, there is always two sides to a story. Maybe you should take a look at the other side also.

  7. Dawn, comparing what happens to horses in another horse-related industry, does not change my opinion of what goes on in the harness racing industry. Of course you took good care of your racehorses -that’s what you’re supposed to do, but the problem is that there are bad people in your industry and your governing body (USTA) eventually glorifies them or uses its authority for petty reasons so as to make it look like they are doing something.

    Many of your leading trainers are racing under some kind of appeal. The drugging problem of standardbreds is so bad that some tracks have taken to using detention barns where horses go 24 hours before their race to assure that they aren’t drugged even more. The detention barn at The Meadowlands — the leading harness ractrack in the USA — looks like the gates to a hard labor camp; with all the guards and sign-in and sign-out points.

    Also, it does not matter to me that a person in harness racing can be hands-on. That’s all the more reason why they should look to see where their horses go when they are sold or claimed.

    The article was researched in NJ, maybe you folks out in Illinois are nicer, but there is no “other side” to the story. It is what it is. When you buy a dog, you keep it until it dies and you mourn its death. When somebody buys a racehorse, 9.7 out of 10 times they’re probably out at a restaurant throwing back a beer while that horse — a few years or months or maybe even days later — is being quartered in a slaughterhouse.

    These are facts. So, to all those wealthy and not-so-wealthy people who grew up with food in their mouths that was paid for by the sweat of horses — for those people who went to trade school or college or opened a business on the dollars earned by sweaty, tired animals, I say — “Don’t hand me your line of BS that you are saving horses with your rescue organizations, because your entire life, up until this very moment, has been paid for by a lot of horses who went to the slaughterhouse.”

    Dawn, I think you should read the article again — and pay more attention to the last three paragraphs.

  8. A couple corrections may be in order: A typical trainer in the business for 50 years might train 500-1000 horses, not 10,000. Also, standardbred breedings are down significantly(more than 30%) over the last few short years.(not up)

  9. Must be a pretty poor trainer you’re talking about, Jared. Looking up stats for harness trainers in the USA, most of the top stables rotate 40 to 80 racehorses per year not including the bigger stables who break and train over 100 yearlings per year. The 60 horse stable will actually move about 30 horses through the barn throughout the year via claims, purchases and sales — then these horses go to someone else so they get counted again in another trainers stable — and so on, and so on and so on.

    BUT — what WTF difference does it make if it’s 10 or 10,000? There are thousands of harness horses bred in the USA each year and regardless of who gets them, they almost all — ALMOST ALL — end up hanging from the ceiling in chains. The lucky ones are the ones who die of colic. The other ones get bred until they can’t get in foal anymore so they get pushed onto killer trailer. Do you know where every horse you ever trained went? Did you ever put a horse in a claiming race and have it claimed? Where did it wind up? because you think harness racing is so cool, doesn’t mean that it’s not a nasty industry. Just face the facts.

  10. Just pointing out that your numbers are wildly inflated. It kind of blows your credibility, if you care. Even a huge operation would not sustain a training rate of 200 horses every year for 50 years(to get your 10,000).
    The typical trainer might train a small fraction of that.

    Also, about 10,000 standardbred foals were born last year. It appears that trend is headed down in a dramatic way.

    Yes, there are too many horses,dogs,cats, etc being killed. Will your next subject be about puppy mills?

  11. Jared, you bounced to my site from ChicagoBarnToWire — that’s info that is available to me as a webmaster. With that knowledge in mind, I assume you are either a fan of harness racing or you earn your living as a driver and/or trainer — good for you. I can’t, however, figure out if you want to help me or discredit me.

    So, to ease your conscience about my alleged problem with numbers, let’s say that only one harness horse is born. It works hard and earns $180,000 after 7 years of racing against nobody. Now that horse is 9-years-old and has a bowed tendon and an old suspensory injury. Where does it go? The odds, as they stand now, are 90% that he/she will trickle down to a slaughterhouse after a brief stint with an Amishman. There is a 5% chance that it will be a broodmare, 007% that it will stand as a stallion, and a 4% chance that it will be adopted or kept with a family. Would you bet on those odds?

