Ruffian, Alydar, and Barbaro – The Horrors of Horse Racing

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Ruffian, Alydar, and Barbaro – The Horrors of Horse Racing discusses how horses are exploited. Horse racing is a torture on a par with greyhound dog racing, dog fighting, cock fighting, rodeos, bullfights, and the other legal or illegal animal abuse activities to which human beings submit animals for entertainment and profit.

The Tragedies of Horse Racing


Ruffian was murdered by the greed of thoroughbred racing. In a highly publicized, made-for-television match race, the greatest filly of all time, and perhaps the greatest thoroughbred of all time, was matched against Foolish Pleasure, the 1975 Kentucky Derby winner, in one of the most eagerly awaited match races in the history of racing on July 6, 1975. Not only had she never lost a race in her ten starts, Ruffian had never even trailed another horse in her ten starts, a front-runner from post to finish. In one step she shattered her right front leg on the Belmont Park backstretch as she was leading Foolish Pleasure. In seconds, the beautiful bounding filly was floundering grotesquely, straining to keep on running, a shell of a horse with only heart and instinct remaining, Her leg wasn’t simply shattered, it was splintered so badly that fragments of bone protruded at different angles, penetrating the back of the foot joint (fetlock) to create an open wound, tearing the skin of her fetlock, and ripping her ligaments until her hoof was literally flopping in air, Ruffian still wanting to run and finish the race. The tall, stately, black filly had been reduced to a pain-racked sweating horse. Following a three-hour emergency operation, she came out of anesthesia and flailed out with her powerful legs, shattering the protective cast, leading to bleeding and the fateful decision. Remember Ruffian, dead at age 3 years and 3 months (April 17, 1972 – July 7, 1975).


In a story so abhorrent it is difficult to relate, greed, fraud, and almost unimaginable human cruelty led the damnable son of a tenant farmer, the hateful country bumpkin John Thomas (J.T.) Lundy to murder Alydar. The owner of Calumet Farms of Lexington, Kentucky, Lundy’s gross incompetence and profligacy had put the stables more than $120 million in debt and he developed a plot to murder the wondrous thoroughbred Alydar with one goal in mind, to collect on his insurance policy. Alydar had became famous as the close runner-up in all three races to Affirmed in the 1978 Triple Crown of racing in what turf writers describe as the greatest duel in horse-racing history. In the Belmont Stakes, they raced side by side, eyeball to eyeball, their hooves pounding as they hit the home stretch, running dead even for the final seven furlongs.

For a period in 1990 at Calumet Farms, those races were in a way repeated. In idyllic scenes, Alydar’s old rival, Affirmed, was also at Calumet in 1990. When the two chestnut-colored horses were out in their paddocks, they would stare at each another, their manes flicking in the breeze. Occasionally, Affirmed would start running on his side of the fence, and Alydar would take off after him on the other side. Even then, twelve years after their races, they remained competitors.

Remember Alydar. November 15, 1990

Alydar became one of the greatest sires in thoroughbred history, whose offspring often became champion racehorses themselves, and as such Alydar became the most heavily insured horse in history. His death meant a payoff of $36.5 million.

That was his undoing. On the evening of November 13, 1990, one end of a rope was tied around Alydar's right hind leg and the other end of the rope was tied to a truck. The truck drove into the stallion barn, pulling Alydar's leg from underneath him, with a force three times what a horse can exert, until it was destroyed. A security guard who had gone to the barn to make a phone call, found the great stallion in shock in his stall, his coat glistening with sweat, his right hind leg hanging by tendons, a shaft of white bone jutting through his skin. The regular night watchman assigned to the barn had been ordered five days earlier to take the day off and was replaced by a substitute. The security guard had a veterinarian called and in emergency surgery veterinarians were able to set the bone and put a cast on his leg. Unfortunately, within 24 hours, Alydar, hearing the whinnying of some mares in a nearby pasture, turned to look out a window in the Calumet clinic, put too much weight on the leg, and broke his femur. The sound of the break was reported to be as loud as that of a gunshot.

As he lay on the floor, an uncomprehending look in his eyes, the life of Alydar was ended. Alydar was murdered for insurance money by the owner of one of the most prestigious thoroughbred breeding farms in the world in the center of Kentucky thoroughbred country on November 15, 1990, at age 15. Remember Alydar (March 23, 1975 – November 15, 1990).


Michael Matz murdered Barbaro. The “trainer,” whose background was as a steeplechase rider, had decided to saddle Barbaro in a completely different manner before the Preakness on May 20, 2006, than he had before his other races, including the Kentucky Derby, disorienting the poor horse. Barbaro had won the Kentucky Derby and was favored to be the first Triple Crown of racing winner since Affirmed in 1978. He had won the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths, the biggest margin in a half a century since Assault’s 8-length victory in 1946, and many expected him to not only win the Triple Crown but to accomplish feats unprecedented in the history of thoroughbred racing. That would mean untold millions for the owners, breeding with 100 or more mares each year, and prestige and a nice salary increase for Mr. Matz. Barbaro stood in the gates, and then lurched forward against the still closed restraining metal gate with the force of a 1200 to 1300 pound animal. The horses were removed from the gate and Barbaro walked around. No one examined him, despite later claims to the contrary. I know. I watched it on television.

