Mine That Bird made thoroughbred racing history when he crossed the finish line in first place at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby winner—who is set to run in the Preakness Stakes on May 16—was a 50-1 long shot. He pulled off the second-biggest upset in Derby history.
Mine That Bird’s unexpected victory was straight out of a Hollywood movie. Sadly, odds are that he won’t have a happy Hollywood ending.
Every single day, three horses, on average, die on the track in thoroughbred racing in the U.S.
It’s been a year since the world watched in horror as filly Eight Belles writhed in agony on the Kentucky Derby turf, her shattered legs ending her career and her life. During this year’s race, Friesan Fire, the projected winner, had part of his hoof ripped off soon after the race started. He managed to finish the race, bleeding the whole way, 18th out of 19 horses.
The day before, on the same track, Stormalory suffered leg fractures during the American Turf Stakes; he was euthanized. This followed a high-profile collision during a training run between Raspberry Miss and Dr. Rap; Raspberry Miss was also euthanized. Two other horses died the week before that after breaking their legs during workouts.
While on-track breakdowns are dramatic, racehorses are much more likely to meet a different end—in a slaughterhouse. As shocking as it sounds, many horses survive their racing careers only to end up in a can of dog food or on a dinner plate. Some 12,000 U.S. racehorses are sent to slaughter every year.
In 2002, the racing world was scandalized when Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was killed in a Japanese slaughterhouse. That’s the fate of 90 percent of the horses in Japan, including thoroughbreds from the U.S. who are sold to Japanese breeders. More money is wagered on horse racing in Japan than in any other country, and Japanese breeding farms will pay millions for big-name stallions from the U.S. But when these horses’ breeding days wind down, there is little incentive to keep them. Last year, almost 20,000 horses were slaughtered in Japan, most of them for dog food. Nearly 100,000 others were killed in Canada and Mexico.
These spent, injured and frightened horses’ final days are truly ugly. Horses are jammed into double-decker tractor-trailers and are hauled for hundreds—sometimes thousands—of miles to shoddy slaughterhouses. When they arrive, they are exhausted, hungry, thirsty and crazed with terror. During these grueling trips, many horses suffer from broken bones, gashes, eye infections and other ailments.
At the slaughterhouse, these extremely sensitive animals must watch the bloody kill line and listen to the agonized screams as the horses in front of them meet the knife. Reports have documented horses who were stabbed in the neck repeatedly until they were weak enough to be shackled and have their throats cut.
Horses are no longer slaughtered for human consumption in the United States, so it no doubt offends North American sensibilities to learn that horse flesh is considered a delicacy in other countries. But that doesn’t stop U.S. horse owners from sending thoroughbreds to countries where the grisly business of turning champions into chuck roasts is perfectly legal.
Just because you don’t eat horse meat doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference. The horses who will be revered, praised and wagered on during this year’s Triple Crown races may very well end up in slaughterhouses down the road. The best way to ensure that they don’t is to stop patronizing the horse-racing industry. Before you visit a track or place a bet, remember that no matter how much you may win or lose, the horses will be the biggest losers.
Jennifer O’Connor is a writer for the Animals in Entertainment Campaign for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.
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