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The brutish sport of horse racing: the 'Sport of Kings' is another name for cruelty.

For mixing pageantry and cruelty, nothing is quite like horse racing's Triple Crown, which refers to the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May, the Freakness Stakes two weeks later in Maryland and New York's Belmont Stakes in early June.

At each event, red-coated trumpeters call animals and jockeys to the track. Sentimental songs are heard--"My Old Kentucky Home," "Maryland, My Maryland," "The Sidewalks of New York"--and women gussy themselves up in hats the size of horse barns. All this, plus the patter of pre- and post-race TV commentary on horses' bloodlines and jockeys' strategies for booting home a winner.

Push aside the froth, and horseracing, whether at gloried gatherings of what's left of horsey-set high society or backwater tracks where spavined plugs end their days as long shots getting longer, is a shabby, money-driven industry that exploits and abuses enslaved animals.

The violence was seen at the Kentucky Derby when Eight Belles was put to death after breaking her ankles yards past the finish line in second place. Thundering down the stretch, the horse had been feverishly whipped by her jockey to go faster in a mad sprint to the wire.

NBC declined to show the animal's last moments. A site producer explained: "She was writhing. It was gruesome. I elected not to go to it for the simple reason it's not something I'd like my wife or children at home to see." In other words, leave the public as shielded from this particular scene of death-dealing as it is left habitually clueless about the many other cruelties inflicted on race horses.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Leave the public uninformed that racehorses are routinely injected with drugs, from Lasix to keep blood from filling the lungs to morphine to dull persistent muscle and bone pains. Leave it uninformed that horses are being commercially bred to have sturdier bodies but thinner legs, which means more broken bones that bring down a Barbaro or Eight Belles.

Leave it uninformed that it's easier to collect insurance money for a euthanized horse that is only slightly injured than to spend money bringing it back to health. Leave it uninformed of what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reports: "One study of injuries at race tracks concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him or her from finishing a race, while an other estimates that 800 thoroughbreds die every year in North America because of injuries."

The racing industry, with the cooperation of a fawning media, perpetuates itself with fantasies and myths.

* This is the "Sport of Kings." In fact, most racetracks are decidedly unroyal places with grandstands frequented by addicted gamblers and seedy hustlers passing out useless tip sheets. To keep suckers coming, the drive is on to have betting rooms supplied with slot machines, for still more action.

* Horses love to run. They do when freely left to themselves at their own pace in a familiar herd in familiar fields. No horse chooses to be flown or vanned around the country to be whipped into running around a circle at unnatural speeds, to be ridden by a stranger whose sole purpose on top is to earn a paycheck and to entertain howling and often drunk bettors yearning for easy bucks. Horses have horse sense for a reason.

* Thoroughbreds are well-treated by their trainers and owners. They are, provided they win enough races to assure the eventual large payoffs of stud fees. Horses that aren't money machines or seen as the next Seabiscuit or Smarty Jones are quickly dispatched. Recent federal laws closed slaughterhouses that produced horsemeat. Thoroughbreds, like other horses that are commodities, are now packed off to foreign slaughterhouses to provide dining pleasure for the Japanese, French and assorted connoisseurs of animal flesh.

With so many negatives, the only solution is to work for the banning of horse racing. To be saddened by the killing of Eight Belles and yet not support the animal rights groups that oppose the brutish ways of the industry is to sanction past, present and future cruelty, on and off the tracks.

[Colman McCarthy teaches peace studies in the Washington area.]
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Title Annotation:COLUMN
Author:McCarthy, Colman
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 13, 2008
Words:693
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