I'd had incidents and brushes with sad horse stories and images before. I remembered, vaguely, Ruffian dying when I was 9 years old. I had seen a few race accidents and horses dying on the track when I first started going. But it never really registered with me.
Then, one day, I went to a horse sale. One of the horses entered in that sale was a horse named J R Willow. I'd remembered him well. Why wouldn't I? It was only a year earlier that he started his racing career as a 2 year old. He was from the first crop of Willow Wiper, a horse who had broken down many times, only to return and triumph a few more times, before he finally could not race anymore. He had made a good sire at the start of his career. But eventually, he fell out of favor. While a few of his offspring were good, most were too lame to race for very long. They had his limbs, but not his heart and sheer will to overcome.
J R Willow came out with a bang. He was one of the few. A stakes horse. And he started early. By October of his 2 year old year, he had made some decent money and won a few stakes races. He seemed like he had a bright future that summer. But as summer turned to fall of that rookie season he was tailing off badly. Some do that and come back okay the next year and have decent, long, racing careers. Most however, do not. The majority start a gradual slide to end up where many in this blog end up. Some faster than others.
J R Willow may have raced a few times as a 3 year old. I don't remember. But if he did, he earned nothing and raced sparsely. By the time I saw him entered in the sale, he certainly had not raced in a while. He was in the sale to be sold, because he was not at all useful anymore to his very rich owner. An owner only really interested in stakes horses. By then, he had been replaced with fresh stock. Whatever they could get for him (and be rid of him) they were going to do that.
I didn't go to the sale to see him specifically, but I was aware of him, and passed him as I was looking at others. I learned at sales to try and look at every horse. You never know. You might see one worth having and if you didn't look in advance, you were foolish to buy them. I looked at another of that owners rejects, but that horse was racing okay still and not likely in my price range. Then, I caught a glimpse of J R Willow. I say glimpse, because he was hard to see. He couldn't stand up, and had no intention of doing so. Or likely the ability to do so. He was 3 years old, and basically, he was very close to death. Horses that cannot stand and be useful as racehorses or at least riding horses are days away from being put down. He just looked sad. Like a horse that had been wronged. He wasn't mistreated. He looked healthy enough. He wasn't skinny. He didn't have horribly disfigured legs, as you sometimes see at sales. He just was used up. Couldn't walk. Couldn't stand. Couldn't live anymore. He was bred to do one thing and he could not do that one thing anymore.
I didn't ask to see him. I didn't have to. Even if I wanted to see him, I wouldn't have been able to. Nobody was going to be bringing him out of his stall to be viewed. I never went back to look at him. I didn't have to. He was scratched out of the sale and went unsold. I assume he was put down shortly after that. That is tragic. But not even close to as tragic as the ones that do carry on, only to be used and abused and milked for every last cent until they finally break down, or have to be put down, because they can't even be propped up for one last race anymore.
Or, as in the case of Monzante, a champion who died last week, they are run one last time, break their legs on the track, and are either put down on the spot or back in the barn.
It usually isn't a quick process. They degrade in stages, become propped up, degrade some more, get propped up again, only at a lower level, until there are no more levels to go down and they simply can't withstand the training and racing anymore. Many of those don't break down. They simply get shipped away and are put to death, for meat, or just to be killed for no reason other than they are not useful anymore and can't be useful due to the repeated propping up by some trainer to try to squeeze the last bit of money out of their fragile bodies. That is what happened to Monzante. And he is hardly unique in that respect. More about that later.
"Racing can provide wonderful stories, such as last week's tale of Omaha and Morton Porter, and then can come right back and kick you in the head with a story like that of Monzante's tragic demise.
That a horse like this should wind up where he did is disgraceful, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Winner of the grade I Eddie Read, second in the grade I Charlie Whittingham, and third in the grade II Strub Stakes, the son of Maria's Mon has passed through some top-class barns, such as Juddmonte, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, and Mike Mitchell. In his day he swam with some pretty big fishes before plunging to the depths, where he wound up with the bottom feeders as a 9-year-old."
