Welcome to Alex Brown's blog. I will occasionally write about horse racing, horse welfare, social media and other random topics.

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Phone conversation with Ahmed Zayat, owner of American Pharoah, prior to the Haskell.

American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Belmont Stakes (Gr I) and the Triple Crown at Belmont Park 6/6/15. Trainer: Bob Baffert. Owner: Zayat Stables
American Pharoah strides clear in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
Photo Credit: Jessie Holmes/Equisport Photos

The following is based on a telephone conversation I had with Ahmed Zayat, owner of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, on Tuesday, July 28.

American Pharoah begins the second part of his three-year-old season in the Haskell Invitational Stakes on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

AB: What is it like to own an American treasure.
AZ: American Pharoah is a blessing, a special horse, a sweet horse. He is a one-in-a-lifetime horse. It is an unbelievable privilege. We bred him as well as own him; we did it the hard way as [Bob] Baffert [his trainer] would say, breeding him.

He is America’s horse, we’ve waited for this horse to bring us hope. He is everybody’s horse now. We own him, we are his custodians. It is a responsibility. I feel a sense of responsibility to share him, to share him with the public. He belongs to everyone now, he is a Triple Crown winner. We have to be extremely careful what with we do next.

American Pharoah has won 5 Grade 1 races, on different tracks, in different conditions.

He is carrying his flesh well. When considering his next race, we can see how is he traveling. He is a great horse, but the horse always comes first.

We have to be careful not to tarnish the Triple Crown. We are not scared of racing him, but it is a balancing act. He enjoys his training, he enjoys his racing, he is a happy horse. We won’t race him unless we know he is ready, and really fit. But we know that things can happen in a race; Secretariat was beaten by Onion at Saratoga, it does happens. But as long as he is happy and healthy we will race him.

I am a fan before being an owner. I am a student of the game. Things happen in racing. Small fields, you become the target, but we cannot worry about that. I cannot micromanage the race. As long as he is happy, healthy and fit, in that order, we will keep racing.

He did some incredible things in this year’s Triple Crown, beating larger fields than in the past. He has won at seven furlongs up to a mile and a half in his career. He has won on the polytrack, and all kinds of dirt surfaces.

AB: Is it about the horse or you?
AZ: This is all about American Pharoah. I am just a person, a very lucky person. We have been gifted with a beautiful horse, it is just a beautiful gift. But it is all about American Pharoah. Its about the athlete, I love horses, I just do.

Not long ago I was laying down in his stall, he is a 1200 pound animal. Baffert was nervous. I told Victor [Espinoza] to come in a lay down with us. Pharoah is really smart, just licking me, I guess he loves the cologne.

I am the ambassador of this horse.

AB: Does he compare to Secretariat?
AZ: No, no. No one ever.

We all remember the “tremendous machine”. Winning the Belmont by 31 lengths, in a little over a canter, it was incredible.

American Pharoah is American Pharoah, Pharoah is royalty. How will he stand in history? His Belmont was a very respectable time, his last quarter was fast, but it is all hard to compare, but of course I am a bit biased.

I was about 10 when Secretariat won, I have watched it. We all remember the images. But I will tell you, the roar of the crowd [when American Pharoah won], 90,000 people, hugging, kissing, happy, screaming, it was an incredible moment. It was a mad house, NYRA security was around — it was a mad house, everything was so spontaneous, crazy elation and lots of sheer happiness, incredible, a celebration of joy.

AB: Decision to sell his breeding rights.
AZ: It was not a difficult decision. Every stallion I have had, since 2006, it is now 14 stallions. People in Kentucky call me a stallion maker, Pioneerofthe Nile, Paynter, Bodemeister and so forth.

I am used to making stallion deals, but I always keep a portion, whether it is 25% or 75% as with Pharoah’s father, Pioneerofthe Nile. I never sell 100%. It provides me access. I like to go to the barns and visit. I would like to breed to him. I am still in control of American Pharoah while he races, and when he retires I will still have a portion.

AB: Does the champ have a barn name?
AZ: There is no real pet name for American Pharoah. Some people call him “the Pharoah”, others call him “AP”. Different people call him something different.

AB: If you could change something in racing, what would it be?
AZ: The Biggest thing is we need the fans of the sport, and what is a sport without transparency. And transparency should not be a buzzword, it needs to be operational. The disclosure of medical records for example.

We need to bring fans into the action. We need to be open. We can use social media, more open communications. That’s how American Pharoah got his name. We try to open up our barn so fans can come and see him. I think this is very important.

We are also looking at the use of lasix with a research project in Gulfstream Park. it is a scientific study, privately funded, looking at lasix-free races versus lasix races. We are funding it, we want hard data. We have commissioned one of the foremost vets to undertake the study. Gulfstream Park is providing us all the access and support.

AB: Thanks for your time.
AZ: Thanks for the coverage you helped provide with Paynter.

AQHA’s disingenuous position on horse slaughter, encourages membership to derail SAFE Act

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It is surprising to some people when they learn that horse-related organizations support horse slaughter. Why would they do that?

