UPCOMING SERIES: RESCUE, AFTERCARE, AND HORSE SLAUGHTER

Stop the commercial slaughter of all North American Thoroughbred horses, that’s the “stretch” goal.  Impossible?  Maybe, probably, but that’s the target.  In the words of legendary General Electric, Inc. Chairman and CEO Jack Welch, “If you know how to get there, it’s not a stretch target.”

Horse Racing Business will soon begin an in-depth three-part series on horse rescue, aftercare, and commercial slaughter.  The publication dates are noon eastern time on September 1, 8, and 15, 2016.  A caveat:  The articles are lengthy, data-driven, and thorough, as short journalistic-type anecdotal fluff pieces won’t do justice to the topic.  Following publication of the three-part series, three more notes on important and debatable aftercare subjects will appear on September 22, 29, and October 6.

The analyses are derived from my recent original research with aftercare facilities and from reliable sources of secondary data like the United States Department of Agriculture.  To my knowledge, these are the most research-based and unvarnished articles ever published on aftercare and horse slaughter in the North American Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry.  I am not beholden to horse-racing interests and therefore can provide uncensored findings and recommendations without spin or regard for whose feelings might be hurt.

The intent is to be as objective and balanced as possible and to rely on facts and data rather than opinion.  The final article contains specific and no doubt controversial recommendations on how the Thoroughbred industry can institute a stable funding mechanism to take care of many more retired and cast-off horses.

In researching aftercare and horse slaughter, I found that many laudable people in horse racing and breeding care deeply about and provide for their retired horses.  However, to many racing insiders, the nagging problems of horse slaughter and insufficient funds for aftercare are like kyrptonite to Superman–radioactive and to be avoided.  One well-known horse owner was “too busy” to discuss the subjects with me.  A prominent farm owner I talked with asked not to have his name mentioned.  In one instance, a racehorse owner and aftercare advocate lobbied to suppress my calculations pertaining to the number of U. S. Thoroughbreds slaughtered annually.

In stark contrast, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, The Jockey Club, and individuals in the horse racing cohort bent over backwards to provide information and insights.  Similarly, with one exception, the unsung heroes operating aftercare facilities were forthcoming with information and perspectives.

In sum, there is an undercurrent of trepidation in the horse racing industry about the unsavory business of horse slaughter.  This cognitive dissonance (love racing, hate slaughter), of course, can provoke additional constructive action.

In collecting information, I sensed that the industry as a whole believes it is making significant progress on providing for aftercare.  It is, but the bulk of the work remains to be done.  At least as many and probably more U. S. Thoroughbreds will likely die in Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses in 2016 alone than all the horses the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance affiliates have been able to save or euthanize since TAA’s founding in 2012.

Horse slaughter in particular is an emotional topic that some and perhaps many in the Thoroughbred industry are in denial about or want to just go away.  Yet slaughter has both moral and financial implications for racing that cannot or should not be ignored.

Racing is badly in need of a reasoned, vigorous, frank, and public discussion or debate on retired and unwanted horses.  Its traditional modus operandi for funding aftercare is woefully lacking and needs to be disrupted and supplemented.  Along with medication abuses and racing/training fatalities, horse slaughter is racing’s Achilles’ heel in the public eye.

An influential person in horse racing, who could make a difference, cynically or realistically offered that the racing industry is too backward, too splintered, and too thrifty to come together on a well-funded solution to horse slaughter.  I strongly disagree.

I welcome anyone to critique the content in my articles.  Send me an email.  Tell me where I am correct or in error.  The way to solve monumental problems is to bring to bear diverse viewpoints, as no one is always right or has all the answers.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

ANALYSIS OF HORSE FATALITIES AT DEL MAR

A news report titled “Exercise Rider Injured, Thoroughbred Euthanized After Breaking Down at Del Mar” appeared in the August 21, 2016 Los Angeles Times.  The narrative read in part:  “The 3-year-old filly Alicanto …became the 16th horse during this summer’s meeting to suffer a fatal injury during training or racing at Del Mar…”

The last year that Del Mar had a synthetic racing surface was 2014.  According to statistics from The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, the number of fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2014 on Del Mar’s synthetic surface was 1.75.  The next year Del Mar took out its synthetic surface and replaced it with dirt; the number of fatalities per 1,000 starts rose to 2.44 on dirt (compared to a 1.78 average on dirt for all North American racetracks in the Equine Injury Database).

