Did “a right-handed rousing” contribute to winning horse’s apparent cardiovascular collapse?
BALTIMORE, Maryland––“Rallied under a right-handed rousing” by jockey Horacio Karamanos, according to the Pimlico Race Course chart-writer, the official record-keeper for the race, Homeboykris charged from behind to win the first race of the May 21, 2016 card culminating in the Preakness Stakes, the second of the Triple Crown series.
Half a length ahead, Karamanos put away his whip for Homeboykris’ final stride across the finish line, winning for the 14th and last time in the 64th race of the 9-year-old gelding’s career.
Karamanos dismounted, he and Homeboykris were photographed, and then, after walking about 100 yards toward the barn, Homeboykris died abruptly of an apparent cardiovascular collapse.
Filly Pramedya also died
Homeboykris, owned by Baseball Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, was only the first horse death on Preakness Day. In the fourth race on the muddy track, the four-year-old filly Pramedya suffered a broken leg, throwing jockey Daniel Centeno, who suffered a broken clavicle. Pramedya was euthanized at trackside.
Pramedya’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables, had also owned Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, who suffered an ankle injury leading eventually to his death at the start of the 2006 Preakness.
Homeboykris and Pramedya were the 32nd and 33rd horses to die at Pimlico since 2009, of whom 26 were four years old or older, according to the Equine Injury Database.
But they were the first to die on Preakness Day since Mending Fences suffered a broken ankle in 2007.
What triggered cardiovascular collapse?
Broken ankles are relatively easily understood. Racehorses dying of cardiovascular collapse are another matter.
Did the “right-handed rousing,” or whipping, trigger Homeboykris’ death as well as his victory?
This may long be debated.
Why are race horses still flogged?
What is already known is that the last bastion of horsewhipping, public or private, is the home stretch of race tracks, before thousands of frantic screaming bettors.
Whipping work horses fell out of vogue even before the advent of motorized transportation, largely through the work of former American diplomat Henry Bergh, who in 1865 stopped a teamster from flogging his fallen horse in St. Petersburg, Russia, and became thereby inspired to retire to New York City to found the American SPCA.
Horsewhipping journalists fell into dispute after the 1900 silent one-reeler Horsewhipping the Editor portrayed the flogger as a coward who was easily thrashed by a small boy and a scrubwoman.
But the jockey who refrains from beating his horse down the homestretch runs the risk of being accused of holding back, fixing the race, cheating those who put their money on that horse to win, place, or show.
75% to 83% of blows land with impact
Top jockeys will often say, usually in private but sometimes on the record, that whipping does not improve horse performance, that they try not to actually touch their mounts with their whips (a claim belied by video analysis showing that from 75% to 83% of blows land with visible impact), and don’t believe whipping beyond a tap to tell a horse to sprint or correct misbehavior should even be practiced.
Whipping is flat-out not necessary, many jockeys will say if unafraid of being quoted––and, they add, if they did flog a mount who was not accustomed to the beating, the horse might swerve away, causing a potentially lethal pile-up.
Even those jockeys make a show of whipping, however, because bettors demand it.
Science shows futility
Those bettors might demand the opposite if they followed the relevant scientific literature as closely as they do the Daily Racing Form.
Indeed, University of Sydney, Australia researchers Paul McGreevy and David Evans should have laid the whole notion that whipping helps horses to win with a paper entitled An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races, published by the journal PLOS One on January 27, 2011.
Wrote McGreevy and Evans, “Measurements of whip strikes and sectional times during each of the final three 200 meter sections of five races were analyzed. Jockeys in more advanced placings at the final 400 and 200 meter positions in the races whipped their horses more frequently. Horses, on average, achieved highest speeds in the 600 to 400 meter section when there was no whip use, and the increased whip use was most frequent in the final two 200 meter sections when horses were fatigued. This increased whip use was not associated with significant variation in velocity as a predictor of superior placing at the finish.”
