Sunday, June 22, 2008

They Kill Horses, Don't They? ( But Who's Counting?)

The national disgrace that is modern thoroughbred racing continues without much further media disruption, now that the ... uh, unpleasantries that marked the Kentucky Derby are forgotten.

Yesterday, two more horses were killed after injuries in separate races at Churchill Downs, site of the Derby. The sportswriters, waiting for the next tray of shrimp to be brought to the press box buffet, like to say that such horses are "euthanized," as if a kindness had been bestowed upon them.

The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville doesn't give much play to these things, but at least it does cover them when they occur literally on the home turf.

The term the sportswriters like to use for "horses killed for sport" is "fatal breakdowns."

So far this year during the 41 days of the spring meet, six horses have been killed at Churchill Downs, which is by no means the only race track where these atrocities occur regularly. Last year, during 73 days of racing, 17 horses were killed at Churchill Downs, and in 2006 (during 78 racing days), 18 horses suffered these "fatal breakdowns," as the Courier-Journal says.

That's just one race track. And that also tells you almost nothing about what goes on at the track when the crowds are not watching in thoroughbred racing, the so-called sport of champions.

The Associated Press, in a recent survey, found that U.S. thoroughbred tracks averaged more than three horse deaths a day last year and reported 5,000 deaths since 2003 -- and that's based on incomplete numbers, since some tracks didn't cooperate. The excellent AP story reporting the survey results last week was widely ignored by the media.

Nothing wrong with racing a soundly bred, full-grown horse under humane circumstances, as I have said. None of those modifiers apply to modern thoroughbred racing.

Horses love to run like hell, to a degree. If you ask me a quarter-mile is a good distance to gallop a horse. But then I'm a fan of quarter-horses, called that because after a quarter-mile or so of rip-ass galloping, they're likely to give you a look that essentially says, "If you want to keep running flat-out like this, Bucko, get the hell off my back and run along yourself, then."

On the other hand, I was once on an endurance-trained Arabian mare in Houston that willingly galloped in a small pack for three miles -- and when I say "willingly," I inferred that from the horse's disinclination to drop down to a nice sensible trot after two miles, despite my desperate pleading.


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