Jambo Maker was similar to Monzante. He wasn't a world champion, but he was a very good local champion. As a young colt he was just about unbeatable. Early in his 3 year old year, he was near unbeatable. Then came the time when he started to get beat. He was still a very good horse, but he had come down a notch or two. The next year, he was a valuable, good racehorse, but not the horse he was as a younger colt. Then he started to slide more. His value dropped, but as he dropped class levels and the competition got weaker he still won races and made money. Until..he didn't even do that anymore. Then, he seemed to just disappear for a while.
That a horse like this should wind up where he did is disgraceful, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Winner of the grade I Eddie Read, second in the grade I Charlie Whittingham, and third in the grade II Strub Stakes, the son of Maria's Mon has passed through some top-class barns, such as Juddmonte, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, and Mike Mitchell. In his day he swam with some pretty big fishes before plunging to the depths, where he wound up with the bottom feeders as a 9-year-old. - See more at: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2013/07/23/Monzante_1920_s-Death-a-Disgrace.aspx#sthash.FIrb9dvw.dpufThat is what happened to a horse named Jambo Maker. In June of 1997 Jambo Maker was near the end of the line. He was racing in a 2000 claimer in Woodstock, Ontario. I was there that night. As bad as that was, he wasn't even the tragic story that night. That night, in the last race of the night, a 2000 claimer for horses that never were, or once were but weren't anymore, while Jambo Maker relied on his back class to win the race, a horse called Oil Can didn't even make it to the half mile point of the mile race. Just before the half, he reared up and had a heart attack. He was dead by the time he hit the ground. Jambo Maker passed him on his way to the finish line. It would be close to the last time Jambo Maker would win a race as well. I'm sure his time came shortly afterwards. That wasn't always the way for Jambo Maker. As a young horse, he was a champion. Not a world champion, but a local champion who was unbeatable as a 2yo, nearly unbeatable for most of his 3yo season, and a solid earning racehorse for a couple of years more. But then the decline happened.When I next saw Jambo Maker, I was at another horse sale. I hadn't even gone to look at him. I knew who the trainers were that had him before that, and I knew better than to even touch a horse like that. When they are done with them, the horse is done.
So, I got a glimpse of him that day, at the sale, but it wasn't in a stall. It was in the sales ring. As he came out, there was a huge gasp in the crowd. His legs were something to see. In sales, you rarely see a horse with legs that damaged being offered for sale. Nevertheless, someone bought him. There is always a guy who thinks he can fix up a horse like Monzante or Jambo Maker and make something useful out of them. Squeeze more orange juice out of the orange. And someone tried to do that. One of the saddest days I ever had at the racetrack was at Woodstock Raceway in Ontario. I loved that track and it had a long history. My grandmother told me of how they would go to that track every year. She was born and raised there in nearby Ingersoll and I still have some relatives who live in the area. My mother was also born and raised in the area.
I liked the country, folksy feel of Woodstock. It wasn't flashy. It was the old style, country fair type of track. But it wasn't really a country fairgrounds, although it was used that way part of the time. It was a racetrack. Except for the horses. Most of the horses racing there were never-were's, or weren't-anymores. This was pretty much the last rung on the ladder for them. The last stop before they faced the type of fate that Monzante and J R Willow did. Some did start out there and move on to better things, but they were few and far between. And even those that did would one day work their way back down the ladder and return to meet their sad fate.
That night, in the last race of the night for 2000 dollar claimers (which at the time was the lowest class of horse racing at any track in Ontario), Jambo Maker, who I had remembered as being a very good horse at the big track was the favorite in that race. He was probably 6 or 7 at the time. He had clearly seen better days and even when he was only a few notches below his top level would never be matched against a bunch like he faced that night. Another horse in that race was called Oil Can. I say was, because he didn't finish the race. Oil Can was 12 years old that night, and had clearly seen better days as well. Even though he was no world beater like Jambo Maker and Monzante were, he was competent and a money earner in his career. But that time had long passed. He likely should not have been racing anymore, but then, I could have said that for more than half the horses racing that day at that track and many others.