One hit per stride to the finish
Australian Racing Board rules in effect since 2009 allow a jockey to whip a horse with a forehand motion up to five times before the last 100 meters of a race and then as many times as he likes to the finish––at one hit per stride, approximately 12 blows.
While the McGreevy and Evans research has not yet influenced a change in the rules Down Under, the British Horseracing Authority did take notice, ruling on September 27, 2011, after a 10-month review of whipping rules, that jockeys who whip a horse more than seven times in a flat race, more than eight times in a jumping race, or more than five times down the home stretch, are to be suspended for at least five days and forfeit their riding fees plus prize money (if any).
“Had the rule been in place for this year’s Grand National at Aintree,” observed BBC horse racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght, “it would have cost winning jockey Jason Maguire – who was suspended for five days for using his whip with “excessive frequency” on Ballabriggs – about £40,000.
The rule change came three weeks after McGreevy, Evans, and colleagues Andrew McLean and Bidda Jones shared the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for scientific research that contributes to animal protection.
98% of horses are whipped
“Professor McGreevy’s team has been instrumental in bringing an ethical dimension to horse training and racing at an international level,” Australian Museum director Frank Howarth told the Sydney Morning Herald.
But, noted the Sydney Morning Herald, “Under the rules set by the Australian Racing Board, only a horse in contention to win a race can be whipped. Yet 98% of horses were whipped, according to the research team’s most recent study.”
Observed New York Times writer Dan Barry on June 5, 2015, “With the chance that American Pharoah might claim the first Triple Crown since 1978 by winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, millions who do not normally follow horse racing may once again see jockeys whipping horses to go faster in pursuit of glory and purse.
“Questions about the whip,” Barry continued, “have figured into the thoroughbred American Pharoah’s pursuit of the Triple Crown. His jockey, Victor Espinoza, was fined $300 by California racing officials in April for breaking the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks, a race she won by more than five lengths. And in last month’s Kentucky Derby win, he struck American Pharoah more than 30 times, although he did not rely on his crop in a muddy win at the Preakness Stakes two weeks later.”
Dead horse was whipped
Barry recalled that whipping rules in U.S. horse racing were amended in several states after the 2008 Kentucky Derby, “when Eight Belles was euthanized after fracturing her front ankles. Although the whip did not play a direct role in her demise,” Barry wrote, “its use figured in the reforms that followed. The whip was redesigned to be more humane: shorter (no more than 30 inches), thicker (at least three-eighths of an inch in diameter), and with shock-absorbent padding (that, in the case of Stellar Wind, apparently managed to break the skin). Now it is more a tool of encouragement, officials say, with a flap that, instead of stinging the horse, makes a popping sound to keep the animal’s attention.
“Efforts have also concentrated on reducing how often a rider can strike the horse,” Barry added. “Beginning in July 2015, for example, jockeys racing in California will be prohibited from whipping the horse more than three times in succession without giving it a chance to respond. In New York, the state issues a fine or penalty for excessive use of the whip. Since 2010, racing stewards have also enforced a house rule of no more than five strikes in succession, with a pause of two or three strides to see if the horse responds.”
The changes in the New York rules came six years after Smarty Jones on June 6, 2004 lost the Belmont Stakes and his chance to win the horse racing Triple Crown possibly because jockey Stewart Elliott whipped him.
Wrote Becky Burgwin for Counterpunch, in her column of June 9, 2004, “ I come from a long line of jockeys, trainers, and breeders. When I heard that Smarty Jones had won the Preakness by seven lengths without having a crop laid on him,” after winning the Kentucky Derby, I was intrigued. I’ve watched that race [on video] and they’re right. Elliott never touched him. So I was thinking, maybe this small, mellow, sweet-as-all-get-out horse can make it look cool to win with no whippings, thus affecting change for all horses in future races.”