Metz stood in the stands. Any moron with a 50 I.Q. knew that the precision racing machine had to have been injured physically, at least bruised, and dizzy and woozy from banging his head fiercely against the metal gate. Yet, Matz remembered the purse and the salary increase and the prestige and the stud fees. He did nothing. I remember screaming at the television, “Scratch him, scratch him.” Metz was gutless. A spinless loser who murdered Barbaro. The mega-millionaire senile owners, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, were in the stands. Today they mourn Barbara as if he had been a member of their family, yet the millions dancing in their heads took precedence over their years of horse-owing experience telling them that Barbaro should not run and greed won over compassion. Stand up and scream, “Scratch him, scratch him!” The television cameras would have caught the frenzy in the stands and the jockey Edgar Prado would have dismounted.

The race began and 100 yards later, just a couple dozen steps, Barbaro’s tried to retain his balance on three legs in a pitifully wrenching sight, his right rear ankle shattered. Ruffian had not been enough for me to reject horse racing as barbaric. The date that Michael Matz and the Jacksons murdered Barbaro, however, I vowed never to watch a horse race again. Surgery led to an incurable hoof disease and Barbaro’s life was ended on January 29, 2007. The chief of surgery said that he doesn’t often see such catastrophic injuries. Most such horses are automatically just euthanized on the track, lacking the economic value to justify the surgery and rehabilitation. Barbaro was potentially very valuable. Remember Barbaro, murdered by the greed of the horse racing industry and Michael Matz, the gutless steeplechase rider, and the greed-motivated owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson on May 20, 2006, murdered at age 3 years and 9 months (April 29, 2003 – January 29, 2007).

Eight Belles

The Kentucky socialite women with their colorful hats and inebriated minds celebrating the biggest social event in the cultural wasteland known as Kentucky, and trying to ignore the murder of Barbaro less than two years earlier, saw a beautiful filly similarly murdered in front of their eyes when Eight Belles collapsed after shattering both front ankles one-eight of a mile after the finish line in the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2008. Her injuries, similar to that suffered by Barbaro in only one leg, and the resulting trauma to the animal were too devastating to even remove her from the track, resulting in the immediate induced end to her young three-year-old life. Cry in your champagne, pastel-bonnetted Kentucky debutantes. Although Larry Jones, her trainer, had the gall to state that Eight Belles just tripped over her own feet, the examination of the dead filly showed not only an absence of joint fluid in the damaged areas but also congested lungs, indicating over-racing, poor training, lack of medical attention, and the presence of performance drugs in her body.

Jockey Gabriel Saez certainly wanted to maximize his pay check, whipping Eight Belles mercilessly as she came down the final stretch in second place, in agony from two front legs whose tendons were stretched to breaking, the event that precedes the horrific snapping of bones. Saving a filly, who obviously produce many fewer offspring that colts, the gestation period for horses being 11 to 12 months, a significant fraction of their lives, isn’t worth the medical expense compared to simply cashing in the insurance policy. Murdering her on the track was the clear choice of the greedy owners. Remember Eight Belles, murdered May 3, 2008, at the age of 3 years and two months (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008).

Never Tell Lynda

The 5-year-old mare Never Tell Lynda died needlessly at the famous Churchill Downs racetrack because of a newly installed sound system that was oppressively loud. The system includes 750 speakers. She died during schooling, a walk-through to prepare for future races, before the racing began for the day. She was walking toward the paddock on the dirt track when the sounds of a starting gate bell blaring and a starting gate slamming open were blasted from a commercial being shown on the new video board. Poor Never Tell Lynda reacted as if in a race. She reared, twisted, lost her balance, and fell, hitting her head. Blood started gushing from her nose and mouth. She may have had crushed bones in the back of her skull. Five-year old mares aren’t very valuable, so they ended her life right then and there (May 22, 2014).

The Torture of the Industry

Breeding, Training, Racing, and Fractures

The entire horse racing industry reeks of inhumanity, greed, and unspeakable horrors.

The inhumanity begins with breeding and continues through training and racing. Thoroughbreds are primarily bred for speed, and racehorses have a very high rate of accidents as well as other health problems. Most horses in training are confined to a stall for as long as 22 hours per day. Horses control their stomach acids by continuously grazing, which they are unable to do confined to a stall. This leads to an estimated 90% of horses suffer from ulcers as a result of stress and an unnatural feeding regime.

