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The Triple Crown of Cruelty

The Triple Crown of Cruelty

Another Kentucky Derby week has ended in tragedy. Two young horses, Raspberry Kiss and Dr. Rap, were involved in a collision; Raspberry Kiss broke her hip and had to be euthanized. Soon after, Stormalogy, the projected American Turf winner, fractured his leg and was euthanized. On race day, Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, was found with an injured ankle and was scratched from the race. Projected winner Friesan Fire had part of his hoof ripped off right after the race began; yet was raced for the entire course anyway, bleeding all the way. (Not surprisingly, Friesan Fire was ridden by Gabriel Saez, the same jockey who unmercilessly whipped Eight Belles until she crossed the finish line and collapsed in last year’s Derby.)

One would think that after all the injuries and deaths that have occurred in the Derby— and in horseracing in general—horse trainers, owners, and jockeys would finally hang up their reigns and admit that the so-called sport is unsporting. Instead, they’re heading to the next leg of the Triple Crown: The Preakness, which takes place this weekend in Maryland. After that, they’ll travel to New York for the Belmont Stakes.

Growing up in Baltimore, about 20 minutes from Pimlico Race Track, where the Preakness is run, I was surrounded by race-day celebrations and festivities every year. Back then, it seemed like harmless fun. But horse racing is anything but harmless. Most horses used by the racing industry are raced too young, too often, and on hard surfaces that practically guarantee breakdowns.

Veterinarians routinely give injured and ailing horses drugs like Lasix (which controls bleeding in the lungs), phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory), and cortiscosteroids (for pain and inflammation) in order to keep them racing for as long as possible. While legal, these drugs can also mask pain or make a horse run faster. Eventually, the horses succumb to the pain, often collapsing right on the racetrack. While the horse racing industry has made some basic reforms since Eight Belles died— and steroids have been banned in the Triple Crown states—the use of drugs to keep ill and injured horses on the track is still legal.

An executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has also said that there “could be thousands” of illegal drugs used in the horse racing industry. Rick Dutrow Jr., the trainer of Big Brown, the horse who won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, has been fined every year since 2000 for a horse doping situation. In 2003, one of his horses tested positive for an illegal analgesic. Although Dutrow has been suspended various times, ranging from 14 to 60 days, he is still allowed to compete, for some reason. I suspect it’s because the horse racing industry doesn’t really care about animal welfare—it cares about attracting crowds and turning huge profits. Drugs, injuries, and death are just “business as usual.”

The owner of a filly who suffered a heart attack and died mid-race at Pimlico said of the horse’s death, “I guess that’s part of the game.” The sentiment was echoed by a general manager of Virginia’s Colonial Downs, where five horses died within eight days in 2007. “We’re upset when it happens,” he said, “but it’s just part of the racing game.”

In a commentary on the industry, a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News remarked, “It is not something they talk about much in their advertising, but horses die in this sport all the time—every day, every single day.”

But unlike Eight Belles and Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby champion, who was euthanized after shattering his leg in the Preakness, these horses seldom make headlines. Their battered bodies are simply hidden from public view; often shipped to slaughter.

PETA recently erected a headstone at Churchill Downs race track (where the Kentucky Derby is held) to represent the 12,000 “racehorses” who are sent to slaughter every year. PETA also placed 263 headstones to represent the known horses who have died on the track since last year’s Kentucky Derby, one headstone for the approximately 832 other horses who have died but whose names are not known, and a special memorial to Eight Belles. (For details, see here.)

One unnecessary death is unacceptable. More than 13,000 a year is absolutely outrageous. I cannot fathom why fans still support the Triple Crown and other horse races. In baseball, the Triple Crown is awarded to a batter who leads the league in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average. Unlike the Triple Crown in horse racing, this feat is achieved without whips or drugs (ostensibly) and the player voluntarily participates in the sport. That is how all sports should be.

