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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704

Stop Horse Racing

Horse Racing Fact Sheet

They weigh at least 1,000 pounds, they have legs supported by ankles the size of a human's, and they're forced to run over 30 miles per hour around a dirt track carrying a person on their back.(1)

Racehorses are victims of a multibillion-dollar industry rife with drug abuse, injuries, race fixing, and for many horses, their career ends in a slaughterhouse. A New York Daily News reporter remarked, "The thoroughbred race horse is a genetic mistake. It runs too fast, its frame is too large, and its legs are far too small. As long as mankind demands that it run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will die at racetracks."(2)

The Starting Gate

Racehorses can cost millions of dollars and are often purchased by syndicates, which may be composed of thousands of members.(3,4) There are also trainers, handlers, veterinarians, and jockeys involved, so a horse is rarely able to develop any kind of bond with one person or other horses. They travel from country to country, state to state, racetrack to racetrack, so few horses are able to call one place "home." Most do not end up in the well-publicized races, but instead are trucked, shipped, or flown to the thousands of other races that take place all over the country every year.

Racing to the Grave

Horses begin training or are already racing when their skeletal system is still growing and unprepared to handle the pressures of running on a hard track at high speeds.(5) Improved medical treatment and technological advancements have done little to remedy the plight of the racehorse. One study on injuries at racetracks concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him or her from finishing a race, while another estimates that 800 thoroughbreds die a year in North America because of injuries.(6)

Strained tendons or hairline fractures can be tough for veterinarians to diagnose and the damage may go from minor to irrevocable at the next race or workout. Horses do not handle surgery well, as they tend to be disoriented when coming out of anesthesia and may fight casts or slings, possibly causing further injury. Many are euthanized in order to save the owners further veterinary fees and other expenses on a horse who can't race again. Given the huge investment in a horse, reported one Kentucky paper, "simply sending one to pasture, injured or not, is not an option all owners are willing to consider."(7)

Care for a single racehorse can cost as much as $50,000 per year.(8) Magic Man stepped into an uneven section of a track and broke both front legs during a race at Saratoga Race Course; his owner had bought him for $900,000 dollars, yet the horse hadn't earned any money yet and, unproven on the track, wasn't worth much as a stud, so he was euthanized.(9)

Trainers may take calculated risks by running a horse they know is injured. War Emblem, the racehorse who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2001, suffered from bone chips in one ankle and both knees. In spite of veterinary recommendations for surgery, which would have taken away from training and racing time, trainer Bob Baffert said, "Let the chips fall where they may," and continued to race the horse.(10) War Emblem lost the Belmont Stakes, no longer races, has changed hands twice, and has been diagnosed with "unwillingness to cover mares" at a breeding barn in Japan.(11)

Bone chips, which occur in up to 50 percent of racehorses by some veterinary estimates, are "like taking two pieces of rock, rubbing them together and seeing pieces of sand rubbing off," explains one veterinary orthopedic surgeon.(12) The same trainer continued to race a 3-year-old thoroughbred after knee surgery; the horse had to be euthanized after breaking his shoulder during a workout.(13)

Drugs and Deception

"Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible," commented one racing reporter.(14) Many racehorses are turned into junkies by their trainers and sometimes by veterinarians, who provide drugs to keep horses on the track when they shouldn't be racing.

Which drugs are legal and which are not varies from state to state, with Kentucky holding the reputation as most lenient.(15) According to The Washington Post, every horse at the 2003 Kentucky Derby was given a shot of Lasix (which controls bleeding in the lungs), and most were probably given phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory).(16)

Those drugs, although legal, can also mask pain or make a horse run faster. Labs cannot detect all of the illegal drugs out there, of which there "could be thousands," says the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.(17)

Morphine, which can keep a horse from feeling any pain from an injury, was suspected in the case of Be My Royal, who won a race limping.(18) Baffert has also been suspended for using morphine on a horse.(19) One trainer was suspended for using an Ecstasy-type drug on five horses, and another has been kicked off of racetracks for using clenbuterol and, in one case, for having the leg of a euthanized horse cut off "for research."(20,21)

A New York veterinarian and a trainer faced felony charges when the body of a missing racehorse turned up at a farm and authorities determined her death had been caused by the injection of a "performance-enhancing drug."22

"There are trainers pumping horses full of illegal drugs every day," says a former Churchill Downs public relations director, "With so much money on the line, people will do anything to make their horses run faster."(23)

Even the Winners Lose

Few racehorses are retired to pastures for pampering and visits from caring individuals or are glamorized in movies.

