Do the Right Thing - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the August 3, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell The public outcry over the injury and subsequent euthanizing of grade I winner-turned-claimer Monzante at age 9 shows just how complex animal welfare issues are for racehorses.

Monzante, a gelding by Maria’s Mon, won the grade I Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar and placed second in the Charlie Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park in 2008. After two years of unsuccessful performances and a single victory in an allowance race, the horse began a downward slide, his career ending in a $4,000 claimer at Evangeline Downs, where on July 20 he fractured the sesamoids in his right front foot. Trainer/owner Jackie Thacker got Monzante back to his barn following the race, where Thacker and his private vet determined the horse needed to be put down because he was suffering.

The euthanization of Monzante released a high-voltage, social media-fueled furor comparable to the reaction following Eight Belles’ breakdown in the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). With Eight Belles the outrage became focused on anabolic steroid use, even though the filly had not been given steroids. Still, her tragic death led to the relatively quick ban of anabolic steroid use in racing.

For Monzante, the issues are much trickier. Racing fans expressed a gut-level disgust at a grade I winner being passed from owner to owner until he had dropped toward the bottom of the claiming ranks—not quite the bottom but pretty close. The calls for reform have included eliminating claiming races, forcing the retirement of graded stakes winners when their careers start to wane, requiring more effective pre-race exams, and encouraging more industry support for retirement/aftercare facilities.

Let’s take them one at a time.

The elimination of claiming races would completely gut the North American racing industry as we know it and would likely shut it down entirely. Claiming races, which provide the means for an owner to buy a racehorse in training, account for 67.3% of all races in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, according to statistics maintained by The Jockey Club. Around 38% of all purse money is distributed through claiming races, which is more than $452.5 million annually. These statistics do not include maiden claiming races that make up nearly 19% of all races and almost 12% of North American purses.

As to the forced retirement of horses, there are likely teams of lawyers sitting on drafts of cease and desist orders just waiting for someone to try. While it offends some fans’ sensibilities of right and wrong, horses are private property and how they’re cared for is largely at the discretion of their owners. We have animal cruelty laws, but in Monzante’s case, Thacker had just brought the horse back off a long layoff for a “mental break” and said the gelding had come back refreshed. Monzante then passed a pre-race veterinary exam and was determined to be racing sound. Thacker said he only raced Monzante in the claiming race to make him eligible for a starter allowance, where he thought he would be competitive.

It deserves mentioning, however, that Louisiana is inconsistent in how it handles the painkiller phenylbutazone, which Monzante had been given 36 hours before the race (the state allows its administration up to 24 hours out). In 2010 the Association of Racing Commissioners International recommended that all states adopt a minimum allowable Bute level of two micrograms per milliliter, down from the five micrograms/ml that had been the standard. The lower threshold had been supported by regulatory vets who felt the higher Bute levels prevented accurate pre-race exams. Louisiana tried to adopt the lower level in 2012 but got push-back from the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. As it stands today, Louisiana has a two microgram/ml threshold only for graded and listed stakes. In all other races the five micrograms/ml level is allowed. Because safety of the horses is the goal in lowering the Bute level, the type of race should not matter. Safety and integrity should be equally applied. 

This brings us to the issue of aftercare and welfare. Despite the growth of retirement and second-career facilities, it should not come as a surprise that what’s available today can accommodate only a small percentage of the actual need. The industry requires a long-term strategy for managing the Thoroughbred population. We need to create viable options for owners that are supported by a stable source of funding. These options then need to be vigorously promoted and lauded. It should be a badge of honor for owners to provide aftercare for their racehorses—as prestigious as winning a stakes.

Because in the end, horse care comes down to personal responsibility, which can’t be legislated.

Let’s make it easy and rewarding for owners to do the right thing.

15 Comments

Leave a Comment:

kittybay

The racetracks still need to do more. There should be more required works before a horse can run. This horse had 2 recorded works in the months prior to this start, TWO!! After 8 months off. He obviously wasn't fit enough. Thacker said he'd been two-minute licking, well that doesn't get your horse fit!

Horses should have to have at least 2 - 5/8ths works prior to running if they haven't run in the past 45 days. Two decent, i.e. 1:04 or faster, works.

And yes, who the heck said get rid of claiming races! That is the backbone as well as keeping racing fair for all levels of horses in training. I don't want my filly to have to run against the likes of Royal Delta!

