Monday, June 8, 2015

American Pharoah: A Triple Crown Champion In a Questionable Industry

I'd rather not write the post I'm about to write.  In fact, I'd rather write an entirely different post that celebrates American Pharoah and the win I thought I'd never see--the Triple Crown.  

I'm a horse lover.  I watch every leg of the Triple Crown to see the horses: Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.

I watch in awe, and I watch in fear.

I'm in awe of the horses: their strength, beauty, and will to persevere and win (ie, SURVIVE).


I'm in fear of the industry that pushes them to win and what may happen in that pursuit as we sit watching.

Two things to consider about this industry outside of the nefarious gambling associated with it:

1.) As a horse lover, how can I not be heart-broken when I read about the orphaned foals whose mothers are rented out as "nurse mares" to the top bred Thoroughbred foals, their own dams shipped off to be re-bred?  Most people can't imagine this scenario, but for Thoroughbreds, a mare must be "Live Covered", meaning she has to be shipped to the stallion rather than artificially inseminated.  The top-tier-foal she leaves behind on her annual breeding (you have to maximize those breeding years) needs to be nursed.  Thus, the leased "nurse mare" who comes in to do the job.  The nurse mare, in order to have milk, also must produce a foal, but those foals are removed from the mare and sold to Last Chance Corral or, I assume, rescue organizations like them or shipped to slaughter.



2.) As a horse lover, how can I not be heart-broken when a horse is put down from injuries sustained in a race?  On the same day, same Park, as the now legendary American Pharoah Triple Crown win, another horse, a 4-year-old colt from France named Helwan, broke his left front cannon bone during his race and was put down afterward.

Oh, this wasn't an isolated incident. One week earlier, a 5-year-old horse named Soul House collapsed and died shortly after finishing seventh of 10 horses at Belmont Park. One day before that, a 5-year-old horse named Icprideicpower died at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in upstate New York after a training session. Since January, 43 horses have died in racing or training.
Died in New York, that is.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission, 10 horses have died since Jan. 16 at Belmont Park.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 186 horses died in 2011.
       Died in California, that is. 
So yes, I celebrate American Pharoah.  You bet I do.  What a horse.  If his feet ever hit the ground, I didn't see it.  He was flying!  He is a champion.  He is perfection.

But as he ran, I was less concerned about him winning than staying safe.  I didn't breathe easy until I saw him the next morning on The Today Show with his jockey and trainer.  He was, from what I could tell, healthy and gregarious.  He'll now spend his days breeding mares (Live Cover, of course), about a hundred times per year, for an estimated $100,000 per breeding.  The "Good Life," right?

Maybe not.  If you're curious, read about his sire's life, Pioneerof the Nile, and the challenges getting him to breed mares.

So, I didn't want to write this, but I did.  I didn't want to take anything away from American Pharoah, but I couldn't balance that with my hope that the industry is exposed for what it is at its worst--not just celebrated for what it is at its best.

I've lived to see what I never thought I'd see, a Triple Crown winner.  Maybe now I'll live to see something else I never thought I'd see, a humane Thoroughbred racing industry.

But is that possible?


16 comments:

  1. I agree with you, and to tell you the truth, I never wanted to watch another race after what happened to Eight Bells, but my boyfriend insists on watching every year.

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    1. Judi, I didn't see that race, but I heard about it. Awful. A case could be made for not watching at all, but I do watch the three legs of the Triple Crown.

      In my opinion, there is good reason to celebrate a horse like American Pharoah. If he could survive the demands of the Triple Crown, he does have some superior genes.

      There are two issues I'd like addressed: 1.) better breeding standards for good bone and 2.) a requirement for the mares to stay with their foals, if physically possible, like many farms are already doing. There are many Thoroughbred foals being raised by their natural dams and only nursed by a nurse mare if the biological mare dies in childbirth. I don't want to implicate them with the others.

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  2. I agree totally - breed for better more sustainable horses AND allow AI so mares don't have to be shipped... if AI is questionable then do a DNA test w/ the registration papers to ensure proper genetics. Easy enough and just about every breed organization in the world allows this - and MANY allow surrogate mares to-boot!

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    1. You're right. AI would really help the orphan problem and would also be better for the stallions.

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    2. You're right. AI would really help the orphan problem and would also be better for the stallions.

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  3. that's one reason I quit working at the track... couldn't take it anymore. I'm soooo grateful that my retired racehorse Stormy (now 24!!!!!!) made it through unscathed and has lived a long happy life!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

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    1. Oh, the stories you could tell! How wonderful that you have a former race horse to love. I have known of others who have found some great horses from the tracks, too. I love to hear that.

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  4. Totally agree that AI should be allowed, and add DNA testing of the mare, stallion and foals. Time for the Thoroughbred industry to get with the times. Would also like to see 2 year old racing stopped.

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    1. Shirley, it sounds like you've thought about this already. Yes, AI...why not? That would solve problem #1. Racing two year olds does seem odd, doesn't it? I wonder how that ever got started. They're still growing and maturing.

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  5. I totally agree with you so there's nothing else I can add. I have seen a few previous Triple Crown Winners in my years and it is exciting to watch. I only watch the three races each year and hope no one is injured. There's just too much wrong with the whole industry.

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    1. If the industry were to address some of the issues, as Shirley noted above, it would probably draw more people to watch. I have a lot of respect for any horse that can make it through the three legs of the Triple Crown. It's miraculous. I also love to see race horses that are really well loved by their owners--like California Chrome seemed to be.

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  8. Nurse mares are not used because Thoroughbred mares need to be live covered. That is simply not true. It is anti racing propaganda designed to get donations. If mares need to travel to the stallion because they aren't already boarded at his farm, they travel while pregnant. They foal at the stud farm and then are bred. Otherwise they hop into a horse trailer and travel the couple miles down the road to the next stud farm....Nurse mares are used when mares die or otherwise cannot nurse. The Jockey Club allowing AI would NOT change the frequency of nurse mare use. By the way, they are used for all breeds of horses, not just Thoroughbreds. Sometimes mares die after foaling or can't or won't nurse. It happens. Nurse mare foals are bottle raised or given to rescues. There is no market for baby horse meat like there is for baby bulls from the Milk Industry (veal!) There are thousands of photographs of Thoroughbred mares raising their own foals on Facebook alone if you cannot take a trip to Kentucky to see for yourself. You don't ever seen fields of Draft and spotted mares raising TB foals, which is what you would see if those rumors were true...

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