There’s only one way to comfort ourselves, when we think about it:
There are worse things.
A few weeks ago I tweeted and posted Facebook messages asking for anyone connected to horse racing in Puerto Rico to contact me. I found Caribbean Horse Rescue—the one and only Thoroughbred rescue on the island—on Facebook and e-mailed the owner. I e-mailed the person who bought him at OBS as a two-year-old and asked for help locating him.
The reason for my sudden panic: I’d gotten a Virtual Stable alert for a timed work: Royal, our chestnut colt, was training in Puerto Rico.
Despite all this, it took weeks to find him. No one on Twitter or Facebook seemed to have any connections; or, if they did, they weren’t planning on helping me. I got vague responses from the buyer. It took until he was entered into a race to figure out which trainer’s barn the colt was in. I got back with Kellie from Caribbean Horse Rescue, and she promised to check in on him each week when she was at the racetrack.
But it’s Puerto Rico.
For thoroughbreds in this U.S. Caribbean territory, being fast enough to win, place or show is a matter of life and death. Losers often don’t even make it off the racetrack grounds alive.
More than 400 horses, many in perfect health, are killed each year by injection at a clinic behind the Hipodromo Camarero racetrack, said chief veterinarian Jose Garcia. The Associated Press on Friday examined clinic log books that confirmed Garcia’s account.
I got an e-mail a few days after Royal’s first start: he’d fractured a sesamoid, and the trainer had him put down.
It seems ridiculous. Royal was solid. His dam was solid. His sire was solid. There was nothing delicate about the entire family. They were built to last forever. They were the freaking black boxes of the racehorse world.
This was a horse who jumped a five foot fence from a stand-still when he was six months old.
This was a horse who was born to do great things.
He was taken from Ocala and shipped to a place where horse racing is little better than the illegal tracks set up in America’s rural countryside.
The sport attracts many small-time businessmen such as Maldonado, who devotes most of his time to running a booth at a flea market in nearby Rio Grande. Garcia said many take on more horses than they can afford in hopes of striking it rich.
There’s no lay-up when you run a flea market booth. There’s no surgery. There’s no second chance. There’s no taking care of your horse. There’s just euthanasia.
And yet there are worse things than euthanasia.
Some horses wind up fending for themselves. Emaciated thoroughbreds, marked by tattoos from the track, have been found among the “chongos”- stray, mixed-breed nags – chewing grass by the roads, according to Amigos de los Animales, an animal sanctuary.
And there is America’s own special way of dealing with unwanted racehorses: the kill pen.
And so that’s what we tell ourselves: there are worse things. That’s all we’ve got.