I am haunted by an article that I read this morning in the New York Times. It was a story about a favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby named Big Brown. The horse was bought last fall by a group on Wall Street called International Equine Acquisitions Holdings who are raising $100 million to breed, sell and race horses like they are a hedge fund.
This horse has only raced three times. The three year old colt has hoof abscesses in both its front feet. That’s why it hasn’t been able to race more. They say that the injury was caused by “concussion”, his feet hitting a hard surface. They have hot glued some special shoes with a polyurethane bottom to cushion his feet, and they are racing and training him again with hopes that he will win the Triple Crown. It makes me want to find these Wall Street dudes, drill holes in their feet and make them run as fast as they can for few miles everyday to see how they would feel. It also makes me sick.
This is the reason that I can’t go to a horse race anymore. When I was a little girl, my dad used to take me to the track in Arlington Park, just outside of Chicago. I have wonderful memories of the horses in the paddock and the beauty of them thundering down the track. We moved near Del Mar, California, “where the turf meets the surf”, when I lived in California. The first time that I went to the races there, I felt like I had fallen into a marvelous time warp. The whole scene was just like I remembered as a child. I used to take my four year old daughter to the track very early in the morning to watch the horses warm up.
My fond memories were dashed when the horses that were running began dying. In 2005, in the first seven days of racing, seven horses had to be euthanized. I almost took my daughter to see a friend’s horse race, but our schedule changed. Fortunately, we weren’t there when the horse broke its leg during a race and had to be put down on the track in front of everyone. That season, in 43 days of racing, 16 horses died while racing on the dirt track. They put in a new polytrack, which has significantly lessened the number of deaths. About 800 horses die on the racetracks in this country each year.
When I lived in California and worked in a tack and feed store, I got to know some of the trainers and jockeys and grooms while they were there in Del Mar for the season. They all believed that the horses are started too soon. They’re so young, and their bones aren’t strong enough. Unfortunately, racing is all about speed and short-term profit. It used to be that stamina and long-term durability were the key, but now that horses are the new hedge funds, it’s all about making money fast. I know that horse racing isn’t the only place where this happens. Look at the reiners and jumpers that can barely walk by the time they are ten or twelve years old because they were worked so hard so young.
A horse is not a race car or a snowboard. It is a spirited, soulful creature that loves to run and jump and generously allows human beings to come along for the ride. It should be illegal for a horse to be treated like a hedge fund.
P.S. You can go to ieah.com, the owners' website and leave them a note where it says "Contact Us". I just did.