Monzante died at Evangeline Downs. In terms of comparison, Woodstock and Evangeline would be very comparable. When people think of the type of horse they want to own, they don't think of racing them at bottom of the barrel places like those.
Jambo Maker was always a front runner, to the extreme. When he was young, he would simply go to the lead and go as far and fast as he could. When he was 2, nobody could get near him. When he was 3, they got closer, but he was still too good. Towards the end of his 3 year old year, a few could now catch him. As he aged, he employed the same tactic, and it only worked as long as he was lowered in class. This night, he was as low as he could go. As usual, he went right to the lead and was well in front at the half mile point. Which was a good thing for him. Because Oil Can was back in 4th or 5th, struggling to keep up. As Jambo Maker passed the half, Oil Can did not. He reared up and came to a stop. Then he went down in a heap. He took all but one horse in addition to Jambo Maker down with him. Oil Can was likely dead before he hit the ground, although he did shake like most do when they have a heart attack and die. It was not a pretty sight.
As Oil Can lay dead on the track, the other horses scattered and were okay. I was with my friend Ian near the finish line and Jambo Maker passed us along with the other horse that completed the race. I can't remember if Jambo Maker won or was second. But I remember I never saw him race again, and he likely didn't, or not for much longer after.
As for Oil Can, well.....
They scooped Oil Can up with a tractor and dumped him out back. Jambo Maker lived to fight a few more battles, until I am sure he met a similar, yet less public fate. People left the track, the lights went black and Oil Can was now a forgotten horse never to be remembered and discarded like garbage.
That a horse like this should wind up where he did is disgraceful, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Winner of the grade I Eddie Read, second in the grade I Charlie Whittingham, and third in the grade II Strub Stakes, the son of Maria's Mon has passed through some top-class barns, such as Juddmonte, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, and Mike Mitchell. In his day he swam with some pretty big fishes before plunging to the depths, where he wound up with the bottom feeders as a 9-year-old. - See more at: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2013/07/23/Monzante_1920_s-Death-a-Disgrace.aspx#sthash.FIrb9dvw.dpuf
That a horse like this should wind up where he did is disgraceful, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Winner of the grade I Eddie Read, second in the grade I Charlie Whittingham, and third in the grade II Strub Stakes, the son of Maria's Mon has passed through some top-class barns, such as Juddmonte, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, and Mike Mitchell. In his day he swam with some pretty big fishes before plunging to the depths, where he wound up with the bottom feeders as a 9-year-old. - See more at: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2013/07/23/Monzante_1920_s-Death-a-Disgrace.aspx#sthash.FIrb9dvw.dpufThat is what happened to a horse named Jambo Maker. In June of 1997 Jambo Maker was near the end of the line. He was racing in a 2000 claimer in Woodstock, Ontario. I was there that night. As bad as that was, he wasn't even the tragic story that night. That night, in the last race of the night, a 2000 claimer for horses that never were, or once were but weren't anymore, while Jambo Maker relied on his back class to win the race, a horse called Oil Can didn't even make it to the half mile point of the mile race. Just before the half, he reared up and had a heart attack. He was dead by the time he hit the ground. Jambo Maker passed him on his way to the finish line. It would be close to the last time Jambo Maker would win a race as well. I'm sure his time came shortly afterwards. That wasn't always the way for Jambo Maker. As a young horse, he was a champion. Not a world champion, but a local champion who was unbeatable as a 2yo, nearly unbeatable for most of his 3yo season, and a solid earning racehorse for a couple of years more. But then the decline happened.Jambo Maker made it through the sale that day, about a year or so before the Woodstock race. Somebody bought him, and found a way to prop him up enough to win some of those very low Woodstock type races. Until that wouldn't work anymore either. He likely didn't die a violent, horrible death like Oil Can, or lying in a stall like J R Willow, unable to get up. He likely was just shipped away and became meat. There are lots of ways that horses like this end up. None of them are good. Rarely do they end up grazing in a field, living out their years happily as a horse should. That is simply not the way the game is played. It should be, in a Utopian world that we would all like to believe it should, but it isn't.
