Morine’s Victory: Follow-up

A few weeks ago, as I was writing about Morine’s Victory, the 10-year-old son of Victory Gallop who had been rescued from an auction, I knew what the reaction would be. I knew that racing fans, outraged and horrified, their compassion stirred, would publicly criticize the horse’s last racing connections.

As I learned the details of Morine’s Victory’s journey from Aqueduct to Cranbury, New Jersey, I contacted the New York Racing Association. In December of 2009, NYRA enacted a policy that reads, according to a press release,

Any owner or trainer stabled at a New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) track found to have directly or indirectly sold a horse for slaughter will have his or her stalls permanently revoked from all NYRA tracks. NYRA requires its horsemen to conduct due diligence on those buying horses and encourages them to support rescue and adoption efforts and to find humane ways of dealing with horses unable to continue racing.

Said NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward at the time, “We are fully committed to protecting our sport’s equine athletes. This policy sends the message that horse slaughter will not be tolerated and that those participating in this practice, either knowingly or for lack of due diligence, will not be welcome at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, or Saratoga.”

Several weeks ago I spoke with Bruce Johnstone, manager of racing operations, and in subsequent conversations, he told me that he and P.J. Campo, vice president and director of racing at NYRA, had followed Morine’s Victory’s trail as far as they could from trainer Neil Terracciano. What they discovered will surprise no one.

Terracciano and the horse’s owner, Edkat Stables, gave or sold the horse to a woman known to one or both of them. She in turn gave or sold the horse to someone else, whom she purports to know and with whom she had done equine business in the past. That someone else did not return NYRA’s phone calls. Dead end.

Both the connections of Morine’s Victory and the woman who first took him reportedly expressed shock at where Morine’s Victory ended up. One wonders if it’s the same kind of shock—shock!—felt by Captain Renault when he discovered that gambling was going on at Rick’s Café in Casablanca.

Last summer, Daily Racing Form reported that, following an investigation into a horse trained by John Campo (named, unbelievably, Ultimate Journey) that had been rescued from a Cranbury, New Jersey auction (the same auction from which Morine’s Victory was rescued), NYRA was considering changing the wording in its policy from “indirectly” to “knowingly” selling a horse for slaughter.

That change was confirmed by NYRA; the current policy reads:

NYRA Anti-Slaughter Policy – Any owner or trainer stabled at a New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) track found to have knowingly sold a horse for slaughter will have his or her stalls permanently revoked from all NYRA tracks. NYRA requires its horsemen to conduct due diligence on those buying horses and encourages them to support rescue and adoption efforts and to fine humane ways of dealing with horses unable to continue racing.

NYRA and the other tracks that have instituted anti-slaughter policies are, clearly, well-intentioned. It seems, however, that they are also in an untenable position.

Any trainer or owner who wants to put a horse in an auction is going to do so. The chances of the horse being discovered at auction are small, and given the track policies, no horse is going to go directly from racetrack to auction, providing a virtually indisputable buffer between the stable and the horse’s fate.  There will always be others who had the horse, other “good hands” into which a retired racehorse has been placed before it ends up at auction.

Even trainers and owners who act responsibly and in good faith – of whom there are many – who believe that they are placing their horses in good, responsible homes, can find themselves questioned when a horse they no longer own is discovered in a dangerous or unhealthy situation, through no fault of their own.

So once again, and so often, like faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, a horse that can’t race any more is dependent on the kindness of strangers, in Morine’s Victory’s case, strangers named Jill Marshall of Blue Ridge Lane farm and Andrea Pollock.

Tennessee Williams’ play is set in a coarse, unsympathetic world to which Blanche is wholly unsuited. Desperately clinging to vestiges of a disappearing genteel Southern culture, Blanche can’t adapt to the environment in which she finds herself. As she is led away at the end of the play, to an existence of which she is mercifully unaware, she utters her most famous line: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Rather, it seems, like the horses who, finding themselves in an environment to which they are no longer suited, are similarly led away to a fate over which they have no control.  And if they are lucky, kind strangers are indeed waiting.

24 thoughts on “Morine’s Victory: Follow-up

  1. This gets at one of the real issues with horse retirement: horses are expensive and difficult to keep, and very often people who want to do a “good deed” by taking a retiree don’t understand what they’re getting into and are unequipped to deal; off-track Tbreds are a project, not a pet. And that sets off the unfortunate pass-along chain… this is why we need an industry-wide solution in which everybody — breeders, owners past and present — shares the freight.

