Sunday, 8 October 2017


Remember those adverts, 'A dog is for life, not just for Christmas'. A reminder to those mulling over taking a small,cuddly puppy under their roof,to consider the time,expense,and duty of care owed to their new friend.

It would not be such a bad idea if such a message went out to those considering in investing in a racehorse. Apart from the linked sport of Greyhound Racing, which has a shocking record in protecting healthy, ex-racers with plenty of years ahead of them, its equine counterpart has plenty to be ashamed of.

Racing fans from the 1970's will remember the top class Exceller, who raced in the famous Nelson Bunker Hunt colours. When trained in France he ran twice in England, winning the Coronation Cup, followed by a third place in The Minstrel's King George V1 Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. Moved stateside to Charlie Whittingham, he won seven times, including a surprise defeat of the mighty Seattle Slew, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

Exceller began his stud career in Kentucky with high hopes,but ultimately failed to live up to expectations, thus accordingly his covering fee fell. He was eventually sold to to stand in Sweden, where his new owner would soon be declared bankrupt, and a further sequence of events led to Exceller being taken to a slaughterhouse and destroyed for meat. 

It was only by chance that the story came to light when the main American racing paper, Daily Racing Form, ran a ' Whatever happened to...' series. The publicity the case received led to the creation of an 'Exceller Fund'. They use the proceeds raised to save healthy ex-racehorses from the slaughterhouse.

It has been noted that Exceller was in his early twenties when he was destroyed, but the most reliable accounts indicate he was in good health.Furthermore, the method in which he was disposed makes grim reading.Tied and 'hung up', he was still alive when bludgeoned,before having his throat cut.

It would appear that this was, or is the method of 'processing' used in this particular Swedish abattoir, and it's far from the the kindly put to sleep and buried in a marked grave, that waits for most stallions who have stood in Kentucky.

Of course, we do have to be able to recognise that they are animals, and that being put to sleep will be the only option once they naturally start to decline,or if they are not suitable for re-training. The majority of us eat animal products, are happy to do so, but do not wish to know the details of everyday life in a slaughterhouse.

Still,some of the tales we hear are bleak.Serena Miller, when running the now closed Midland Racehorse Care Center,in Ludlow, was on record detailing her visit to Turner's  abattoir in Cheshire, which is one of the most used of its kind for processing thoroughbreds. Miller paid a visit to the location under the guise of a racehorse owner, and was given a tour.

She reported, ''There were some very young thoroughbreds waiting to be killed. They were just babies. Shots were going off all the time, and they were petrified.

'They were shaking, weeing themselves, eating each others' necks. Their eyes were wild, they were wet with sweat and there was a stink of blood. I asked how long they had been there for, and I was told a week.
A week waiting in terror to be shot. It was a sorry sight. I was told that their trainer had dropped them off on the way to the races.'

Centers like that run by Miller are few and far between, are only able to take in a limited number of inmates, and rely heavily on donations. They make good copy for showing racing in a good ,caring light, provided you don't think too deeply and wonder where the horses end up who are not able to find such a good,caring home.

Over production in racing results in an increase of welfare issues further down the line. In the main, we only get wind of the cases involving high profile names,whether it be equine or human.There are an estimated fourteen thousand racehorses in training at the moment in the United Kingdom alone. There is no tracking system that keeps tabs on them when they finish their careers. Many go through several changes of ownership.

Daarkom, who won the Ebor when owned by Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, ended up being discovered in poor health in the hands of the travelling community. Hallo Dandy, was found abandoned and neglected in fields surrounding a stately home. If regular tracking and checking of a Grand National winner cannot be maintained, then what hope for the horses with no racing ability who are otherwise healthy.

Racing can count itself fortunate that there are three sets of  circumstances prevailing at the moment that save the sport from a public grilling, and a total destruction of its image.

Firstly, organisations such as Animal Aid fail to get their facts fully right which undermines the  credible aspects of their arguments. As an example, they don't seem to get that a 'jumping bred' horse is invariably sired by a middle distances staying flat horse, who will have a physique to stamp his stock, who will be stored and broken in late.

They list sires such a Presenting, and claim because he ran on the flat, his jumping stock are flat bred. This has always been the case with national hunt bred horses, even those with sires who have ran over timber.The only exception to this would the French jumpers, some of whom that are half breds.

Animal Aid go on to cite the flat pedigrees of some jumping horses who have met with misfortune, claiming that their fate was caused by the pedigree. However, they are on the ball with wastage, and if they sharpened up their argument and refrained from blighting it with,what is either misunderstood or artfully presented 'facts',they would gain more respect.

The second set of circumstances that is helping racing, again concerns organisations like Animal Aid. By claiming that the actual racing,particularly national hunt racing, is cruel they are taking the spotlight away from the wastage aspect, the area in which many genuine racing fans have grave concern over.

Thirdly, we are going through a phase where those who would normally concentrate their energy into waging war against horse racing, are more occupied with keeping the oceans clean, climate change, and Donald Trump. Social Media might convey the impression that opposition to racing is a strong as ever, but there is no way it rivals the umbrage directed at the sport in the 1970's and 1980's.

There are many owners and trainers who show a duty of care to their animals. The late Tim Forster, would go out of his was to ensure that horses retiring from racing when under his wing, were found a suitable home. Godolphin have a program for re -training their retired animals who are not good enough for a stud career.

Still, there are thousands every year who are not so fortunate.They change from owner to owner,or owner to syndicate or vice versa, and disappear, their fate unknown.

Many racehorse owners keenly get involved when their financial situation has taken an upturn,but plenty of these will have businesses that have enjoyed overnight success, but are equally vulnerable to taking a quick downturn.These characters come and go all the time.The welfare of the horse is bottom of the list.

Likewise, there are numerous holders of a trainers licence who cannot possibly be turning over a profit. Prize money low and all that, lets take more from the punters via the bookmakers. But truth is no one has a divine right to be in a position to train racehorses,and there are too many of them , as well as too many horses,too many races and too many fixtures.

Soon, an organisation like Animal Aid will realise that the part of the war they can make inroads with is the wastage angle.Then,they will have a cohesive, factual case to present, and will find allies in the national press. Racing will only be able to offer a cliched, token defence.

Picture Author Mlib FR

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