A high accident rate may also occur because Thoroughbreds, particularly in the United States, are first raced as 2-year-olds, well before they are completely mature. Though they may appear full-grown and are in superb muscular condition, their bones are not fully formed and will have a decreased chance of injury. Studies have shown that track surfaces, inappropriately designed horseshoes, possessing toe grabs, medications, and high-intensity racing schedules may also contribute to a high injury rate. Horses are over-run. Their ligaments and tendons do not have sufficient time to heal and the bone fractures that lead to “break downs” result as a secondary result of the ripping of the supporting tendons.

One-tenth of all Thoroughbreds suffer orthopedic problems, including fractures. Estimates indicate that 1.5 career-ending breakdowns occur for every 1000 horses starting a race in the United States, an average of two horses per day. The State of California reported a particularly high rate of injury, 3.5 per 1000 starts. Similar rates of breakdowns occur during training, and the figures are probably higher at the poorly-maintained county fair race tracks. Other countries report lower rates of injury.

Among other race-induced health problems, 90% suffer from bleeding in the lungs due to over- exertion when racing, so-called exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

Mass Murders

Any belief that racehorses are retired to live out the rest of their lives in a tranquil country pasture is a myth. The reality for nearly all ex-racehorses is that they will be slaughtered well before the end of their normal lifespan. The average lifespan for a horse is 25 years of age yet the average age of a thoroughbred is just over 5 years. For those few whose lives are spared, many face an even worse fate, being passed from owner to owner, often ending up in paddocks, neglected and left to starve. A depressingly 130,000 American horses were slaughtered in Mexico and Canada in 2015, yet the rodeo, racing, and show industries—along with other irresponsible breeders—continue to breed hundreds of thousands of horses annually. Two-thirds of horses set to slaughter are quarter horses, and many are castoffs from the rodeo or racing industries. The Thoroughbred-racing industry sends an estimated 10,000 horses to slaughter annually, many for pet food, meaning that half of the 20,000 new foals born each year will eventually be killed for their flesh, sold by their owners often for just a few hundred dollars. Another estimate states that 35,000 thoroughbreds are born every year. For most of the horses that leave the racing industry, this means sooner or later the slaughterhouse. Many of these horses will not have run a single race. Out of 1000 registered horses born each year, only 300 will ever run a single race. Only around 2% of the horses that do race will win enough money to cover their costs. The racing industry keeps and publishes statistics of every conceivable description yet keeps no records of the fate of horses after they finish racing. The unsuccessful race horses are not the only ones sent to slaughter. The 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Horse of the Year winner Ferdinand was slaughtered in Japan without publicity or notice to previous owners when he was no longer “sufficiently” valuable as a stallion (March 12, 1983 – 2002). Exceller, who won numerous Grade I stakes in France and North America from 1976 to 1978 including the Hollywood Gold Cup, and who is in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame was slaughtered for meat in Sweden on April 7, 1997 (May 12, 1973 – April 7, 1997).

Mexico and Canada Slaughter Countries

The U.S. Congress effectively close down horse slaughter facilities in the United States, but that led to more suffering for the animals. Instead of shipping to the slaughterhouses in Illinois and Texas, the horses unlucky enough to be picked up by the meat man or that are sold at the “kill auctions” in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, now endure a long crowded van ride to Mexico or Canada, and then face death in ways even more barbaric than those that were the norm in the U.S. The “Mexican method” involves piercing or severing the spinal cord (pithing) and conscious dismemberment; horses endure conscious dismemberment.

Investigators from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found ex-racehorse Royale With Speed, the grandson of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, packed inside a “kill pen” in Kalona, Iowa, in 2012 among hundreds of panicked horses. By the time investigators saved him, Royale With Speed had been purchased by a meat buyer for $350 and was hours away from a harrowing ride to slaughter in Canada. He was dehydrated and running a fever of 103.7 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the normal 100.0 temperature for a horse, and his lymph nodes were so swollen that they later burst and oozed pus through his skin. Thankfully, this horse was saved and recovered, and was sent to pasture to join another horse that had been saved.

Investigators followed a trailer from the meat buyer’s property in Iowa to a slaughterhouse in Québec. They witnessed how the 33 horses aboard the transporter endured a 1,100-mile, non-stop 36-hour journey in subfreezing conditions and were never given food, water, or a chance to unload and rest. Eyewitness video footage taken inside the Québec facility revealed that at least 40 percent of the horses were still conscious after receiving a captive-bolt shot to the head. One horse suffered through an agonizing 11 shots before finally collapsing.

As with almost everything in horse racing, it’s the economics of greed that drives the decision. The most effective tool with which to kill a racehorse is the wallet of its owner. Solutions to the retirement problem are too often letting a horse starve somewhere in the back paddock, or shipping it off to Mexico for a horrifying death. The “industry” should either be banned or ended voluntarily or compassionate means of retirements must be found for these beautiful animals.

We don’t own the Earth; we simply share it.

The Earth will only be habitable for all species when it is no longer inhabited by man.

Compiled by Les Golden of Oak Park, Illinois. Join the effort by refusing to attend and watch horse racing and spreading this message to your friends.