  2. Victory was one of the lucky ones, who found those kind strangers who will take good care of him. There are so many more who only find one last ride on the ugly truck….

  3. Thank you so much, Teresa, for this wonderful follow-up article on Morine’s Victory. I agree completely with Frank’s comment – the problem will persist until an industry-wide solution involving all parties is enacted. I wish your article could be made mandatory reading for everyone involved in the sport.

  4. My (probably naive) thought is that every track, if they’re really serious about this issue, should have a reputable organization establish an adoption/rehoming program with facilities at the track so the owner/trainer doesn’t have to “find” someone to take a retiring horse. The horse is simply turned over to the program right at the track. Possibly the program could be funded with an extra amount tacked on to entry fees, etc.

  5. Teresa, I am a faithful reader of your blog. Your posts on racing history and horse welfare are delightful. BUT your devotion to the backstretch horsemens culture has impaired your thinking and blurred your vision.

    In Moraine’s Victory post racing journey their are backstretch horsemen who facilitated his trip to the kill pen. They don’t drive the van to the final destination but we all know how the process starts.

    Horsemen are the problem not the solution.

  6. Andrea, Adam, and Jill: Thank YOU for taking such good care of this horse.

    Amen, Frank. Got any ideas? 😉

    Linda, I’ve thought about and through that idea a lot; planning an upcoming post on it, in fact!

    Bob, while I enjoy your participation here and welcome your comments, I do find this one insulting. In what I’ve written here, I have neither impugned nor defended the actions of any horsemen, while I have acknowledged the problems in the current system I have described a situation accurately and fairly. Without further, direct, irrefutable knowledge of what has happened, it would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

  7. Be insulted. Your answer is a dodge along with the other great minds. Highly improbable for the horse to get to the kill pen without horsemen participation. If folks keep turning a blind eye to obvious horsemen short falls the game will continue to decline and you might find yourself covering hockey full time.

  8. Bob, we are not judge and jury here, even though at the most deluded times that I wish we were. I believe Teresa would not shirk from reporting/documenting something that could be directly attributable to a person by name. No need to remind you, that making the careless dropping of a name without having the direct evidence and proof, can impugn a reputation, and not just of the alleged miscreant.

    Trusting that someone will do as they say, or do “the correct thing”, as we believe it should be done, doesn’t always get adhered to. And while it’s easy to say, “The horse used to be at the barn of trainer X and owner Y”, one needs to very careful who to assign blame to. Do we ultimately blame the owner and trainer of Ferdinand for what ultimately happened? Sometimes, those straight lines aren’t really so straight.

    I believe Teresa loves animals and loves people, both of which are guilty of disappointing at times. I also believe she’s a pretty darn good reporter/columnist, who maintains a cool blog. I find some of the articles educate. Some cause me to emote. And, some actually irritates and provokes me to write something. To me, that’s a sign of a good blog and a good reporter.

  9. August, I agree with your post and wisdom. I am trying to promote meaningful discussion leading to change for the good of the horse and horse racing. Teresa is smart, articulate and a savvy writer who has the instrument to examine the dark side of the backside romance. Change will only come in the horse welfare discussion if horsemen make it happen. They need prodding by someone who has access and can move freely in their habitat.

    The smell of horse poop and fresh air in the morning is intoxicating.

    A rescued race horse story is heart warming but they should never have to be rescued.

  10. Bob the reality is horses do need to be rescued, and not just from off the race track. No one is turning a blind eye to the horseman’s involvement in how some wind up at auction. But being accusatory is not the way to engage the horsemen in wanting to be part of the solution. The reality is that it needs to be easier for them to rehome their horse with a reputable organization than it is for them to send the horse off to an unknown future.

  11. Linda, Good points, thank you. Owners and breeders{horsemen} refuse to restrain themselves when it comes to how many foals they produce each year. Most of these horses don’t make it as race horses. To compound the problem these same horsemen refuse to support these abandoned animals when the horse really needs a friend.

    The foundation of horse racing are the horses not the humans who lead them around. Horses are the stars of the show and for decades horsemen throw many under the bus.