30 Jul 2013 1:48 PM
Terry M.

One solution: limit stallion books (the norm used to about 35 mares per year, not 200!) and produce fewer foals. The market is glutted, and there is nowhere for the surplus horses to go. Another solution for the other problem of soundness: require qualifying works before a horse is allowed to run  for the first time or after a lengthy layoff. Standardbreds have to qualify before they can race.

31 Jul 2013 1:29 PM
RajahsMom

I agree with Terry, limit stallion book, the greed has gotten ridiculous. Not every horse can be a Secretariat or Affirmed, nor every filly Zenyatta or Rachel. If you can't afford to take care of them from cradle to grave (natural) then don't breed them. Also, when horses are registered with JC, an aftercare fund should automatically be set in place and a percentage of sell price or stallion fee be given as initiation fee. Just as vaccination records and proof of insurance should follow horse from race to race, so should aftercare record, all can be on same record. Percentage of earnings should automatically be deducted and deposited into horse's account even before owners receive their share of the purse. Just as JC records are kept and follow horse from owner to owner, so should aftercare fund be kept by JC or independent manager not involved in horseracing. Also, for those farms who wish to serve as retirement homes for their homebreds or those bred by them, must be noted in registration papers on file with JC. Ferdinand Clause must be included in all foreign transactions and aftercare regulations apply to said sales. For those owners who do not have farms or places for their horses to retire to once racing days are over, must have in place alternative care facility approved by JC or separate governing body but involved or owners of active racehorses. Facilities must be inspected, licensed and insured; an independent governing body with powers to make decisions on behalf of the welfare of the horses with powers of no-notice visitations/inspections musgt be in place. All racetracks must abide by said standards/guidelines regardless of size or no license will be issue for that track. If found in violations of any of the guidelines, owners, trainers, racetrack will be penalized as to the monetary value it would take to come into compliance, if failure to comply, license will be revoked. No private equine vets will be allowed to medicate any horse scheduled to race within 72 hours. Care of said racehorse will be under the responsibility of the track vet, and that vet shall have no vested interest in any racehorse racing at that venue. With stringent rules, guidelines and severe penalties invoked, this will help keep a lot of the shady owners/trainers out of the game. If they can't afford to properly care for their horses, then they shouldn't be racing. No this will not catch every crook, nor will it discriminate against the mom/pop trainers (if they are doing the right thing by the horses), but it will make those out for the quick dollar at the expense of a cheap horse think twice maybe three times about playing that game. It is time for the racing industry to get some balls and stand up and do the right thing. If this problem is not taken seriously and acted upon in a urgent timeframe, don't be surprised if you find yourselves out of business. Already the overseas racing industry is becoming more and more enticing to the American horseplayer thanks to online gaming. Clean up your act racing industry, or the racing pundits will be reporting about overseas racing, and your racetracks will be casinos or closed. Time for passing the buck and dragging your feet is drawing to a close, playing shell games with the racing public is about to end. How long do you think they will continue to support and visit substandard racetracks with incompetent and unfriendly employees. Clean up your house horseracing industry, it smells like horse manure!

01 Aug 2013 12:42 PM
New Lives Washington

I think that what is needed is an overall change in attitude throughout the entire industry.  A horse should be considered to have a lifetime to live, including a series of careers, rather than being viewed as useless once the racing career is over, or does not materialize at all.

With an eye to the animal's future, the trainer might think twice about trying to get that one last race out of the horse before it breaks down.  The owner might agree, and both could be networking with professionals in other disciplines to move the horse on to the next phase of it's life.

This change in attitude could also lead to the renewal of relationship between the various disciplines, creating the paths for our future racehorses (and would-bes) to follow.

01 Aug 2013 6:15 PM
A Horsey Canuck

I am in total agreement with RajahsMom. Obviously, homework has been done. Unfortunately, I don't think this is going to happen. Do owners like Repole and Cot Campbell make sure that their runners are looked after when their racing careers are done? How about the Ramseys, with all of their claimers? I love watching the races, but personally, I think that the "business" stinks. Too many people not really caring about the ones that "run" for their money.

02 Aug 2013 12:29 PM
mickeybleu

Iam surprised only 5 comments have been posted.  This is an important issue in the industry.  Where do the Janney's, Clays, Phipps, Farrish,Hancocks, and all the rest of the industry titans stand on the issue of slaughter pens.  Madeline Paulson ask for support for her mustang project and they all turned away. What can we do to change these attitudes?  I am here to do anything I can to help.

02 Aug 2013 10:37 PM
mickeybleu

Cradle to grave Terry M, such a simple concept with powerful ramifactions. Brilliant! Let's start a movement.  

