Shocked! Shocked! by gambling
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:
HOUSTON, LITTLE ROCK– –
All the money in breeding race or show horses
is gambling money.
Figure that out, and it’s no surprise
that jockey Billy Patin allegedly used an electrical
shocking device to boot the horse
Valhol home in the April 10 Arkansas Derby,
beating 30-to-1 odds.
Patin, 36, appeared––briefly––to
have won his first big race in 20 years of
Then an Oaklawn Park worker
found a shocking device on the track near the
finish. A video replay showed Patin dropping
a black object at about that point.
On May 4 the Arkansas Racing
Commission redistributed the Arkansas
Derby purse, fined Patin $2,500, and suspended
him through the balance of 1999––the
maximum the commission could impose.
Patin is also suspended from all
other racing sanctioned by the Association of
Racing Commissioners International. The
ARC recommended that the ARCI extend the
suspension to May 5, 2004. Patin, claiming
innocence, said he would appeal. Another
jockey rode Valhol to a 15th place finish in
the 19-horse Kentucky Derby.
ARCI has recorded 242 race horse
shocking incidents since 1974; 42 since
1990. The devices used are similar––sometimes
identical––to those Steve Hindi and
other SHARK volunteers have videotaped in
use to goad bulls as they gallop from the
chutes in rodeo bullriding competition.
The ARCI, the Professional
Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the
International Pro Rodeo Association all ban
the use of electrical shock to make animals
perform. Besides being cruel to the animals,
shocking can make their behavior unpredictably
Shocks can also be used to rig a
competition, since the horse who spurts
toward the finish or bull who bucks more vigorously
can significantly enhance a rider’s
chance of victory.
But the public bets on horse racing.
Only the riders and stock contractors have a
monetary stake in the outcome of rodeo.
That makes horse racing perversely
more honest, in that chicanery––though
seemingly ubiquitous––is more often
exposed. Examples are made of offenders
who get caught, though it is anyone’s guess
as to how much cheating occurs undetected.
Horse racing profits depend ultimately
on bettors believing that they are not
being systematically cheated, even as they
are induced to bet repeatedly on losers.
Thus in 1997 the Illinois Racing
Board permanently suspended jockey Patrick Boxie for allegedly
“possessing and conspiring to use an electrical shocking
device” at Fairmount Park, near Chicago. The PRCA and
IPRA, by contract, have yet to announce any penalty against
any of the many users of shocking devices repeatedly caught in
the act at rodeos.
To maintain public confidence, horse racing has an
elaborate system of quasi-independent oversight, reinforced by
the possibility that especially egregious offenders may be
charged with criminal fraud. Rodeo is self-policing, as are
most forms of non-racing horse competition.
Cobs and the mob
As well as penalizing cheaters, when caught, U.S.
horse racing authorities make a show of excluding elements of
known dubious background. Anyone can be a rodeo cowboy or
stock contractor, but in February 1999 would-be race track
owners Lang Wilby, Paul Savoie, and Tambra Emmett withdrew
their application to reopen the Green Mountain Raceway
in Pownal, Vermont, ostensibly because they were required to
make more than $2 million in public safety improvements,
after spending $300,000 to convert the former greyhound track
back to the original horse racing configuration.
The Vermont State Police, however, had recently
questioned Emmett about her father-in-law, Albert ‘Albo’
Vitali Sr., 74, reputedly part of the Patriarcha crime family
since 1963, when his name surfaced at a U.S. Senate hearing as
an alleged leader of traffic in stolen goods. Vitali reportedly
also has a criminal record for illegal bookmaking, and selling
counterfiet coins, and at least once posted bail for the late
Raymond LS. Patriarcha, reputed godfather of the family.
“When I married my husband, I didn’t marry my
father-in-law,” Emmett objected.
But U.S. horse racing regulators don’t want any taint
of the abuses associated with reputed organized crime influence
within traditional palio horse racing in Italy.
Palio races are run over cobblestoned city streets.
