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The Saratoga Race Course 2012 Death Toll

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The Saratoga Race Course 2012 Death Toll

By Patrick Battuello, In Behalf of Animals
September 2012

Death Toll: the number of dead as a result of a war, natural disaster or other incident
war:

Last month’s attack on an American helicopter in Afghanistan left a death toll of 30.

Natural disaster: The American death toll from Hurricane Isaac currently stands at 7.

Other incident: The death toll from July’s Colorado theater shooting was 12.

And in New York, another tragic tally has been booked, one that involves a different species and doesn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories, but a death toll nonetheless. Proudly billing itself as the oldest (1863) sporting venue in the country and, as the NYRA website reminds, “a great place to bring the kids,” Saratoga Race Course saw 14 Thoroughbreds perish while pursuing purses during the recently completed meet. And I cannot help but wonder, did the free admission for 12-and-under include a behind-the-scenes peek at the snapped ankles, protruding sesamoids, and pentobarbital injections?

On July 21, 1861, scores of excitable Washingtonians packed their carriages with picnic baskets, field glasses, and champagne and made the short trip to the Virginia countryside to catch the most talked about debut in America: the Civil War. They had come for the entertainment. Unfortunately, the show was cut short, but not before 847 young Americans lay dead across the fields. Shallow and ignorant? Sure. But complicit in the carnage? No (at least not in a narrow sense), for this battle was going to take place with or without an audience. Uncomfortably, the same cannot be said for racing fans: Horseracing the business is wholly sustained by admissions and handles; no revenue, no racing; no racing, no shattered bones; no shattered bones, no adolescent deaths.

But in a larger sense, this summer’s Saratoga tragedy only begins with the 14. In addition to some of their brethren sure to fall at the next circuit stop, there will be others, athletes recently cheered on warm August afternoons just passed, who will be among next year’s 23,000 Thoroughbreds to be shackled, hoisted, slashed, and bled for a European meat counter. Something to ponder while counting the months till Opening Day 2013.

horse racing Eight Belles
Eight Belles was put down after crossing the finish line of the 2008 Kentucky Derby. She had broken both front ankles.
Image from
Tuesday's Horse