Racehorses are commodities, first and foremost, to the vast majority of trainers and owners. There are exceptions to that, but the majority view them exactly that way.
A few years before that, I had an experience like that as an owner. And not a happy experience to say the least.
After a few good experiences owning a few decent racehorses, my friend Ian and I wanted to get a better horse. My partner on previous horses, Vince, suggested a horse. I was against buying this horse, named Summerjin, who was only 4 years old at the time. Something didn't look right to me about him. Nevertheless, the night came to buy him out of the race. I watched him warm up with the assistant trainer. I didn't like what I saw. Neither did the assistant. But it was my call to decide and the partners wanted him, so being young and stupid, I said okay. I knew better and should have walked away. We had the money ready and we wanted a race horse. Stupid me.
Anyway, he raced good and he seemed to be an okay purchase. The next morning, the head trainer called Vince and told him there was a problem. The horse couldn't walk.
We had claimed (bought out of a race for a specific price) Summerjin and now he was basically not really capable of racing. He was only 4. He might as well been 14. He was already a cripple. He had a chip and crack in his knee, and had likely been racing on pain killers to keep him going. We got him going too, for a very short while. When I say short while, I mean one race. I will never forget what my head trainer said as we stood and watched him race that one time for us. I asked him how he was, and he said he didn't know. We would see. He also said something else,
"We will race him until he drops."
I can't really blame them. Most professional trainers think way. They are paid to. Just as Jackie Thacker (the last trainer of Monzante) did. And if they own them, they are that much more likely to do that. Because when a trainer also owns the horse, losing that capital means that his ability to earn a living is at stake. All the more reason for the vet to prevent him from doing so. But vets rarely do. Unless they have no choice.
Summerjin finished 4th that night, and seemed to come back okay. He was lame though. He must have been. Cracks in knees don't just go away, until you give the horse a lot of time off, which also isn't a guarantee that it will work. We were not going to do that. So, likely, he was still very lame, but they didn't work him, just put him in the field and gave him pain killers. And under those conditions, he was probably sound enough to look okay.
The next, and last time we tried to race him, he didn't make it to the race. But he didn't fall to the track, or slide down the class ladder, or lay down in his stall at the sale. Nor did he have shockingly deformed legs. He simply warmed up so lame that the driver pulled him up while warming him up and the vet scratched him. About 2 months later, we sold him at the sale and he disappeared for a year or so. He then turned up and raced on for another 7 or 8 years and made decent money, similar to how Oil Can did before he met his tragic end.
What ended up happening to Summerjin? I don't know. If he was lucky, someone made him a farm pet. If he wasn't, he likely met the fate that almost all of them do. He was sent for meat, or just put down before that.
Why does this happen? There are lots of reasons. But the bottom line answer is always the same. Race horses are commodities. As long as they are useful and have value, someone wants them so they can earn a profit off of them. When that isn't possible anymore, a very small percentage find good homes. The rest, have no home to go to.
The simple reality of how the game is operated is that many more are bred than can be accomodated when they are not capable anymore.
Until that changes, there will be more Monzante's, and more cries to stop that from happening. As anyone with any knowledge of the game realizes, there are thousands of Monzante's every month. The only difference is that you don't see them or hear of them. They die quiet, behind the scenes deaths and nobody really cares about them. They are the Jambo Maker's and the Oil Can's, the Oil Can's that don't fall onto the track, but make it back to the barn and have their fates determined there. As Monzante did.
I trained racehorses for what seemed a long time. In fact, it was only about 8 years. Seemed like 80.
Before that I was an owner. And before that, I was just a fan. And before that, I was an animal lover.
