Monday, May 12, 2008

Racing Needs to Heal Itself - Eight Belles Tragedy and Horse Slaughter are Travesties to the Horse Racing Industry

I was fascinated by horses from the time I was born. I fell in love with racing at an early age. I remember watching Riva Ridge and Canonero II win in the early seventies. I will never forget watching Secretariat win the Belmont in 1973. In 1975, when Ruffian died due to injuries in a match race with Foolish Pleasure, my mother called me into the house and sat me down on the couch and quietly explained to me what had happened. I was twelve years old. Ruffian was the first horse, and certainly not the last, to bring me to tears.

As painful as the memories of Ruffian are, this year’s Kentucky Derby and the death of Eight Belles is so profoundly upsetting that I find myself telling people I doubt I’ll watch horse racing ever again.

The Kentucky Derby is special. It is the crème de la crème. It is what everyone strives for in horse racing. It is a beautiful spectacle in a fantastic setting and it should never end in tragedy.

I remember back in 1993 when a horse was lost in the Preakness and the Belmont. Union City broke down and was euthanized at the Preakness; Prairie Bayou suffered the same fate three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes.

In 1990 Go For Wand broke down in the Breeders Cup and was euthanized on the track, much to the horror of the on-looking fans. Barbaro suffered a mortal injury in the 2006 Preakness. Just last fall in the Breeders Cup Classic, the great Champion George Washington suffered a fatal injury and died on the muddy track. That scene was replayed Saturday evening (May 3rd, 2008) as we watched the celebration of Big Brown’s win. He won impressively, and Eight Belles finished in grand fashion just a few lengths behind him to take second. A few seconds later her body failed her and she fell mortally injured to the track. She was a mere three years old.

In both the case of George Washington and Eight Belles, the death of a racehorse on the track was dealt with quickly. The televising media failed to give both fallen heroes the attention they deserved on the day they died. I guess dead race horses on the track don’t do a whole lot for viewer ship.

Despite their sad and untimely deaths, Barbaro, Eight Belles and George Washington were never in the danger that many race horses are in – the danger of ending up at a slaughterhouse to become “what’s for dinner” in elite European/Asian restaurants and butcher shops.

In my previous blog I talked about two thoroughbred race horses that I interacted with a few weeks ago at New Holland horse auction. Both horses were raced at Penn National Racetrack. Both had their front ankles totally blown out. A nearby show rider softly told me that the kindest thing that could have been done was to have euthanized both of these horses at the track. I knew both horses would sell to a kill buyer, and yet I wanted to give them both a few moments of affection. It seemed that they were owed that at the very least.

The horses had auction tags of #396 and #394. Their tattoos were taken and searched to determine who these horses were.

#396 was Rockpile. He was in training at Penn National. He worked out as recently as April 12th.

#394 was Impeach Willie. His most recent race was in September of 2007.

The breeders at the farm where Rockpile was bred were contacted about him being in at the auction, destined for slaughter for overseas human consumption. The response was that they try to do what they can to retire their horses, but were not able to assist in Rockpile’s case.

Both horses shipped out of New Holland Monday evening and undoubtedly died on Tuesday at the Richelieu plant in Canada.

Rockpile’s trainer is well known for sending horses to slaughter. It’s a common enough practice on many racetracks. When you’ve run every last ounce out of the horse, sell what’s left of him for a few bucks to the meat man. Send the horse on a journey to Hell with hours of inhumane transportation, a cruel death and never mention to the consumers of the horse meat that it’s loaded with carcinogens from the drugs that most horses are given as painkillers and vaccinations.

It’s time for the racing industry to step up to the plate and provide greater safety for all race horses. Research on the synthetic tracks indicates a greater safety factor for the equine athletes. A retirement system needs to be put in place nationally to protect equine athletes no longer suited to run that either places them into a transition program from track to rehoming or humanely euthanizes them. And perhaps we need to look at whether it is a good idea to be racing horses barely three years old. An incredibly fit three year old filly should not cross the finish line just to have her body fail a few yards further down the track.

I want to watch horse racing…I want to be excited about the Triple Crown races! I want to go to the race track and watch impressive horses run races and return sound. I want to know the equine athletes have a retirement program and that steps to improve safety for them is an ongoing process. It is time for the horse racing industry to heal itself.

Rest in peace, Eight Belles. You will be mourned for long to come. So much potential, beauty and grace lost in a mere moment.

Rest in peace, Rockpile and Impeach Willie. Perhaps only I mourn your deaths, but I suspect not. Someone groomed and cared for both of you. Your kind personalities told me that you had affection somewhere in your short life. All race horses are not created equal, but all horses are special and deserve a better fate than death in a slaughter house.

Eight Belles is going to be cremated and returned to her human connections for a respectful and sad burial.

Rockpile and Impeach Willie are now slabs of meat in a Belgium or French butcher’s shop. It’s a crying shame in all three cases.

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Stolen Horse International


The face of death

The face of death
#396, A kind, gentle Thoroughbred

All that is left

All that is left
I will never forget him...I promise. I am so sorry, #396...I don't even have a name for you...

Why would you take my life? Am I a food source animal?

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