If thousands and thousands of baseball or football players died every year, there would be a deafening outcry. We must not remain silent about all the horses who’ve suffered and died during the Triple Crown and other horse races every year. People can help stop horse racing—and horse slaughter—by refusing to patronize horse races, working to ensure that racing regulations are reformed and enforced, lobbying against the construction of new tracks, and educating others about the tragic lives that the horses lead. To learn more, read PETA’s factsheet on horse racing. It’s time for the Triple Crown to take place in baseball only.

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71 comments

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2:21PM PDT on May 21, 2009

Horse racing needs to end! Period! The horses that die on the track are only part of the sad story. What do you think happens to all of the horses that were bred to race, but were not quite fast enough? While we may not all agree on everything PETA stands for, at least their attempt to educate the public was bold and will force some people to stop and think.

9:18AM PDT on May 21, 2009

The following message was sent to my email by Deborah W.:

If, as a member of PETA, you raid a dog show and let our dogs out of their crates, and I happen to be there, you better be ready to fight for your life. You will be outnumbered by those of us who own dogs, and I will have plenty of help. The dog show superintendent will help us sue you, and you ignorant people trying to take our pets from us, will LOSE! You are ignorant just like the people from Fred Phelp's Westboro Church in Topeka. You PETA people and HSUS people must drink the same koolaid. And yes, you have been reported to the FBI, and if you are ever caught speeding or in some other moving violation, the police will take note of my report. You will be photographed and fingerprinted, and the DHS will have your picture and fingerprints on file.

SPECIAL AGENT DEBORAH W.- I'm not certain why you didn't post this insane message but chose to send it to my personal email. It does looke like you are pretty much alone in your twisted opinion of horse torture through racing them to death. By the way, isn't there a special section somewhere on the web where you can defend the despicable practice of exploiteing dogs by prancing them around in front of judges? I guess you better be extra vigilant when you are exploiting your dog at a "show". I'll be the one wearing the Groucho Marx diguise! Oh, and did I tell you I also support the Animal Liberation Front? Guess that moves me to the Most Wanted List...

1:43AM PDT on May 20, 2009

Thank you John S. I have voted on the poll, and submitted my polite comment at the site you suggested. I have also forwarded the site to family, friends & Animal organizations asking them to do the same.

Hopefully a voice in numbers can eventually make for the much needed change in so many animal issues.

Thanks again for your input. It was not in vane.

7:48AM PDT on May 19, 2009

I grew up with horses, a lot of them thoroughbreds who were too slow or broken down to run. It is a terrible business. I am really worried about the "super filly" in the next big race. Do we have to have another "Ruffian" to make people wake up to the horror of racing. We see the best on TV, the "cheap" horses are running everyday of the week on little tracks around the country held together with drugs and greed. If you dont know who Ruffian is- google her.

8:58PM PDT on May 18, 2009

Sadly Racing Victoria has decided to allow jumps racing to continue in Victoria (Australia). I guess the greed of the mighty dollar has proven to be stronger than the welfare of the horses.
Racing resumes today and I have no doubt that there will be more horses killed and injured before the season ends.

Last week the Attorney General and Minister for Racing (same person) was supporting the ban, today he and the Premier of Victoria said the decision to continue was the right one.

Racing Victoria has acknowledged that there is high risk of death/injury to the horses. I can only hope that if another horse is killed or injured that all of the the directors of Racing Victoria, the owner, trainer and jockey are all prosecuted for crulety to animals for their blatant disregard to the welfare of the horses.

Like to send a message to the Attorney General Mr Rob Hulls 'rob.hulls@parliament.vic.gov.au' or to the CEO of Racing Victoria cfcc@racingvictoria.net.au
Please keep your comments polite and not like some of the comments of the supporters of jumps racing. We are better than that. http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25442562-661,00.html

So on with the campaign - good luck to everyone in their endeavor to rid the world of this blight.