I don't train, or own, and I'm barely a fan anymore. But I am still an animal lover. Which is why I don't train anymore. The things you see and the things you know, it just deters you from wanting to do it anymore.
When I first started going to the races, the turnover of horses was there, but not like it is today.
In those days if you took the program from a year previous, you would probably see 80 percent of the horses still racing or capable of racing. Today, that number is closer to 50 percent. And that is being generous.
Within that number, you also have the horses that are sliding downward. And then you have the ones who have already hit rock bottom. The Monzante's of the world. Really, they are not racehorses anymore. They are not physically capable of competing, and most cannot walk from the stall to the track, let alone race, without the pain meds that possibly make them feel like they should run, when their bodies and brains are telling them they shouldn't.
Go to any track, you will see tons of Monzante's. Old classy horses being milked for every last cent until they are worthless as commodities. At that point, they are raced until they drop, or until they cost more to keep than to race. Then, they are basically on deaths door, one way or the other. Is that really the spirit of racing? Hardly. It is cold hard business. Except, we are talking about flesh and blood, not stocks and mutual funds.
The problem still remains this. If we breed so many horses each year, where can they go when they are not capable of being racehorses anymore? They can't all be riding or pleasure horses. Or pets. There simply aren't enough spaces for that. Until that check and balance is put back into balance, then there will always be Monzante's, and always be those who will run them until they drop. It is the ugly reality of the game.
Here are a few things I know to be facts.
There are some people in the game who won't run a damaged or lame horse who is at grave risk to do fatal damage to themselves. Some. But not many.
"Monzante eventually wound up in the barn of Evangeline Downs owner/trainer Jackie Thacker, who had claimed him for $10,000. Thacker moved him up to $20,000 before dropping him back down to $10,000. After winning for $12,500, his form began to deteriorate. Instead of retiring the horse and trying to find a good home for him, especially one with his accomplishments, Thacker brought him back eight months later and put him in a $4,000 claiming race Evangeline without a listed work in almost two months. The comment on Equineline was a brief as it could get: "Stopped, euthanized."
Most of those need to be monitored by the veteranarians who are paid by the racing commisions to protect the horses, jockeys and public interest. They are there to make sure that to the best of their ability, when trainers try to run horses unfit to compete, they stop them. That would stop a small percentage of the problem. You would see less breakdowns on the track if that were the case.
Of all the things that his current owner and trainer said, I think this was the most offensive. To act like he even cared and was looking out for the welfare of the horse was beyond belief. Those of us who were in the game know better than that.
Thacker said he decided to have the 9-year-old Monzante euthanized after consulting with a private veterinarian and his wife, Geraldine, after the horse appeared to be “in a lot of pain” when the sedatives administered to the horse immediately following the race wore off.
“Sometimes you got to make that call,” Thacker, 63, said. “I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore, and neither did my wife. Lord knows we loved that horse. He’d been good to me. It was like he was part of the family. It was my call.”
Let's be real here. He ran him because he could get past the vet and had some shot at winning the purse. That he likely was in serious risk in trying that meant nothing to him. What would you expect him to say. The truth. Something like, "he was a piece of meat. What the hell do I care? He would never run again. He is useless to me. I don't give a crap. Who is going to feed him for the rest of his life, you?"
Let's also consider who Jackie Thacker is and the kinds of trainers that race these types of horses.
Thacker has been fined four times for violating medication rules in Louisiana since 2007. In one case that year, a horse he trained tested positive for three different corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory drugs commonly used in racing but highly regulated. Thacker said he did not administer any corticosteroids to Monzante in the days preceding the race...
Thacker said Monzante was administered an 8-cubic-centimeter shot of phenylbutazone, a painkiller, approximately 36 hours prior to the Saturday race. In Louisiana, it is legal to administer the drug outside of 24 hours from a race. Monzante also was administered a shot of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide and the adjunct bleeding medication carbazachrome, an anti-hemorrhaging drug also known as “Kentucky Red,” at four hours to post time, in line with state regulations...