An insurance scandal cost the life of Alydar, who came in second in all three races of the 1978 Triple Crown and fathered many fast horses. After being retired to stud at a Kentucky farm, he was originally believed to have shattered his leg by kicking a stall door and was euthanized when he wasn't able to maintain a splint.(24) Ten years later, an FBI investigation revealed that his leg was broken deliberately with a rope tied to a pickup truck.(25)

The disappearance and suspected murder of candy heir Helen Voorhees Brach was traced to the Chicago horse "mafia," whose leader was known for burning barns and killing horses for insurance money.(26)

Ferdinand, a Derby winner and Horse of the Year in 1987, was retired to Claiborne Farms, then changed hands at least twice before being "disposed of" in Japan; a reporter covering the story concluded, "No one can say for sure when and where Ferdinand met his end, but it would seem clear he met it in a slaughterhouse."(27)

Exceller, a million-dollar racehorse who was inducted into the National Racing Museum's Hall of Fame, was killed at a Swedish slaughterhouse.(28)

The United States has a multimillion-dollar horsemeat export business and slaughters tens of thousands of horses every year.(29) One Colorado State University study found that of 1,348 horses sent to slaughter, 58 were known to be former racehorses.(30)

There are only two equine slaughterhouses left in the U.S., both in Texas, so most horses who come from other states have to endure days of transport in cramped trailers.(31) Usually, there is no access to water or food, and injuries are common: A University of California, Davis, study of

306 horses destined for slaughter found that 60 of them sustained injuries during transport.(32) Some must travel in double-decker trailers designed for cattle or sheep; these vehicles are are not tall enough for horses.

The United States Department of Agriculture has banned the use of these trailers for horse transport as of 2006. (33)

Horses are subject to the same method of slaughter as cattle, but since horses are generally not used to being herded, they tend to thrash about to avoid the pneumatic gun that should render them unconscious before their throat is cut. (34)

What You Can Do

Tracks are trying to revive interest in horseracing by introducing slot machines at dog and horse tracks; in Arizona, though, voters recently rejected a proposition to allow such an expansion of gambling at tracks.(35) To quote comedian Bill Maher, "Horses were not meant to serve as gambling icons."(36)

Help phase out this exploitative "sport": Refuse to patronize existing tracks, work to reform and enforce racing regulations, lobby against the construction of new tracks, and educate your friends and family about the tragic lives of racehorses. If you have the money, acreage, and time, consider adopting a rescued racehorse from an organization that rehabilitates them, such as Redwings Horse Sanctuary in California and the Equine Rescue League.

1)Ted Miller, "Six Recent Horse Deaths at Emerald Downs Spark Concern," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8 May 2001.

2)Bill Finley, "Sadly, No Way to Stop Deaths," New York Daily News, 10 Jun. 1993.

3)Sherry Ross, "Fans Are Buying In," Daily News, 1 Jun. 2003.

4)"The Odds Are You'll Lose: Owning a Racehorse," Financial Times, 1 Feb. 2003.

5)Glenn Robertson Smith, "Why Racehorses Are Cracking Up," The Age (Australia), 15 Nov. 2002.


7)Tim Reynolds, "Technology Can't Prevent Horse Injuries," The Lexington Herald-Leader, 30 Aug. 2001.

8)Andrew Beyer, "A Beyer's Guide for Racehorses," The Washington Post, 3 Jun. 2003.


10)Maryjean Wall, "A Triple Crown. Bone Chips Haven't Hurt War Emblem. Ailment Afflicts Many a Racehorse," The Lexington Herald- Leader, 2 Jun. 2002.

11) "War Emblem Taken Over by Insurance Firms," Associated Press, 5 Jun. 2003.


13)"Baffert-Trained Del Mar Futurity Winner Is Euthanized," Associated Press, 20 Feb. 2003.

14)John Scheinman, "Horses, Drugs Are Racing's Daily Double; No Uniform Policy in Industry," The Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2003.

15)Janet Patton, "HBPA Proposes Uniform Policy on Drugs in Racing; Horsemen's Group Targets Maze of State Rules," The Lexington Herald- Leader, 17 Oct. 2001.



18)Peat Bee, "Cut the Poppycock and Treat Drugs With Horse Sense," The Guardian, 13 Jan. 2003.

19)"Baffert Suspended for 60 Days," CNN Sports Illustrated, 17 Jun. 2001 <>.

20)Alex Straus, "Dark Horses," Maxim, May 2002.

21)Tom Keyser, "Gill Is Still Permitted to Stable, Race Horses at Pimlico, Laurel," The Baltimore Sun, 6 Apr. 2003.

22)"Trainer, Vet Charged in Trotter's Death," Associated Press, 22 Apr. 2001.


24)Skip Hollandsworth, "The Killing of Alydar," Texas Monthly, Jun. 2001.


26)"The Candy Lady," Dateline NBC, narr. Dennis Murphy, NBC, 21 Feb. 1996.

27)Barbara Bayer, "1986 Kentucky Derby Winner Ferdinand Believed to Have Been Slaughtered in Japan," The Blood-Horse Magazine, 26 Jul. 2003.

28)Allen G. Breed, "And What of the Spent Racehorse?" Associated Press, 25 Nov. 1999.

29)Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "Horsemeat Exports-Value," 2001 and "Horsemeat Slaughtered/Prod Animals (Head)," 2002.

30)K. McGee et al., "Characterizations of Horses at Auctions and in Slaughter Plants," Colorado State University Department of Animal Sciences, 2001.

31)Kris Axtman, "Horse-Meat Sales Stir Texas Controversy," Christian Science Monitor, 28 Apr. 2003.

32)C.L. Stull, "Responses of Horses to Trailer Design, Duration, and Floor Area During Commercial Transportation to Slaughter," Journal of Animal Science 77 (1999): 2925-2933.

33)United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, "Take Care of Our Horses. Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter," Jan. 2002: 2.


35)"Gambling Measure Likely to Deepen Racing Woes," Associated Press, 18 Nov. 2002.

36) Bill Maher, interview, Larry King Live, CNN, 28 Aug. 2003.

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