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ISRAEL: anti-horse racing article  -- NRG is the online version of Ma'ariv, Israel's second largest newspaper. English is below.

Greed, Drugs, and Catastrophic Injuries

The Truth Behind the Glamour of the Horse Racing Industry

By Nina Natelson

Director, Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI)

"Greed has trumped the health of horses, the safety of the jockey, and the integrity of the 'sport'," declared Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Chair of U.S. Congressional hearings on the widespread drugging of race horses, alarming number of catastrophic breakdowns resulting in death, cruelties, and the sad fate of these involuntary athletes when their brief careers are over. Begging Congress to intervene, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, horse racing officials and animal protection organizations appalled at the rampant abuse in the industry testified about what they had witnessed. Despite their emotional appeals and Congressional promises to implement reforms, however, three years after the hearings, little has changed. This year, like so many before, thousands of intelligent, sensitive animals, pushed beyond their natural limits by all those who stand to profit from them, are still born to die.

The hearings followed the tragic deaths of young champions Barbaro, who shattered 20 bones in his right hind leg while racing, leaving the foot separated from the ankle joint, dangling loosely, and Eight Belles, whose jockey kept whipping her even after she broke her ankles, until she crossed the finish line, collapsed, and was euthanized. Behind the image of the upper crust in fancy hats, cheering from the stadium, are exploitation, welfare violations, and premature deaths.

Every year, thousands of horses are bred so a few fastest can be picked out to race. Most of the rest are sent to slaughter. Trained and raced at just 2, when they are fastest, but before their bones have hardened, they are vulnerable to catastrophic injuries -- ligaments and tendons torn from the structure they supported, multiple, inoperable bone chips, bone-on-bone arthritis and more, experts testified.

Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but an Associated Press survey of some U.S. race tracks revealed 5,000 deaths during races from 2003-2008, while acknowledging that this number is low because several states were not included and fatalities are not recorded. Available data indicates that injuries and fatalities are on the rise.

Drugs to boost performance, steroids to cover up pain so they can race even while injured (which increases damage long-term), drugs to stop bleeding in the lungs resulting from over exertion, diuretics, and legal substances to cover up illegal ones are commonplace. New cocktails containing everything from cocaine to cobra venom are concocted faster than laboratory tests can be modified to detect them. One owner testified that when he told his vet he wanted no drugs given, the vet responded "You want to win, don't you?"

We envision horses sprinting across a field on a spring morning and assume racing is natural, but horses in nature run in short spurts. What is unnatural is to be so pushed beyond their limits that their lungs fill with blood from overexertion -- a condition which can be fatal and which affects virtually every horse raced. A plethora of other health problems, such as chronic ulcers and heart attacks, are also common. And then there is the whipping. One British study showed that they are whipped up to 30 times per race.

By the time race horses are about 6, they are no longer fast enough and their careers are over. Thoroughbreds who don't race can live to 25, but for those raced, even if healthy, their fate is likely to be the slaughterhouse or to be sold from hand to hand in a downward spiral of abuse. Charities that try to find homes for ex-race horses receive a pittance from the industry "to care for the thousands of horses they have made their living from," one sanctuary owner testified. "We can only afford to take in a fraction of them--there is no magical green field waiting -- (only) at best, a needle and far too often something much worse." Israel is a small country with not enough places to take in all the abused horses there are now. What will it do with hundreds more bred or imported annually?

In every country where the racing industry has gained a toehold, the situation is the same, even on the tiny island of Macau off China, where the media printed photos of young, healthy ex-race horses lined up, shot in the head, and hauled off by a crane to the garbage dump.

Insurance fraud, crime and other problems that negatively affect society are also an inherent part of the industry. No regulations or laws in any country have been able to prevent or stop the abuses. Why does Israel think it can do what all the laws and oversight bodies in England, the U.S. and elsewhere failed to do? When gambling enters the picture, greed overrides all other concerns, especially animal welfare.

Promoters of the industry know that cruelties to race horses violate the Animal Protection Law and plan to ask the Knesset to exempt these horses from the law's protection. Chief Sephardic Rabbi Moshe Amar issued a psak stating that Jews should not participate in the industry in any way because the cruelties inherent in it violate the Jewish principle of tsa'ar ba'alei chayyim, the slaughtering of so many young, healthy horses violates the law against wanton destruction, and gambling is prohibited because it enriches one at the expense of another.

If the Knesset votes to promote gambling on racing, Israel will have one final choice to make. Will it enter the horse slaughter business on a large scale, since as many horses leave racing as enter it annually? Or will it enter the cruel live transport trade as other countries are moving to end it, shipping horses to Europe to end up on dinner plates. Either is a gruesome prospect.

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