They are dangerous: the Tuscany palio alone has resulted in 38
horse deaths since 1975. Chicanery makes them even more
dangerous. Incidents in 1997 and 1998 included at least two
thefts of well-regarded horses, the substitution of an English
thoroughbred in dyed disguise for a local horse, and––in apparent
retaliation or warning––the shooting of three horses belonging
to Sardinian breeder Mario Demontis. The tongues of two
were cut out; the head of the third was impaled on a fence.
Gambling on horses is scarcely limited to the track.
The nature of the betting is better disguised in barns and show
rings than at parimutual windows, yet the stakes are higher,
and the bettors are often no less addicted than the marks who
wager their rent money on a tout’s shaky tip.
Just getting into the breeding game costs tens of thousands
of dollars. The ante to compete for the really big money
is in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions.
The potential payoff, in producing horses for either
racing or show, is the return from selling the breeding
prospects of a winner, as other gamblers speculate that the offspring
will be winners too. Inevitably, most lose, most of the
time. No gambler can win big if others don’t lose.
The lure of gambling is the hope of getting rich quick,
without having to work for it, by collecting what others have
earned yet unwisely risked. But few gamblers are ever lucky
enough to get rich, or so much as break even. They plunge
into debt instead. Then they gamble ever more recklessly,
struggling to recoup their losses.
As losses mount, so does the temptation to cheat: to
resort to crime, sometimes directly against other humans, but
more often against horses who have little or no idea how much
rides upon their success or failure.
This was the background to the May 21 arrest of former
show horse trainer Michael Earl McKinney, 41, at a motel
in Katy, Texas. McKinney is to face charges filed in October
1998 that back in 1985 he conspired to murder his former business
partner, John Guillory Jr., to collect more than $700,000
in false insurance claims.
“Between 1982 and 1985,” Edward Hegstrom of the
Houston Chronicle reported, “McKinney and Guillory joined a
broader scheme in which at least 17 horses were suffocated or
shot to collect insurance.”
Former stable boy Robbie Bourque, 33, the alleged
hit man for McKinney, was in October 1998 convicted of murder
in the Guillory case.
After the murder, both McKinney and Bourque were
convicted of mail fraud in connection with the horse
killings––and former Hardin County district attorney R.F.
Horka reportedly lost his job, had his law license suspended,
and drew federal probation for perjuring himself in order to free
another member of the ring from prison.
The Guillory murder and associated fraud added up to
the biggest horse-related crime case to break since 1994, when
a probe of the 1977 disappearance of animal welfare patron
Helen V. Brach led to the eventual conviction of her alleged
killer, Richard Bailey, who was also convicted as one leader
of a ring who killed horses for insurance money. At least 25
other people were convicted for horse-related arsons and fraud.
The probe also achieved the conviction of former stable
owner Kenneth Hansen, for allegedly murdering three
Chicago boys in 1954, after sexually assaulting one of them.
James A. Blottiaux, 54, of Chicago, is still facing murder
charges for allegedly killing Cheryl Ann Rude, 22, with a car
bomb in 1963, as hit man for one of the suspected founders of
the ring, Silas Jayne, who died in 1987. Rude was an accidental
victim. Silas Jayne allegedly hired Blottiaux to kill his
brother, George Jayne––and was convicted of conspiring to
murder George Jayne after the latter was killed in 1971.
But the Guillory murder case, big as it seems, is
attracting much less attention than another Houston race horserelated
crime case breaking during 1998 and 1999: a series of
trials hinging on just what happened to Alydar, the runner-up
in all three legs of the 1978 Triple Crown series.
Insured for $36.6 million by Calumet Farm, Alydar
was found in his stall with a broken right rear leg on the night
of November 13, 1990. He was euthanized two days later.
Lloyd’s of London paid off the claim. Calumet Farm, owing
$120 million, paid $20 million immediately to First City
Bancorporation, a now defunct Houston bank that had threatened
foreclosure. Calumet Farm owed First City $50 million.
The Alydar death came under investigation as result
of a probe into the affairs of the bank. In November 1998, former
Calumet Farm groom Alton Stone, 39, drew five months
in prison and five months of home confinement for lying to a
federal grand jury about his activities and whereabouts during
the night Alydar was injured. Stone was to have been on duty
as night watch, filling in for regular night watch Harold Kipp.
