COLUMN: Hope can rise above sport’s demise

The horse racing industry in Canada has just distanced itself even further from public sentiment with the discovery that thousands of race horses in Ontario are headed to slaughter.

With the provincial Liberal government’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks program, and ensuing track closures, horse owners claim they can’t afford to keep an estimated 4,000 horses provincewide.

It is believed more than 2,000 brood mares have already been sent to slaughter for meat.

The Slots at Racetracks program was a subsidy (some call it a partnership) that generated $1.2 billion in revenue at slot machine parlours at racetracks. Of that revenue, $345 million annually went to the horse racing industry. The province pulled the plug on the deal in March.

Now that the industry is forced to stand on its own, the non-profitable horses are pegged for slaughter (euthanasia and body disposal being the more expensive alternative). There simply isn’t enough money to go around.

It is, at best, a disgusting display of greed blended with politics where the apparent loser is the only player (the horse) that has no chance to defend itself.

Clearly, the subsidy allowed people with no business being in the horse racing business to own and train horses. The quality of racing at most tracks is poor, and breeding standards in this country are pitiful. The idea is to breed as often as possible and hope a winner among hundreds or thousands of horses emerges. Winners are run until they break down, and losers make the slow decline through the classes until they’re not worth the hay they eat.

The desperate race for purse money over the past 20 years has resulted in horsemen cheating, horses being drugged, and a culture that is not morally and ethically on par with the rest of society when it comes to animal welfare (why whipping is still permitted is a mystery).

It’s no wonder the sport is experiencing a slow and painful death.

Horses that were once celebrated on the track going to slaughter is nothing new, however. For every horse that is given a hero’s retirement, there are thousands that are discarded like garbage without a second thought.

Over the years, some non-profit organizations have cropped up with the noble intent of saving unwanted race horses, but they can only rescue so many.

But from every tragedy a phoenix can rise. As horrific as this thinning of the herd may be, it also offers an opportunity for the horse racing industry to be stripped down to its bones and be rebuilt.

It can start with quality over quantity. Improve breeding practices, improve the culture and create an honest, responsible industry.

I stand by my previous claim that the best five words in sports is “down the stretch they come!” When done correctly, horse racing is a beautiful thing, an event that inspires and awes.

It has been difficult to watch the slow death of horse racing over the years, but the veins that supply the sport with its lifeblood have become filled with toxins.

I hope this sad waste of life awakens a new order, and that in the future the lives of horses will be regarded higher than the profits they are bred to provide.

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