Racing to Death

By Kathy Guillermo and Paula Moore

Just before the much anticipated film "Seabiscuit" opened in theaters across
the country, Blood-Horse magazine made a startling announcement: Ferdinand,
the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Horse of the Year, was slaughtered last
year in Japan.

The news is stunning because Ferdinand, like Seabiscuit, was a star
thoroughbred in his day, earning nearly four million dollars in purses. One of the few
horses who could beat Alysheba, he was retired to stud in 1989 at Claiborne
Farms in Kentucky and sold to a Japanese breeding farm in 1994. By 2001, he had
fallen out of favor, and last fall, reports Blood-Horse, he met his end in a
slaughterhouse. Most likely, the great Derby winner wound up in a can of dog

Blood-Horse says that nearly every thoroughbred stallion exported to Japan
meets the same fate. But many don't know that thousands of racehorses are
slaughtered every year in this country. The Department of Agriculture reports that
16 percent of horses annually sent to slaughter in the U.S. are thoroughbreds.
Last year, more than 13,000 thoroughbreds were killed and sold to Europe where
horsemeat is a culinary favorite.

Ferdinand's death could serve some purpose if it embarrasses the American
horseracing industry into taking responsibility for its cast-offs. There are a
handful of people who have set up non-profit adoption programs for retired
racehorses, but their task is overwhelming. While they beg for donations, why
haven't the breeders, owners, and trainers, whose desire for winners creates the
surplus, done more to stop the slaughter? For decades they have thrown away
horses and conveniently looked the other way while dealers sent their
thoroughbreds to slaughterhouses and sold the carcasses overseas.

If the industry truly wants to improve the situation, it could begin by
treating the horses better. A University of Minnesota study found that one horse in
every 22 races was so severely injured he couldn't make it to the finish
line. Countless more horses suffer track injuries that can't be immediately
detected because trainers pump the animals full of drugs, such as the
anti-inflammatory painkiller known as Bute, that allow injured animals to continue racing.

As veterinarian Gregory L. Ferraro, director of the University of
California-Davis Center for Equine Health, explains: "In general, treatments designed to
repair a horse's injuries and to alleviate its suffering are now often used to
get the animal out onto the track to compete-to force the animal, like some
punch-drunk fighter, to make just one more round. Equine veterinary medicine
has been misdirected from the art of healing to the craft of portfolio

To add to the problem, many horses are raced before their bones and knees
have fully matured. Most are run on dirt because Americans enjoy the speed that
the surface adds. But the packed ground is hard on horses' young legs, adding
to breakdown potential.

In the racing world, breakdown is often a death sentence.

Horses like Seabiscuit, whose stellar career and underdog success story won
him a comfortable retirement until he died of natural causes, are rarities in
the racing world. If the owners, trainers and breeders can't keep thoroughbreds
out of the slaughterhouse, the public should stay away from the races.

Kathy Guillermo and Paula Moore write for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

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