04 Aug 2013 7:27 AM
AngelaInAbilene

Mr. Mitchell, while you make excellent points, you're preaching to the choir.  Most owners and trainers try to do right by their horses.  I don't doubt for a minute that Mr. & Mrs. Thacker cared about Monzante and did what they thought was right for him.  

The bottom line is horseracing is a business and as such, it requires business decisions.  These decisions that owners and trainers make are often not made lightly.  After all, the commodity is a living, breathing animal.  They also are not often "liked" by social media and those that use it.  If you think "the business stinks" then by all means, do not get in the horseracing business.

Are there more things the industry can do in after-care for OT horses?  Absolutely.  There is always room for more.  Instead of fans always screaming that enough isn't being done, perhaps they should support was IS being done.  Be pro-active instead of re-active.

The best thing fans of running horses can do is either take these horses in or support REPUTABLE after-care facilities.    

04 Aug 2013 11:07 AM
Lise from Maine

Hi!

I think being re-active and pro-active are what is needed in this industry.

It is time that the owners and trainers realize that the fans for the most part love these horses and want the best for them.

It is a "turn off" for the fans when they read or hear about a horse being neglected, abandoned, raced beyond his or her capacity as it ages, euthanized for no good reason, etc.

We, the fans, love these horses, and these horses must come first.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

05 Aug 2013 2:33 PM
fan of ottb's

Anyone seen the First Saturday in May?  40,000 tbs born here every year.  Time to cut back on breeding and give some sort of incentive/award to trainers/breeders/owners who contribute to aftercare community.  Also, my granddad got all his stock from claiming races, turned them into cow-horses.  Maybe promote horse sales direct from track?

06 Aug 2013 3:41 PM
Red Ryder

I am glad there was an outcry; there should have been! This horse was salvageable and many rescues would gladly have taken him in. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many of these kinds of horses lately. Here's the skivvy on my latest rescue: After determining knee issues on this winning record-setter, the vet told the owner not to run him again. The owner ran the horse five more times!!!! After I put $3,000 into knee surgery, the horse should have a good life for his remaining 25 or more years! This horse won $75K on the track and why was I the one to have to put $3K into his knees? My husband would kill me if he knew. Shame on this industry!

07 Aug 2013 1:15 PM
dragonfur

Regarding the forced retirement of horses, "there are likely teams of lawyers sitting on drafts of cease and desist orders" is a cop-out reason to avoid thinking about this (partial) solution. Standardbreds have an age limit. Thoroughbreds should, too.  If there is a MINIMUM age limit (2 years old), why would there be such an issue with a MAXIMUM age limit?  Sounds like a straw man argument to me!

Yes, horses are property, but there's not a state in all of America that hasn't had law enforcement remove mistreated/neglected animals (property!) from owners. Property doesn't mean horses can be treated in any way the owner desires.

(A way to get around an industrywide age limitation would be for tracks to put age limits on races. There are 3YO & up, how about 3YO to 7YO [or desired age group for the particular race].  That said, an industrywide limit would be preferable, otherwise if one state has an age limit of 7, while another has a limit of 9, there are those who would move their older horses to the higher limit state.)

Horse racing is big money.  It wouldn't exist without the horses who give their all.  It is definitely time to start putting concern for the horses (and the riders who risk life & limb riding horses who break down) over money.  Retire older horses, who have earned it, and require farms who breed those horses, and all who are involved in the racing industry, to be responsible for them when they cannot race anymore.

07 Aug 2013 5:53 PM
AngelaInAbilene

There already is a mandatory retirement age...12.  

10 Aug 2013 10:23 AM
AngelaInAbilene

Fans don't pay the bills on these horses, they just like to look at them.  They don't own, train, rub or bet.  Until they do, they are pretty much limited to their "social" outrage and adopting or supporting REPUTABLE re-training organizations.

10 Aug 2013 10:27 AM
Blum Gone

Funds are needed to rescue TB racehorses from tracks and offer them a safe retirement.    Most of these racehorses are geldings, who, in the eyes of those racing them, have “no other purpose.”

Remember Me Rescue has set up a special fund which will enable them to contact owners and trainers of horses that have earned more than $500,000 and are running for a claiming price of $5000 or less and then offer them retirement, rehabilitation, retraining and rehoming. Please consider a donation in Monzante’s memory, or in the memory or honor of any other horse you love.  

teamkeen.com/monzantememorialfund.html

A couple of TBs’ retirement are currently being negotiated, but funds are needed towards that purpose.  Please feel free to post this request wherever you feel its appropriate.

For the horses!

11 Aug 2013 12:08 PM

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