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.