Through the HBO documentary “Running for Their Lives” I recently became aware of the pipeline of sending horses from the backstretch to the slaughterhouse. We need to establish a core value system with a policy plan whereby we can expose and eliminate these pipeline participants.
Several racetracks have taken the initiative to state that sending racehorses to an auction where a large percentage of them end up at slaughter is unacceptable.
The first week of July, Suffolk Downs’ management told their horsemen that sending horses to slaughter was no longer an alternative and that there would be repercussions, such as loss of stabling, for those making that choice.
The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in conjunction with Philadelphia Park management announced the formation of PTHA’s Turning For Home, a nonprofit horse rescue dedicated to helping local owners and trainers secure safe homes and second careers for their retired racehorses.
Charles Town Races has publicly stated that it has banned the two prominently known kill buyers from its backstretch.
One merely has to visit a public auction and “flip lips” to identify Thoroughbreds via tattoo that are in “the stable to table in seven days” flow. I personally identified 15 Thoroughbreds in the direct kill pens at the Sugarcreek auction in Ohio. Horses had raced as recently as five days before at Thistledown. Horses were also identified as last running at Beulah Park, Mountaineer, and Charles Town. There was even a retired steeplechase horse who last raced in Fair Hill, Md.
Upon a recent visit to the New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania, I discovered a 3-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. He was emaciated, scarred from a halter burning his skin, and three-legged lame with a swollen left knee.
I identified him through his tattoo as Falcon Fury. He had made his last three starts at Delaware Park, where he had been claimed from an owner and trainer I currently work for. I called them, and even though they had not owned or trained him for his last two starts, they were shaken by this discovery. Both told me they would financially support whatever I had to do to save him. The trainer’s assistant contacted the racing secretary, the general manager, and the stewards. She confirmed and informed them the horse had last run at Delaware Park July 2, was signed out of the stable gate July 6 by the trainer, and was at the New Holland auction July 21.
Delaware officals have also made it clear they will not tolerate this behavior. They called the last trainer of record into their offices and then sent him to the auction to find the horse. He found us and immediately denied any knowledge of how this horse ended up in this position. However, he admitted he had placed six other horses with the same dealer. He acknowledged he was in a compromised position with the officials at Delaware and they insisted he pay the purchase price and shipping costs. This helped us, but does not provide for a lifetime of care now required for a damaged horse. It was, however, a start.
Delaware’s general manager, John Mooney, assured me the track intends to handle this situation appropriately and is committed to working with the horsemen to help them make the right choice when it comes to retiring and placing horses.
This is another example of a racetrack stepping up and owning responsibility for this situation. Ultimately, we should be able to fix this industry-wide flaw from within. If every owner and trainer would assume responsibility for their own horses, this problem would not exist.
I would venture to say anyone who has watched the documentary would have to acknowledge the pipeline exists. Anyone who looks in the eye of one of these abandoned and abused horses and is not affected by what he or she sees should not be considered a horseperson.
An owner, a trainer, and an assistant trainer proved to me last week that there are enough good horsemen left to make a difference. If all racetracks would adopt a policy to help horsemen handle “unwanted” horses, they would be supporting the kind of horsemen needed to secure the future of our sport. If all tracks would adopt zero-tolerance for shedrow-to-slaughter practices, they would be moving toward eliminating the participants that do not belong in our industry.
Diana McClure is a licensed trainer who with her husband, Michael Cooney, owns and operates DMC Training Center in Berryville, Va.