    Lip service and dancing around the problem doesn’t get the job done. To use an old Marine term these folks need to be snatched up by the stacking swivel and confined to the muck pit until they see the light.

    Linda, Teresa is a smart crafty babe and she has the tools to start chipping away at the unwanted horse crisis. Her blog needs to have more bite and quietly put some of these negectful luninaries who lurk about the ManOWar room eating good deli food, on notice, it’s time for change.

    Horse Racing is no longer “The Sport of Kings” and if changes aren’t made it will be no longer.

    I have been away from the track for a long time but not away from horses. On my outfit horses eat first and come first.

    “If many of us are wild about horses,it is because the horse still matters, maybe now more than ever. Because to get close to a horse is to feel a kinship with the great tribe of horses long gone, with Ruffian and Secretariat, with Commanche and Bucephalus. Because no other animal lets you partake so directly, so sensuously in what a fleet horse feels-the tickle of the wind, the kettledrumming of hooves, the easy grace of the trot” Lawrence Scanlan

  12. And Bob? Instead of instructing Teresa in how you think she should conduct her blog, maybe you should start your own and throw those luminaries into the muck pit yourself.

  13. And yet another horse tied to Neal Terracciano and EdKat Stable ended up going through the Cranberry, NJ kill auction 4/20/2011. B B FRANK was found in the kill pen after breaking down in the 12/30/2010 race at Aquaduct. It was a claiming race and guess who claimed him??? His previous owner has a squeaky clean reputation. Sadly, his last registered owner (EdKat Stables) did not!

    Now he lays in a stall at a rescue, unable to be a horse because someone didn’t bother to fix the chip in his fetlock! The rescue is a private one and doesn’t have the funds for his $2000 surgery. He either has the surgery or has to be euthanized for his own good! My God, he is 7 years old!

    This boy has lifetime earnings of $188,000 and someone threw him away? What are people doing? This is not a tractor! This is a living, breathing, thinking animal who is in pain and lord knows where he has been before being rescued?

    If you can’t afford to retire them or make provisions for them you should not race them!!

  14. Shinhopple, thank you for passing along this information, and for being willing to speak further with me about it. I will follow up on this and appreciate your sharing it.

  15. One thousand thanks to one of B B Frank’s old owners for stepping forward to help with funds for his surgery. Now we can plan for his future! Thank you!

  16. Teresa,

    I think you are giving NYRA a free pass on this one. The change in wording in their policy is significant. I am sure it was initiated by the legal department. The new wording significantly waters down the policy, and as a journalist, I think it is your job to hold their feet to the fire.

  17. Hi Teresa,

    I just wanted to call your attention to Morine’s Victory’s Facebook page. The latest post deals with the vet’s x-ray report on his injured leg. The x-rays show an old fracture with moderate to severe arthritis. The facebook page says “he never should have raced in January”.
    So, it looks like we can add neglect and abuse to the list of charges.

  18. Andrea, I did see that X-ray, but before we make any accusations, I think it’s important to gather as much information as we can. It’s not at all uncommon for horses to race with screws in their legs (the undefeated Personal Ensign raced with five screws in hers!), and as we have no idea when the injury took place or under whose care, I think that we should proceed cautiously.

    Ned, I appreciate your opinion. Unfortunately, the situation just isn’t as simple as it appears, and it would be unfair to hold someone responsible without proof.

  19. Teresa:

    I believe that your article is great! I would like to mention the importance of making sure that horses go to good homes. Often people go to an auction and see the horses going for a very cheap price say $300 and they think they can take care of the horse not know the care and dedication horse ownership, especially a horse like Victory. I know that horse loves alike realize that horse ownership is a life long commitment and unfortunately with the current economic times horses are in a challenging situation. This is why I am a supporter of non-profit equine rescues such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) http://www.trfinc.org/ Where not only do horses that need long term care receive it but those horses who can be adopted have homes that have been thoroughly screened. It is often the case that when a horse is retired off the track they go to a horse trader or they go through a series of homes rather than finding a home and owner who is suited for horse ownership.

  20. I think you captured in your beautiful prose the fate of many(perhaps most)Thoroughbreds who race. Good intentions can’t always save lives….there’s luck and the right person at the most needy moment. Thanks for this piece.

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