As November arrives, so does the reality that winter is approaching.
With November comes the end of the season at many northern racetracks. The horses with futures are being loaded into big brand-name air-ride vans to be trucked south to Florida or Aiken or New Orleans.
And what about the horses without futures? Their air-ride van days are over. The trucks waiting for them are hitched to big aluminum stock trailers with no names painted on their sides.
A friend of mine wrote a country song once with a great line: “Good news is at the airport. Bad news takes the bus.” A horse world translation would be: “Good news arrives on an air-ride van. Bad news hobbles off a stock trailer.”
And so it goes.
Out in California, today is the first day of the Breeders Cup, the closest thing we have to a world series of horse racing. Most of the older runners will be taking one-way rides on big vans at the end of the Cup. They’ll be headed to breeding farms, to start a second career in the lucrative but inefficient business of producing more horses capable of running in the world’s richest races.
What of the rest of 2012’s leftover runners, from the Breeders Cup on down? What will become of them?
Look no further than Thursday’s New York Times for an insightful article to usher in the 2012 Breeders Cup. Racing journalist Joe Drape launches the championship weekend not with an analysis of the talent or the spectacle or the odds. He talks about the horses that don’t make it to the Breeders Cup and profiles a woman who tries to keep them off the stock trailers headed to places that many would rather not write about this weekend.
Meanwhile, from across the Atlantic comes news that slaughterhouses in The Netherlands and Belgium are killing horses in record numbers. In the first half of 2011, slaughterhouses in The Netherlands accepted 3,400 horses. According to the Novum News Agency, the 2012 total through June was 4,500. That’s quite a jump.
But seen through the lens of American horse wastage, it’s appalling. If figures estimating that 138,000 horses a year are sent outside the United States for slaughter in Mexico or Canada, that means that more than 10,000 horses each month are killed for their meat. That’s more than slaughterhouses in The Netherlands will see in a year.
The subtle message hidden in the European statistics may send a chill through US horse advocates: a glut of horse meat on the European market may translate to lower prices for Canadian- and Mexican-processed horse meat.
In Belgium, slaughterhouses received about 200 horses per week, according to Express.be, as quoted by Horses.nl. They estimate the increase to be up by a third. Thierry Smaghe of the Federation of Belgian Meat (Febev) told reporters that the price of feeding a horse over the winter a few years ago might have been 500 euros but that now the price has doubled, and may even be triple that this year.
There will be a silence in the racing world after the Breeders Cup. The horses will be led off to the next chapters in their lives and we’ll receive little dispatches about which famous stallions will stand at what famous farms. And then we’ll hear the stud fees.
Some will keep racing. Some will be on those vans to the breeding farms. Some will go to retraining or adoption farms. The others? We don’t know. We never know.
Some would rather not know.
What would happen if NBC Sports dropped the superlative adjectives for a few minutes during the marathon Breeders Cup broadcast? What if NBC told the world what they need to do to keep the leftover racehorses from getting on those stock trailers?
If you love racing, you have to love it, warts and all. It’s not all about big hats and trophies and winners circles. And if you are media covering the spectacle, you have to cover it all, which means that you have to squeeze a wart now and then.
Leftover racehorses are part of racing’s story, and they always have been. If we ever needed people to speak up, speak out, and–most of all–reach out, the time has come.
Now here’s the good news, saved for last: wishes do come true! NBC filmed a three-part segment last week about the CANTER Mid-Atlantic organization, which is involved in selecting racehorses for retraining and rehoming. NBC will showcase the good work that this organization does and hopefully stress that organizations like CANTER need financial support and homes for horses.
Jessica Morthole from CANTER Mid-Atlantic said, “They interviewed Allie (Conrad), CANTER MA’s director, and several volunteers about the work that CANTER MA does in terms of track listings, taking in donated horses and our retraining program. We are excited to see the final clip!”
Broadcast plans are always subject to change, and the segment was filmed before SuperStorm Sandy, but I will update any changes or news here. Please plan to watch the Breeders Cup on the NBC Sports Network beginning at 4 pm on Friday and at 3:30 pm on Saturday.
The CANTER segment is scheduled to air ?today around 6:20 p.m. ET (3:20 PST). Remember, this is all on the NBC Sports Network, which is a cable sports channel, not on NBC itself. Only the Breeders Cup Classic on Saturday night at 8 p.m. (ET) will be on NBC.