Thacker acknowledged in the interview that he was charged with six counts of animal cruelty in 1990. However, he said the charges were withdrawn and he was cleared of all the counts after investigators determined that he was not responsible for the horses in question. He said the horses were owned by another person who shipped them to his farm sight unseen, and that they arrived at the farm in poor condition.
Clearly, the horse was being propped up so he could try to squeeze one or two more races out of him. That is, until he dropped. In Monzante's case, he didn't drop on the track. He had more class than that. Certainly more class than his trainer. Trainers like Don Roberson, of which there are many. As such, much of the blame also shifts to the Racing commission and the veterinarians, both of whom are fully aware of what is going on and do nothing about it.
Veteran trainer Don Roberson has been suspended by the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission pending a stewards hearing after a Delaware Park barn search found him to be in possession of “injectable medications, syringes, and needles.”...Roberson has at least seven medication violations from 2005-11, including three overages for Butazolidin and three methocarbomol positives in 2011. A 2012 Bute overage at the Alameda County Fair was dismissed with only a warning from California Horse Racing Board stewards because of no “similar violations during the last 365 days.”
You don't have to go far to find blame for this sort of thing all over the place. But no matter what, the bigger picture still exists and carries the biggest problem. These horses still have to go somewhere. And there is not even close to enough spaces to take them. So, whether they die violent deaths on the track, or slowly edge towards the end of the line, either way, they have no hope unless the amount of horses bred matches the number of available spaces to look after them when they are no longer useful commodities. If the demand met the supply, then they would have homes to go to, and the only issue would be preventing the owners and trainers from running them when they should give them away.
Secondly, when the purses are so high, as they are at Evangeline Downs due to casino fueled purses, then those horses will continue to be run, and into the ground, because you only have to win one race to get your money back. That also has to change. When a horse is valuable enough as long as they just win one race, the temptation to just run them is overwhelming for those who already live on the edge of poverty and being out of business if they have a couple of bad months.
"The last thing we want to hear is the usual empty comment in these cases, "He still loved to race." The fact is, Monzante either did not love to race anymore or he was too sore at his age to endure it."
That night that Summerjin was so lame that the vet scratched him off the track. Ian and I were also on a double date. We brought the girls to the track. To say that didn't work out so well was a major understatement. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant for dinner. As it happens, a couple just the next table overheard our less than happy conversation. The man at that table happened to be a harness driver from Michigan. He said that if you think it is bad here, you should see what they do at his track. They basically beat the crap out of the horses to make them go until they simply won't go anymore.
Haskin goes on in his article to ask the question,
Why was this allowed to happen?
Until racing seriously addresses those two issues, for starters, nothing is going to change. The real tragedy is that nobody wants to admit that. That is the real problem. Horse racing is too much business, and not enough sport and humane treating of living beings. Living beings, for which without them, the industry would not exist in the first place.
Breeders need to take some of the responsibility here. So do the owners. And the trainers. And the public. We all either make money off of them, or get entertainment from them. It is only fair that they get something back from us. If that means a percentage of the takeout from the betting, taken out of the purse money, then so be it. I know that wouldn't go over well with those who race now, and it likely won't happen, but that is a major part of the solution.
And the answer to Haskin's question? It's simple Steve. Racing cares more about money than it does about the animals. They are commodities. When commodities are not worth anything anymore, you ditch them. That is how it happens. And how it will continue to happen. And is happening right now. Today, this very day, thousands of horses will run in races. For many, it will be their last race. For some, they will die on the track. Others will die back in the barn. Still others will be hauled off to sales where still others, like Jackie Thacker and guys like him will buy them and try to squeeze more juice out of the orange.
If the horses were smart, they would just lie down like J R Willow and get it over with. Then nobody would complain anyway, because they would never see or hear of it, and it would keep happening over and over and over again. Like it will anyway.
Monzante was this months tragedy. He wasn't the only one. He won't be the last one either.