The Equine Injury Database reveals that Del Mar’s turf course is terribly inconsistent in terms of safety from year to year.  Following are the number of turf fatalities per 1,000 starts from 2009 through 2015 (the numbers in parentheses are the number of turf fatalities per 1,000 starts for all North American racetracks):

2009 1.43 (1.94)

2010 1.40 (1.60)

2011 5.30 (1.54)

2012 2.66 (1.74)

2013 1.26 (1.38)

2014 3.69 (1.75)

2015 1.83 (1.22)

In 2009, 2010, and 2013, the Del Mar turf course was safer than the average turf course at other racetracks in the Equine Injury Database.  However, in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015 the Del Mar turf course was more hazardous than the average turf course.  In 2011, 2012, and 2014, the Del Mar turf course was very unsafe.

One inference is clear from statistics in The Equine Injury Database:  synthetic surfaces manifestly produce the least fatalities per 1,000 starts of any surface and therefore Del Mar management increased the risk of racehorses dying when it opted to replace its synthetic surface with dirt, as shown by the increase in the number of fatalities from 1.75 in 2014 on synthetic to 2.44 in 2015 on dirt.  Moreover, there is strong evidence that Del Mar has been unable to maintain a consistent turf surface.  Finally, data from 2015 indicate that Del Mar’s dirt surface is less safe than the average for all North American racetracks, although more evidence from additional years is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The takeaway here is that the surface problems at Del Mar are fixable; if the vast majority of other racetracks can produce lower fatalities per 1,000 starts on turf and dirt, so can a premier track like Del Mar.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

GREETINGS FROM SARATOGA

Saratoga Springs, NY. Thousands of people look forward all year to coming here for the truly unique racing experience and to soak in the bustling ambiance of this small city in upstate New York. When you stroll around the racetrack and downtown, you are following in the footsteps of countless visitors going all the way back to the U. S. Civil War when the larger-than-life John Morrisey founded the venerable Saratoga Race Course in 1863, about a month after the three-day carnage between North and South at Gettysburg.

If one can’t find a restaurant in Saratoga Springs that meets his or her tastes, the tastes are very rare. Hattie’s Chicken Shack is indeed a ramshackle place that serves up fried chicken at nearly $19 a plate, yet the line to get in usually forms before the place opens. At the other end of the spectrum are some upscale spots as well as a number of good family-style restaurants. You know you have had a relaxing and fulfilling day away from the routines of life when your major decision is where to eat after the races.

Taking an evening walk down Broadway is experience that is essentially the same every year but welcome. Street musicians entertain in front of the shops and restaurants for whatever money people see fit to donate to them. Up North Broadway are the eye-pleasing stately 19th century houses and mansions that end near the entrance to Skidmore College. One fairly new mansion is unwelcoming–fenced in with a guard booth–but the old houses have no such barriers.

Lawn jockeys are commonplace in front of North Broadway homes, as well as in front of homes near the racetrack. The jockeys are painted in some cases in colors very familiar to dedicated racing fans.  The classic Phipps Stable red and black colors still adorn one of the jockeys, but, unfortunately, Ogden “Dinny” Phipps, one of the last members of the first families of horse racing from its glory days, has passed into Saratoga history.

I see many of the same people at the racetrack every year, but normally do not know their names. Age is catching up with many of us but I am sure most of us hope to be able to come back to Saratoga again next year and the year after that. There are many wonderful racetrack experiences, but none of them are Saratoga.

Copyright ©2016 Horse Racing Business