The short answer is, it supports their industry interests, and their membership interests. That is the case for both the AVMA (vets), and the AQHA (quarter horse association). They then try to convince themselves and everyone else that they actually take this stance for the horse, not for their own interests.

Yes, slaughter is good for you, really ?

Anyway, I digress. I thought it would be interest to parse the statement from the AQHA, in support of horse “processing” (“processing” is surely more appealing than “slaughter”).

Here is a link to the AQHA’s complete statement: AQHA News Bits: Unsafe Consequences.

There is a preamble about the SAFE Act, and its rationale, that of food safety. The statement then avoids the food safety issue completely.

They then note that the ban of horse slaughter would “mean that thousands of unwanted horses will be sentenced to a destiny of starvation, abuse and neglect. It’s a hellish demise.”

There are two problems with this emotive statement:

1. while there may be some unwanted horses, to presume all horses that are purchased by kill buyers to go to slaughter are unwanted, is not accurate.

2. “slaughter” or “abuse and neglect” is not a binary choice. The third option, cleverly left out of the entire statement, is that of humane euthanasia.

Subsequent to the above quote, the statement then goes on to tie the number of horses that are slaughtered to the number of unwanted horses. Again, there is no proof that is the case. What is known is that the number of horses slaughtered is simply based on the demand for the horse meat from the customer, via the meat packers and the slaughter houses. Horses are slaughtered because there is demand for the meat, slaughter is not just a disposal solution for horses no one else wants.

The statement then goes on to discuss the increasing number of abuse and neglect cases, which may or may not be accurate. Whether it is or not has little to do with slaughter, because we are currently slaughtering plenty of horses (same numbers in recent years, so an increase in abuse cases is more likely an economic issue, or an issue of horses no longer being employed for whatever work they were doing).

The statement then examines the cost of taking care of all the horses that are sent to slaughter. A considerable cost indeed, but neglects to consider that some of these horses would be humanely euthanized, some would be diverted to new careers, and some would find other solutions. This ignores the idea of “owner responsibility,” and each owner doing the appropriate thing for his horse. Thus the burden on the government is, at least, exaggerated.

Then they discuss the “property rights” argument that surrounds the horse. The AQHA firmly believes anyone has the right to do what they want with their horses, which includes slaughter as an end of life option. “Salvage value” is another term that I have heard being used.

There is then some preamble that ties together the AQHA, AVMA and AAEP together in wanting to slaughter our horses domestically. Well, we know that each organization is pro-slaughter, sadly not so much “pro-horse.”

The statement concludes,

“As we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend with family and friends, I am reminded that this holiday weekend is not only about picnics, parades and fireworks. July 4th celebrates the birth of American independence, and because of our freedom, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, including our horse.”

That statement seems disingenuous at best.

In summary:
The SAFE Act is about food safety, which is a genuine concern given the undocumented drugs that American horses receive, before they become a “food animal”. The response from the AQHA completely ignores this, and moves the conversation to an “unwanted horse” issue. They do this in a very disingenuous manner.

For those of you who want to learn more about the horse slaughter issue, and make a truly informed decision on what is the right thing to do, I ask you to review my video series. The better informed we are, the better it will be for our horses.

Broker Programs: A Complicated Issue

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Broker Programs: It’s Complicated

Broker programs are perhaps one of the more controversial aspects of the horse slaughter system that we have in the United States.

A program is typically run by a rescue organization which has a relationship with a kill buyer. The rescue organization will promote the horses that have been acquired by the kill buyer, to help those horses find a home, before they would be shipped to slaughter if no home is discovered. This all occurs in a compressed timeframe.

This is the last chance for these horses. For that reason, many people will support these programs to try to help place these horses, either by supporting fundraisers, sharing the fundraisers, or offering homes.

Some of these horses were purchased by the kill buyer at a kill auction. Some were surrendered by owners who determined that they had no other option, due to a variety of circumstances. Some were culls from a variety of situations, some of which went directly to the kill buyer.

The kill buyer is the option of last resort.

So why the controversy ?

There are five broad reasons why some people consider the broker program bad for horses and the anti slaughter movement.

1. The number of horses slaughtered remains constant
A kill buyer, that enables a broker program, now has access to a new market for his horses. Thus, the kill buyer can purchase more horses, knowing that some will now be purchased through the broker program. The broker program is not reducing the number of horses that enter the slaughter pipeline, but is increasing the business opportunity for the kill buyer.

Because the broker program is not reducing the number of horses that the kill buyer is shipping to slaughter (that number is determined by the contract the kill buyer has with the slaughterhouse to which he is contracted), the broker program is essentially determining which horses go to slaughter. For each horse saved, another horse is swapped into his place.

2. Emotional buy
The broker program typically operates in a compressed timeframe with a certain outcome. The kill buyer purchases the bulk of his horses at a kill auction (New Holland, PA or Sugarcreek, OH for example) and will ship those horses to a slaughterhouse, or the slaughterhouse’s feedlot, a week or so later. It is within that timeframe that the broker program needs to take pictures, and promote the horses through social media and other outlets.