1:37PM PDT on May 17, 2009

What is the dirty plan Loretta? To respect animals and leave them alone to live their lives as nature intended? You should realise that is all PETA wants and what is so wrong with that? Look at it like this - because we have brought wolves into our world, consequently, we have exposed them to the most horrific abuse and cruelty imaginaable - Haven't we done them a terrible disservice? They should be left alone -animals are not ours to do as we please with. THey should be with their own kind, obviously. If not having an animals in our homes means that some will not be disgustingly treated, starved, beaten, made to fight and other abuses, wouldn't that be a good thing?

1:50AM PDT on May 17, 2009

Do not be fooled by the hype. Consider this. If PETA has its way there would NEVER EVER be a family dog, cat or gold fish. There would NEVER be a Seeing-Eye dog, or therapy dog, or cancer sniffing dogs, or K-9's, or Rescue dogs (like after 9-11). EVER. NOT EVER. No, pets, EVER..

Is there abuse - you betcha - is the answer to never allow anyone to have a pet NO, not while I live and breathe. I thank my family of dog and cats every day for the love and joy we share together. You should too.

Get a brain, stop being led by the knee jerk reaction to the hate mongering and start understanding the dirty plan behind it.

10:08PM PDT on May 14, 2009

I stand Corrected to any Readers; How I could forget our Beloved Barbaro. I'm relieved to hear Big Brown is off 'Horsing Around'. See, Money can buy happiness... for some.

Personally, it's not a reason for living on this planet Ruled by greed, selfishness & manipulation, but it is nice to know.

6:47PM PDT on May 14, 2009

North American horse racing needs to change, but how can we make it happen, when it generates such vast sums of money? In Europe, horses race at 3. They're saddled at 2, not as yearlings & they mostly run on turf, far less concussive than dirt, with fewer breakdowns. Here, horses often race before age 2, as only the birth year counts, not actual birth date.Horses don't finish growing until age 4, and should do no heavy work until then, but two more years with no income? 'Too expensive' ? Grrr !! The industry needs massive changes to every facet of it's operations. It's almost as hard on the jockeys as it is on the horses. Though I tire of hearing people say horses are forced to run, because you can't force a horse to do anything it doesn't want to. You might force it to move, but not to succeed. Horses run because it's instinct, intensified by selective breeding. They love running, & will run even when hurting. In fact, pain may make them run faster, because they try to escape it by fleeing. The fastest horses are used for breeding, even after they break down, which is quite mad, because you can't get sound animals if you use the ones who break down as brood stock. Sadly, breakdowns are inevitable when you run animals that are essentially babies that are still growing. I never go to races, but racing still generates billions. I wish with all my heart that I knew how to stop human greed, but it remains at the root of many of life's evils & racing is but one of th

3:43PM PDT on May 14, 2009

Ending horse racing would not end horse slaughter. The majority of slaughter horses are draft breeds(especially Premarin mares & foals),quarter horses and paints. QH & Paint breed associations favor horse slaughter. Premarin mares suffer from close confinement,etc for months at a time and have a much worse life than race horses and their babies usually go to feedlots just like cattle. Some racetracks have a zero tolerance for slaughter policy and will ban owners and trainers who sell to slaughter. They are banning steroids and making other changes to make things safer for horses. Some have spent millions trying to make racing safer. Killing horses for insurance is not limited to rotten race horse owners many outside of racing have been guilty also including the father of a US Equestrian team member who went to prison for it. The PETA persons neighbor does not sound like a race horse trainer to me. Horse trainers are not all alike and do not all use the same methods. Stacy Westfall has trained horses bridleless. Many Thoroughbreds are being helped to find homes by www.canterusa.org,Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation,and many other organizations and the Jockey Club that registers them is opposed to horse slaughter. Big Brown retired to stud for a fee of $65,000. Breeding sound horses can do more to end suffering than any other single thing. A fragile horse sometimes breaks his leg running in a paddock with no rider or whip when he wants to run.

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