The Stone trial was preliminary to indictments
brought in March 1999 against ex-Calument Farm president
John T. Lundy and chief financial officer Gary Matthews, for
allegedly conspiring to pay a $1.1 million bribe to an unidentified
First City director in order to obtain approval to receive the
loans. Lundy and Matthews face five criminal counts each.
It was all part of trying to fix the bets. Insurance is
another form of gambling. The insurance system usually works
because both the insurer and the insured seek the continued
well-being of the persons, animals, or objects covered by the
policy. The system fails horses, however, when they are
insured for more than their market value, as can easily happen
when the market value is so heavily speculative.
An untried young horse of noted bloodlines may fetch
quite a fancy price. A few poor racing or exhibition performances
later, potential buyers may feel they know the limitations
of the horse, whose value may plunge to the meat
level––even though he or she is only weeks or months older,
healthy, and still short of maturity.
That’s when the desperate horse speculator may gamble
on fixing a race, cheating at a show, or killing a horse.
Horses on crack
Scarcely a month goes by without a horse doping
scandal breaking somewhere.
In October 1998, for instance, the Ontario Racing
Commission discovered that eight thoroughbreds had been surreptitiously
sedated at Woodbine Race Track, near Toronto.
The apparent motive was to sabotage their trainer, Mark Casse.
In November 1998, West Virginia racing officials
found cocaine in the bloodstream of a horse named Azellia,
who had just won a $13,200 purse at the Mountaineer Race
Track in Chester. Azellia’s owner/trainer, John Fisichello,
was suspended for a year and stripped of his winnings.
In December 1998, the Standardbred Investigation
Society of the U.S. Trotting Association looked into allegations
that two horses were illegally drugged during the recently concluded
Atlantic Sire Stakes racing season.
January 1999 brought the arrests of British jockeys
Ray Cochrane and Graham Bradley, along with former trainer
Charlie Brooks, for alleged drugging––the latest of 13 arrests,
total, in a probe begun in early 1997.
The most cases, however, have cracked in Hong
Kong. Thirteen people including 11 current and former jockeys
were arrested in December 1998 for allegedly participating in a
$2 million race-fixing scheme said to have begun in 1996.
Rattled, the Hong Kong Jockey Club in March 1999 hired a
new director of security: Timothy McNally, 51, reportedly the
second highest-ranking FBI official stationed in California.
In April, Hong Kong Jockey Club staff found two
top horses had been drugged, one apparently to enhance and
the other to hinder performance. In May, Hong Kong trainer
Patrick Biancone said he had been sabotaged after his horse
Rickfield tested positive for illegal presence of steroids.
Slowing horses by shoving sponges up their nostrils
is another common race-fixing tactic, surfacing in at least 12
races at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, during
1996 and 1997. In mid-1997 Churchill Downs officials
began routinely checking horses’ nostrils. Three-time convicted
felon William Michael McCandless, 52, was indicted for
the spongings by a federal grand jury in May 1998.
Reputedly a serious gambler, McCandless is grandson
of a race horse trainer, nephew of a jockey, and also
nephew of a race horse owner. He drew a four-year prison term
in 1977 for allegedly stealing a mare named Fanfreluche, who
was carrying a foal by the Triple Crown winner Secretariat;
was later convicted of transporting stolen tractors across state
lines; and was convicted in 1980 of cultivating marijuana.
Winning hoof care
Drugging and sponging may not be more common,
however, than instances of soring the front feat of Tennessee
walking horses to make them adopt the high-stepping artificial
gait that wins show prizes. Soring was banned under the 1970
federal Horse Protection Act. But it never stopped, in part
because inspection for complicance was left to deputies hired
by the various walking horse shows and federations.
Another reason why soring continued was that the
industry didn’t expell trainers and breeders who did it. As of
1998, nine of the previous 16 walking horse Trainers-of-theYear
had reportedly been suspended for soring or had been formally
charged in pending cases, along with nine of the past 11
presidents of the Walking Horse Association. Surveys of other
top breeders and trainers found that about 70% had participated
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service in early 1998 published a stricter protocol for detecting
soring. The Walking Horse Association board responded by
postponing a big show and convening a meeting of upset trainers
and breeders instead, while the National Horse Show
Commission said it just wouldn’t sanction any walking horse
shows until industry complaints were addressed. As walking
horse shows occur almost every weekend from spring through
fall in the southern states, and many generate as much as $3
million in community revenue, electoral politics got involved.
Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Harold
Rogers, both Kentucky Republicans, eventually attached advisory
language to the fiscal 1999 agricultural appropriations bill
suggesting that the USDA sign a “written enforcement agreement”
to appease the trainers and breeders.
Enforcement currently follows the same pattern as
before, with about one breeder or trainer per month agreeing to
pay a penalty for soring violations.
Stress vs. abuse
Deliberate abuse is far from the only occupational
hazard for competition horses. About 4% of all U.S. race horses
are injured badly enough each season to miss a scheduled
start. The British injury rate is higher because British racing
usually includes jumps.
Race horses are often injured by uneven or unusually
hard track surfaces, a problem resulting mainly from weather
shifts. Lung bleeds are even more common, afflicting 50% of
all race horses, according to a recent study by Bob Schroter
and David Marlin, of the British-based Animal Health Trust.
They studied the health records of 2,000 race horses in all. The
older the horse, they found, the more the likelihood of bleeding:
80% of four-year-olds suffered from it sometimes. The
chief cause of lung bleeding, Schroter and Martin reported, is
shock from the impact of front hooves striking the ground.
Most injuries to show horses, other than those associated
with soring, occur when they are loaded, unloaded, or in
transport. While race horses are usually stabled at a single
track all season, show horses may be moved several times a
week. The horses typically become accustomed to transport,
but anyone––animal or human––is at greater risk on a highway
than at home or work.
Any horse may suffer heat stress, either racing or in
transit. Polo ponies are notoriously vulnerable, since polo
tends to be played in high heat and humidity.
But––despite some fatalities––most horses survive
injuries that have a natural analog. Horses are literally born to
run. They gallop easily over quite rough terrain in the wild,
often for much longer than conventional racing distances, and
sometimes run to exhaustion in attempting to escape predators,
lightning, or fire. They endure and mostly recover from heat,
drought, and humidity, if able to cool off, drink, and rest.
The major humane issue associated with horse competitions
have less to do with the competition itself than with
the gambling aspect, which encourages use of abusive tactics.
The two most ubiquitous abuses of competition horses
don’t even involve cheating. One is whipping a race horse
down the home stretch, in front of the frantic bettors. Top
jockeys will often say, usually in private but sometimes on the
record, that they rarely actually touch their mounts with the
whips, and don’t believe whipping beyond a tap to tell a horse
to sprint or correct misbehavior should even be practiced. It
flat-out isn’t necessary, they say––and, they add, if they did
flog a mount who wasn’t accustomed to the beating, the horse
might swerve away, causing a potentially lethal pile-up.
Even those jockeys make a show of whipping, however,
because bettors demand it. If a jockey doesn’t whip a
horse, many bettors believe, he is holding back, fixing the
race, and those who bet on that horse are being cheated.
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board
tightened rules against excessive whipping in March 1998, but
stronger action has come abroad.
The Royal SPCA, of London, built momentum
against whipping in August 1998 by threatening to prosecute
jockeys who land frequent hard whip strokes for criminal cruelty.
Three weeks later the British Jockey Club suspended the
first, second, and third finishers in the Juddmonte International
States race at York for excessive whipping––among them 11-
time national champion Pat Eddery, and 1997 national champion
Then, in November 1998, the Jockey Club suspended
Tony McCoy for two weeks. McCoy, 24, had just ridden a
record 253 winners in one year, but had incurred five whipping
infractions in his total of more than 700 rides. The suspension
cost McCoy about £10,000.
Jockey Club director of regulation Malcom Wallace
acknowledged that, “It is a question of changing the cultural
attitude that hitting a horse means it wins.”
Said McCoy of his suspension, and a requirement
that he take a refresher course on whip use from the British
Racing School, “If it helps, I’m willing.”
