We feature these fatalities not because they are any more heartbreaking or catastrophic than the breakdowns and deaths of the countless thousands of others who have been killed at American racetracks. We are aware of the following injuries and deaths because they happened to well known horses and took place on a national stage.
Apr. 19, 2003 to Nov. 4, 2006 Killed in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Churchill Downs, KY
PINE ISLAND, a 3-year old filly, won four of her six starts. Her promising career and ultimately her life came to an end on November 4, 2006 when she broke down on the backstretch during the running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff held at Churchill Downs that year. It was discovered that Pine Island had dislocated her left front ankle so severely that there would be virtually no chance of her survival.
Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, a track veterinarian at Churchill Downs who examined her said that there were likely multiple fractures and soft tissue injuries as well. Due to the decreased blood supply and the risk of contamination from the open wound caused by the injury, she was euthanized after being vanned off the racetrack.
Pine Island was trained by Todd Pletcher.
Apr. 29, 2003 to Jan. 29, 2007 ― Killed from an injury sustained in the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore, Maryland, the second leg of the Triple Crown.
On May 20, 2006, Barbaro ran in the Preakness Stakes as a heavy favorite, but, after a false start, it appeared he was alright. However, it was later discovered that he had fractured three bones in and around the fetlock of his right hind leg.
Around a minute and a half later, Barbaro was reloaded. Barbaro broke down in the front stretch shattering a reported 20 bones altogether it was later revealed.
The next day, he underwent surgery at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania for his injuries. In July he developed laminitis in his left rear foot. He was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent five further operations, and his prognosis varied during an exceptionally long stay in the Equine Intensive Care Unit at the New Bolton Center.
While his right hind leg eventually healed, a final risky procedure on it proved futile because the colt soon developed further laminitis in both front hooves. His veterinarians and owners concluded that he could not be saved.
Barbaro was euthanized on January 29, 2007 at around 10:30 A.M. EST by decision of his owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who indicated that they felt that his pain was no longer manageable.
“Obsessing over that individual injury misses the bigger picture, which shows that horse racing routinely devours its stars“, states Pat Ford, writing for ESPN on the death of Barbaro.
In July Barbaro developed laminitis in his left rear foot. He was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent five further operations, and his prognosis varied during an exceptionally long stay in the Equine Intensive Care Unit at the New Bolton Center. While his right hind leg eventually healed, a final risky procedure on it proved futile because the colt soon developed further laminitis in both front hooves.
Barbaro was put through multiple surgeries, treatments and therapies for 8 long months. It was horrific to witness.
Mercifully, Barbaro’s veterinarians and owners at long last concluded that he could not be saved. He was euthanized on January 29, 2007. Barbaro’s remains were cremated shortly thereafter.
Ten Years On
Deadspin published an article on May 20, 2016 featuring a video clip, “How Did Barbaro Really Get Hurt?” showing him crashing through the starting gate followed by his all too quick reloading.
David G. Zipf, chief veterinarian for the Maryland Racing Commission, insists he examined the colt thoroughly enough to predict a safe run. That was not possible. Read on.
So Barbaro was not examined. Zipf lied. So absolutely no one could have known that Barbaro had not been hurt when he exploded prematurely out of the gate.
Notwithstanding the above, Barbaro should have been scratched after his false start. It is what any responsible owner or trainer with an ounce of morals or scruples would have done. However, the Triple Crown was on the line, so greed and ego ruled and in the end destroyed a beautiful, talented horse in the process. Who cares? None of that matters in horse racing. It is a billion dollar business run by charlatans, cutthroats and dopers routinely lethal to its equine athletes.
Feb. 23, 2005 to May 3, 2008 ― Killed in the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, KY
“She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles.” Blaming the breeders and investors, sports writer Sally Jenkins claimed, “thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it.”
George Washington (‘Gorgeous George’)
Jan. 3, 2003 to Oct. 27, 2007 ― Killed in the Breeders’ Cup in the slop at Monmouth Park, NJ
Four-year-old George Washington shattered a bone in his foreleg, piercing the skin, just 100 yards from the finish. According to his jockey, Mick Kinane, he pawed at the ground with the damaged leg trying to make sense of his injury. The screens went up and he was destroyed.
These are the best images we could find. Some of them are less than stellar, no doubt due to the distance they were taken from and the horrible conditions.
Both Barbaro and George Washington were bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson who are still churning out racehorses bred to the same lines. They are hardly alone. They represent a trend that has caused the decline in the American Thoroughbred resulting in countless breakdowns and deaths.
“Thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S. reported more than three horse deaths a day last year and 5,000 since 2003, and the vast majority were put down after suffering devastating injuries on the track, according to an Associated Press survey. Countless other deaths went unreported because of lax record keeping, the AP found in the broadest such review to date.”
The carnage is not limited to death on the racetrack.
The Thoroughbred-racing industry sends an estimated 10,000 horses to slaughter annually, meaning that half of the 20,000 new foals born each year will eventually be killed for their flesh. Source: PeTA Nov 4, 2019.