But at the Belmont, Burgwin recounted, “Smarty Jones had a great start and stayed ahead for the first half. In the home stretch he took off like a shot and got about three lengths ahead. Then, for some completely incomprehensible reason, Elliott started to whip him. You could see Smarty’s head snap back. Elliott whipped him over and over for the rest of the race and you could see how it was getting harder for Smarty to run. You could see it in his gait, his head and ears. He was beat, literally. He was being beaten and it took everything he had just to finish.”
“Change the rules”
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board had already tightened rules against excessive whipping once, in March 1998, but the whipping Elliott gave to Smarty Jones was well within the rules.
“Wouldn’t it be a humane move to change the rules,” Burgwin concluded, “so that none of the jockeys carry crops, so none of the horses would ever get whipped again?”
Before the 2004 Triple Crown series started, Laura Hillenbrand expressed similar views to Bill Finley of The New York Times, speaking as author of the best-selling biography Seabiscuit: An American Legend, about a racehorse considered by many experts to be perhaps the greatest ever.
“There are myriad reasons why many of us feel that the use of the whip in racing needs to be changed, and one of them is that the manner in which the whip is often used makes a presentation to the public that many find offensive and repellent,” Hillenbrand e-mailed to Finley.
25% of winners not whipped
Almost simultaneously, just before the April 2004 running of the Grand National, the most famous horse race in Britain, Animal Aid distributed an analysis of 161 races held in October and November 2003, presaging the McGreevy and Evans work, which concluded that a fourth of the winners were never whipped, and that 70% would have won anyway, without whipping.
“Animal Aid embarked upon this survey assuming we would find evidence that the welfare of horses was being compromised,” Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid told Guardian writer Paul Kelso. “The welfare problems turned out to be worse than we feared,” as whipped horses were much more likely to veer into the paths of others.
“What we did not anticipate,” Tyler continued, was that our analysis would produce such clear, statistically rooted evidence that use of the whip is counterproductive. We have demonstrated that whipping race horses is pointless as well as cruel.”
But the Animal Aid study also confirmed that jockeys are afraid to spare the whip, lest they be suspected by bettors of not trying to win.
Ex-jockey threatened to shoot whippers
There was already a significant history of mounting concern over whipping, escalated, Barry of the New York Times recalled, after “a former Australian jockey named Walter Hoysted crusaded against whipping racehorses, especially those doing their best. Frustrated by his failed letter-writing campaign in the mid-1960s, he put down his pen in favor of a loaded shotgun, went to a racetrack in Melbourne, and threatened to use the gun if jockeys used their whips. According to Horse-Racing’s Strangest Races, by Andrew Ward, his lawyer later said in his client’s defense, “Mr. Hoysted is perhaps a humanist 10 years ahead of his time.”
The Royal SPCA of Britain in August 1998 threatened to prosecute jockeys who land frequent hard whip strokes for criminal cruelty. Three weeks later the British Jockey Club suspended the first three finishers in the Juddmonte International States race at York for excessive whipping––among them 11-time national champion Pat Eddery and 1997 national champion Kieren Fallon.
Then, in November 1998, the Jockey Club suspended Tony McCoy for two weeks. McCoy had just ridden a record 253 winners in one year, but had incurred five whipping infractions in his 700-plus rides. The suspension cost McCoy about £10,000.
“It is a question of changing the cultural attitude that hitting a horse means it wins,” explained Jockey Club director of regulation Malcolm Wallace.
Prior to the 2011 British Horseracing Authority actions, the strongest regulations pertaining to whipping were those of New Zealand and India.
New Zealand rules in effect for nearly 20 years bar jockeys from hitting a horse more than six times consecutively in mid-race. After drawing 105 days on suspension, for flogging horses in mid-race 19 and 27 times, respectively, New Zealand jockey Jason Warrington in 1999 scored a first by agreeing to seek help from a sports psychologist.
Indian jockeys since April 2001 have not been allowed to use whips at all, other than “signaling whips” made from light flexible rubber.