Non-profit founder against horse racing in Austintown racino

Patrick Battuello, founder of Horseracing Wrongs

Patrick Battuello, founder of Horseracing Wrongs

(Photo provided)

[Editor’s note: Patrick Battuello, founder of anti-horse racing nonprofit Horseracing Wrongs, provided Mahoning Matters with Ohio State Racing Commission records of racehorse deaths at Austintown’s Mahoning Valley Race Course racino in 2020 and 2021. Mahoning Matters’ independent review of those records found the racino reported 22 horse deaths in 2020 and 24 deaths in 2021. Opinions published here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mahoning Matters.]


Mahoning Matters has been reporting deaths at the Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley racetrack lately, and for that we’re grateful. But we object, most strongly, to Ohio State Racing Commission executive director Chris Dragone’s characterization of four horse deaths in two months as “unusual,” and his assertion that it is “a higher rate high compared to 2020 and 2021.” It isn’t, and it isn’t. And Mr. Dragone knows it.

In the last five years, 103 racehorses have lost their lives at Mahoning, an average of more than 20 a year. But, two things: First, these are only the ones we’ve been able to confirm through public records requests. Surely, there were others who fell through the cracks. Second, MVRC only works six months of the year. In other words, that average actually amounts to about seven deaths every two months, which is higher than the four in two that suddenly came to Mr. Dragone’s attention. Additionally, the death totals for 2020 and 2021 were 22 and 28, respectively, again higher rates than this year (so far, that is).

Statewide, the five-year toll hits 273. That’s 273 (that we know of) beautiful, intelligent creatures sacrificed for $2 stakes. Nationally, the numbers are simply staggering. Since 2014, Horseracing Wrongs has documented more than 8,000 track deaths in the United States. We estimate that more than 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across the United States each year. Over 2,000, that’s almost six every day.

And just to be clear: death on the track is neither clean nor calm.

Track death is cardiovascular collapse, or a failing heart, in animals that are mostly still in puberty. Death on the road is pulmonary hemorrhage or bleeding from the lungs. Track death is blunt force head trauma from collisions with other horses or the track itself. Death on the track consists of broken necks, severed spines, torn ligaments, and mangled legs, sometimes so mangled that the limb remains attached to the rest of the body only by skin or tendons.

But on-track deaths only tell part of the story. Every year, hundreds more die on their jobs from things like: Colic, a painful and terrifying abdominal affliction; laminitis, an excruciating inflammation in the feet; infections; neurological disorders; the proverbial “barn accidents”; or, as we often see in public records, simply “found dead in the morning.” These, mind you, were still very active racehorses that were between races. And again, most of them were mere teenagers.

Then, too: Massacre. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the scope of the problem by touting its completely hollow zero-tolerance policies and immediate aftercare initiatives, the prevailing wisdom backed by two independent studies is that most spent or simply didn’t want spare horses anymore. careers. they are brutally bled and massacred at the end of their “career”, between 10,000 and 15,000 a year.

But of course the evils don’t stop at murder. This is:

Forced Separation: Would-be racehorses are torn forever from their mothers, families, and herds when they are mere babies. They are usually sold at the tender age of 1 year and break, an industry term meaning to be flexible and submissive. Alone and terrified, their servitude begins.

Raw body grinding: The typical horse doesn’t reach full musculoskeletal maturity until around age 6, which means its bones haven’t finished growing; their plates haven’t finished fusing. And the higher on their bodies, the slower the process. So the spine and neck bones, of all places, are the last to finish. The typical racehorse is pushed into intensive training at 18 months and is raced at 2. On the maturation chart, that’s the rough equivalent of a first grader. The necropsies we receive time and time again show horses as young as 4, 3 or even 2 years old dying from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease – clear evidence of the relentless beating these pubescent bodies are forced to absorb.

Confinement and isolation: At perhaps worst, racehorses are kept locked up, alone, in tiny 12-foot-by-12-foot stalls for more than 23 hours a day, causing the industry to scoff at the claim that horses were “born racehorses.” to run, they love to run.” ”, and even worse cruelty for being inflicted on naturally social herd animals like horses. In a 2019 New York State Senate hearing, noted equine veterinarian Dr. Kraig Kulikowski likened this cruelty to keeping a child locked in a 4-foot-by-4-foot closet for more than 23 hours a day. Imagine that.

Denial: Related to this, virtually all of the horse’s natural instincts and desires are thwarted, creating mental and emotional suffering that manifests itself with crystal clarity in the stereotypes commonly seen in confined racehorses: things like riding, sucking the wind, swing, weave, walk, dig. , kicks and even self-mutilation.

Control and subjugation: Racing people painstakingly control every moment of their assets’ lives, control that is often carried out through force and intimidation, and through the tools of their trade: collars, nose chains, lip chains, tongue ties, blinders, mouths and, of course, whips. In that, very public flogging administered to racehorses would land a person in jail if done to his dog in the park. But on the track, it’s all just part of the tradition.

Drugs and doping: Racehorses are injected, legally and otherwise, with a myriad of chemicals that enhance performance, mask injuries, and numb pain. The jockey’s creed: keep ’em on the track, keep ’em winning by any means necessary.

Commodification: By law, racehorses are literal chattels: pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and disposed of when and how their people decide. To make matters worse, they don’t even have the (woefully inadequate like most) protections of animal cruelty statutes, meaning an owner or trainer can run their horse, yes, even to death, with virtual impunity. Furthermore, the average racehorse will change hands multiple times over the course of its supposed career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious and stressful existence. This almost constant change between trainers, grooms, veterinarians, stables, tracks and states is the main reason almost all active racehorses suffer from ulcers.

Sensitivities towards animal exploitation, especially when it comes to entertainment, are rapidly evolving. Only in the last few years:

  • Ringling Bros. has closed its doors for good, ending more than a century of animal abuse;
  • SeaWorld, after being exposed by the movie “Blackfish,” has stopped breeding orcas in captivity and remains in slow, steady decline;
  • There are rodeo bans in cities as diverse as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Petersburg, and Fort Wayne;
  • Both New York and Illinois have banned the use of elephants in any form of entertainment. New Jersey, Hawaii, and California have banned all acts involving wild animals;
  • And most relevant to the topic at hand: dog racing in America is almost dead. By the end of this year, there will be only two footprints left in the entire country. More revealing: dog racing is totally prohibited for moral reasons in 41 states.

So the question is: Why should horse racing be exempt? Why do we continue to cover it under the banner of “sport”? In a landscape abounding with other gaming options – casinos, lotteries, real sports involving autonomous human beings (sports betting was legalized in Ohio in December and will launch this year) – the time is long overdue to let these majestic animals be .

Horse racing is cruel. Horse racing is deadly. Horse racing must end.

Patrick Battuello founded the anti-horse racing organization Horseracing Wrongs in 2013. The nonprofit’s work has been featured in The Baltimore Sun, Boston Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, The Guardian and The New Yorker. In addition to testifying before the New York State Senate and speaking at numerous universities, Battuello has appeared on CNN, ESPN and HBO’s “Real Sports,” and has written an op-ed for The Washington Post.