New Zealand rules bar jockeys from hitting a horse
more than six times consecutively in mid-race. After drawing
105 days on suspension, for flogging horses in mid-race 19 and
27 times, respectively, New Zealand jockey Jason Warrington,
25, scored a recent off-track first by agreeing to seek help from
a sports psychologist.
Whipping, however, is usually a matter of only transient
moment to horses. Overbreeding is life-and-death. Fifty
years ago, U.S. thoroughbred breeders produced only about
6,000 prospective racing foals per season. Now they produce
about 45,000. Just 33,000 are eventually registered to race.
Approximately 80,000-90,000 thoroughbreds, of all ages, will
race in any given year. Successful horses will normally race
from three to five years. The losers, trained to the saddle,
could be good riding horses for ten to 20 years. But continual
oversupply insures that most, instead, are auctioned as horsemeat
and for rendering––often at only two to four years of age.
The oversupply exists because the speculative nature
of horse breeding encourages breeders and trainers to give up
early on any horse without quick potential, and instead try a
Similar economics pertain to breeding show horses
and polo ponies.
So long as gambling promises the biggest profits,
betting on change may buck the odds. California, for instance,
banned selling horses to slaughter by referendum in November
1998. The ban reduced the number of horses auctioned within
California by about two-thirds.
But early reports indicate little if any change in the
modus operandi of the racing industry. Losing race horses are
sold chiefly to cut losses, not in expectation of making money,
and if that requires trucking a horse to another state for auction,
such is easily done. If trucking costs too much relative to the
slaughter price, the horses could just be killed where they are.
Aware that growing concern about the fate of ex-race
horses is a public relations problem, the horse racing industry
is following the decade-old example of the greyhound industry
in assisting and promoting selected nonprofit animal retirement
and adoption programs whose directors are not outspokenly
critical of racing per se. About $400,000 will be donated by
horse race tracks to such programs in 1999. Yet that is just a
fraction of the cost of the programs.
The industry has also enlisted state support in many
states where horse racing and breeding are most influential.
Kentucky, for instance, in April donated 100 acres of land valued
at $1 million to the New Jersey-based Thoroughbred
Retire-ment Foundation. The site will shelter 65-70 ex-race
horses, under care of about 50 minimum security inmates from
the nearby Blackburn Correctional Complex.
The Thoroughbred Racing Foundation already runs
retirement farms staffed by the Wallkill Correctional Facility in
New York and the Charles Hickey School for Boys in
Maryland, and is building a similar farm at the Marion County
Correctional Facility in Ocala, Florida.
As with greyhound racing, all the retirement and
adoption programs combined, however, cannot handle more
than a small part of the volume of culled animals. Greyhound
rescuers compete for placements with more than 5,000 animal
shelters and 750 private breed rescue societies who also have
dogs needing homes.
Race horse rescuers, and to a lesser extent show
horse and polo pony rescuers, compete with each other, with
the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse adoption program,
and with would-be rescuers who recently have been trying
to save foals bred in connection with the production of
pregnant mare’s urine, the source of the estrogen drug
Ultimately, the best hope for former competition
horses, as for former racing dogs, will be the contraction of the
industry to the point that speculative breeding ends because the
big money just isn’t there any more. That could happen. The
audience for both horse racing and greyhound racing is aging.
Smaller tracks have closed or are in financial trouble. Horse
track attendance dropped from 74.7 million in 1980 to 38.9 million
in 1997, while the TV ratings share for the Kentucky
Derby has fallen to 20%, from 60% in 1960.
But the real bottom line for horse racing is the betting
handle. The good news is that it fell from $19 billion in 1982 to
$15 billion in 1996, and is apparently still falling.
The bad news is that horse racing is still 10 times as
big in dollar volume as U.S. retail fur sales, and the fur industry
is still operating, in inflation-adjusted dollars, at about twothirds
of the level of 1990; half of peak.
An abusive industry shrinks only so much by losing
the people who just were unaware of the cruelty it entails. The
hard core––the people who just don’t care––tend to diminish
only by slow attrition, and all the while the people who care a
lot about preventing suffering must maintain awareness campaigning,
so that such an industry cannot make a comeback.