  12. I am a fan, not a trainer. I have as many concerns about the industry as you do. The difference is I want to see the sport continue. I think the race industry needs to be controlled by a central authority that can throw out the cheaters. Unfortunately, the chemists will always be around, just like olympic athletes looking for an edge.
    I don’t have all the answers, but I know there is a place for a smaller racing industry with less horses, less races, and a system in place to place former standardbred racehorses into service as riding horses, etc. It could be funded in a number of ways thru purse money, etc.
    As far as a philosophical question: Is it better to breed, race and eventually slaughter horses, or not breed them at all? The breed would disappear and become a footnote of history. Is that what we want to see? What does that accomplish?

  13. Many people will not like this but it is only common sense. I come from a family of horse men now i am no lover of animals but saying that i dont hate them. Why worry about how horses get treated or killed or any animal for that matter. When there are human beings starving being mistreated all over this country. So many people care more about a damn dog or cat then a human. Not one cent should go to the care of a animal before a human being and if you dont agree with that you need help.

  14. Duane, your opinion is fine. My beef, for the millionth time, is with horse people who make money off of horses and then make themselves feel better when they find a home for a few retired racehorses. Let’s say that Joe Smith is a racehorse trainer, and over the course of his great career, he has trained thousands of horses and earned millions. His kids go to the best colleges and have all the toys with bells and whistles. Then, one of the kids grows up, and while still making a living off of horses, decides to find a home for a few that are headed for the slaughterhouse — what does that do? What does that accomplish? This is why I say that these people are hypocrites — everything they have ever owned has been paid for by a horse who, in al probability, ended up on a meat rack. I know of no horsemen who has kept track of the life of every horse he has ever trained. 99% of the time, when a horse leaves a barn, that horse is gone and what happens a few years or months down the road is anybody’s guess.

    Thank you for your input. We are somewhat in agreement, although I believe that no animal should starve or be denied humane treatment while in the care of human beings.

  15. as time goes by and the more i see the more i agree with you. i just came back from overseas and i went to a country were the race horses are not sent to kill pens, they are just simply shot when the are worth nothing. healty horses just shot. just shoot em and save money. It makes me ill, sick to my stomach and angry.
    New Holland PA makes me angry and sick. I am not impressed by the Amish at all. I think one solution is to limit the amount of horses one owner can have. it breaks my heart, keeps me up at night and i have been angry with my boyfriend since the trip and what i learned. he is in fact a driver trainer himself. He is one of the good ones, I think but the whole industry is starting to bother me. I dont know what to do. Stay and be angry or Go.

  16. The way to voice your anger, Kim, is to write to the United States Trotting Association and voice your displeasure. I saw on a news program where a barn collapsed somewhere in New Jersey and several standrabreds were killed but the hoopla surrounded the fact that Moni Maker, one of the greatest trotting mares of all time, was saved from the collapse despite having been trapped for quite some time. Here is an example of how the trotting industry will make a grand gesture and treat this horse’s salvation as though it were on par with the liberation of Europe from the Nazis. The truth is that the horses in question are only alive because they are being bred and the horse who will be celebrated as a survivor made millions on the track and will continue to make a lot of money pushing out foals. Also, the Amish are simply doing what they do because they have been horse traders for centuries. They have no mercy on the animals but in a sense the people in the harness industry don’t either. The people in the harness industry will tell me that I am ignorant and that they take great care of the horses — but by taking care of the horses they just prolong the inevitable. Like I said, these people live their lives well because the horses evntually die unwell. It’s as if you had to watch the lamb being slaughtered each time you bite into a lamb chop. Would you do it? Watch how the industry will try to brainwash you with stories of heroism in the barn collapse. they will even play up some kind of angle about a horse who stood guard over the injured horses — it’s all baloney. The farm was Lindy Farms. Do you think that an Amish truck has never pulled into that farm? Think again.

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