Race tracks in trouble–horses starve in Pakistan, are butchered in Japan and U.S.

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2001:

KARACHI–A globally distributed July 2 expose by Associated Press writer Zahid Hussain brought help to about 60 starving racehorses at the closed Karachi Race Club in Pakistan–but about 70 horses had already died by the time Hussain found out about the situation. Another 310 horses were still stabled at the race club, of whom about 100 were reportedly struggling on “starvation diets,” Adam Lusher of the London Telegraph reported on July 15, while the rest were still in relatively good shape.

The rescue was led by former Pakistani Army Lieutenant General Shah Rafi Alam, 68, director of Pakistan operations for the London-based Brooke Hospital for Animals. The Brooke has an equine clinic in Karachi, but has previously focused on helping draft animals. Funding of $8,000 came from the International League for the Protection of Horses.

“The provincial government of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, ordered races suspended in March until the Jockey Club of Pakistan, which owns the racecourse, paid a $30,000 fee,” wrote Hussain. The Jockey Club balked, said deputy provincial home secretary Shanawaz Tariq, the fee would only buy reconsideration of whether or not to allow races–not a guarantee of permission to resume.

“Others said personal grudges held by government officials were also a factor in the closure. In an Islamic country where gambling is religiously forbidden but officially tolerated, racing
has been controversial,” explained Hussain. Pakistan banned horse racing in 1977, but lifted the ban in 1978. Racing was again interrupted amid economic and political disputes in 1989 and 1995.

Then, however, horses were not abandoned. This time, wealthier owners removed their horses from the racetrack stables. Others waited too long, including the owners of Great Shah, age 7, winner of the Quiad Azam Gold Cup in 2000, and Flag of Pakistan, considered the best new horse on the circuit when the track shut down. By the time their owners realized racing would not resume soon, the horses were too debilitated to attract even horsemeat buyers–even as the hoof-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease scares
hitting the cattle market in Europe sent the price of horseflesh soaring to record highs.

Cyanide saves some

The killer-buyers were quicker to move a few months earlier in Nakatsu City, Japan, activist Megumi Washio told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “In December 2000, Mayor Suzuki was still recruiting new owners of thoroughbreds to race,” Washio wrote. “On February 10, Nakatsu City suddenly closed the race course because it had been running in the red and debts were up. Near the end of May, 200 thoroughbreds were butchered.”

Horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. are expected to kill about 100,000 horses this year, the USDA estimates. About 75% of the meat will be exported to Belgium and France.

An estimated 7,000 “retired” racehorses go to slaughter each year, along with thoroughbreds and standardbreds who are never registered to race because in youth they seem too slow or suffer injury.

Race track closures also feed the traffic, including the June 5 shutdown of Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a month after the last live race was held. Opened in 1942, closed after a 1977 fire, and reopened in 1985 after Robert Brennan and the International Thoroughbred Breeders Co. invested $140 million in reconstruction, Garden State Park drew 375,000 bettors to live racing as recently as 1995, but attendance fell to 173,419 in 1999, while the “handle” plunged from $70 million to $30 million.

The track site is being redeveloped as a shopping and office complex. Racing may be recalled by an off-track betting parlor at the site, proposed by Penwood Gaming, which paid $1 million for 10 acres plus $550,000 for a liquor license.

Some of the displaced horses may have received a temporary postponement of fate, however, after an estimated 29% of anticipated 2001 thoroughbred foal birthings were lost in an epidemic of miscarriages that swept Kentucky and parts of adjacent states in April and May, costing the industry an estimated $225 million. The foals were apparently poisoned in the womb after a plague of eastern tent caterpillars ingested residual cyanide from wild and ornamental cherry tree leaves, then fell to the ground and were either consumed accidentally with fodder or excreted the cyanide into spring grass. The phenomenon has been observed before, but usually there are not enough tent caterpillars to cause miscarriages in large numbers.Most of the dams survived because they passed the cyanide to the fetuses instead of absorbing it themselves.

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