Saturday, May 17, 2008

Losing Horses Are Put Down

For thoroughbred racehorses in Puerto Rico, success can be a matter of life and death. Many losers don’t make it off the racetrack grounds alive. More than 400 horses, many in perfect health, are killed each year by lethal injection at a clinic tucked behind the Hipodromo Camarero racetrack, chief veterinarian Jose Garcia said after checking clinic log books going back seven years. Unlike on the US mainland, where many former racehorses are retrained for riding or sent to special refuges, the animals have few options in this US Caribbean territory. Owners say caring for and feeding a losing racehorse is too expensive. “If it doesn’t produce, after a while I give it away or I kill it,” said Arnoldo Maldonado, 60, a businessman who races about five horses a year. “It bothers me, but it has to be done because there is no money to pay for them ... I’m not going to keep losing.” The killings also bother veterinarians who carry them out. While many horses are unsuitable for adoption because of injuries or bad tempers, far more could be rescued than the current few dozen a year, Garcia said. The veterinarians at the racetrack clinic have an informal system of contacting farms and breeders when a healthy horse comes in to die. But so far there are no programs such as the US-based Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which rescues and advocates for horses coming off the track. The killing of so many racehorses in Puerto Rico isn’t happening because they have suffered a serious injury, like Eight Belles, the filly euthanized after breaking both front ankles racing in the Kentucky Derby on May 3. Here, even when a second home is available, veterinarians say that some owners want losing horses executed anyway—some to save money, others to have revenge. “You’ll get a few owners who get so upset, they just want the horse dead,” said veterinarian Shakyra Rosario. Lionel Muller, senior vice president at Hipodromo Camarero, Puerto Rico’s only racetrack, said owners generally have the horses killed only as a last resort when they cannot find a suitable second home. “Most of the horse owners really love the horses.”

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