The sense of urgency is real, the images are real, the “kill truck is coming” is a popular refrain. This creates a situation of drama, that inspires people to do things that they might not do under ordinary circumstances.
It also deflects money and effort from other types of rescue programs, and the broader horse slaughter issue.

3. The Price is High
Oftentimes the horses are surrendered to the kill buyer, or purchased very cheaply at the auction. Because the community is trying to “rescue” these horses, there is a sense that they should be able to purchase the horses at close to what the kill buyer pays. In some instances this will happen, if you have a relationship with the kill buyer, and make an offer to him at the auction, after the sale of a horse. At that point the kill buyer can simply purchase another horse to replace the one he has bought.

Once in the broker program, this is no longer the case. The kill buyer’s main customer at this point is the slaughterhouse, so it is that price point, the price that the kill buyer can earn at the plant, that should be used to compare the prices offered by the broker program. This may be 50-100% over the purchase price at the kill auction for example.

Added to that are costs associated with the broker program. It takes time and work to make these horses available online, that time and work also needs to be rewarded.

4. Selective Access
The method of deciding which horses are available through the broker program also creates controversy. It is not always all the horses that the kill buyer has in stock. Why? The kill buyer has horse dealers with whom he works. Sometimes those dealers do not want to be exposed (someone hussling racehorses from the local racetrack for example) so the horses that that dealer brings to the kill buyer will not be part of the program.

Because the broker is typically the only “rescue” with access to the kill buyer’s pens, and understands which horses can be made available and which cannot, many consider that they are simply complicit in the entire slaughter system.

5. Working with a Kill Buyer
Can someone really be considered a rescue, if all they do is offer a broker program and work directly with the kill buyer? Some argue no, some of course argue that absolutely they can.

The relationship with the kill buyer is controversial, especially if there is a lack of transparency in terms of how that relationship works. Broker programs that have been controversial in the past include CBER (Washington State) and AC4H (Pennsylvania).

In Conclusion…
This is a controversial aspect of the horse slaughter system, of that there is no doubt. Broker programs have done some great things, especially for the individual horses which have been saved, but there are always consequences to these transactions.

If you think I missed a point, or wanted to share your thoughts, please use the comments.

To learn more about the horse slaughter issue, you can explore my three part video series, Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter.

Horse Slaughter: A fractured effort

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Together, we can make a difference

There is no doubt this post will piss some people off. So be it.

I have been a part of the anti-slaughter effort for a few years now. There are a few things I have learned, most importantly, we are on the right side of the issue. Horse slaughter should be ended. Full stop. The reasons are manifold, but the one argument I tend to focus on is that the horse is not born a food animal and is not regulated as a food animal.

OK, that being said I have learned something else too, the narrow-minded points of view of some of those in the anti-slaughter communities has created a fractured effort.

In Washington there is a bill, The SAFE Act, that is designed to end horse slaughter. Bravo to those supporting this bill.

Sadly there is also an element of the anti-slaughter movement which won’t support the bill. Should I repeat that for comprehension? Yes, there is a population among the anti-slaughter communities that do not support the bill.

The reasons for not supporting the bill appear three-fold:

1. it is poorly written (personally I like its simplicity)

2. it is unenforceable (really, I think we need law first, then figure out how to enforce the law)

3. Washington is so washed up in money that we have little chance of getting the bill passed.

OK, in principle I agree with the latter argument, but I do not agree that it means we should not support the bill.

I really wish there would be a way to bring the different factions of the anti-slaughter movement together. Together we are much stronger, fractured we are weak, the infighting is ridiculous.

Someone needs to take the lead, call all the players together, and lets get something done.

I address this issue, and of course many others, in my three part YouTube series, Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter (a small plug here).

Unwanted Horses and the Slaughter Solution

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Horses at Sugarcreek. Unwanted or just Unlucky?

A couple of weeks ago I asked a question on Facebook, “Do you think there is such a thing as ‘unwanted horses'”. The question was the result of a conversation I had previously had with some influential animal welfare lobbyists in Washington DC; they claimed there is no such thing, it is simply pro slaughter propaganda.

I disagreed. I suggested I had seen plenty of ‘unwanted horses’ during my visits to kill auctions and feedlots over the last several years.

The reaction of posing the question to Facebook has been very interesting, with plenty of opinions supporting both answers. I will try my best summarize some of those points of view.

One theme of answers simply supports my own thinking; yes, there are plenty of ‘unwanted horses’, sadly, and we need to develop better solutions for the problem of unwanted horses. None of us is advocating that horse slaughter is the right solution, but we understand that it is one of the current solutions.

A second theme, the opposite theme, is that there are no unwanted horses. “I would save them all”, “I want them, therefore they cannot be unwanted”. While this sentiment is quite popular, it is obviously unrealistic, and gets to the semantics of the meaning of the word “unwanted”. These animals are not unwanted by everyone, just by those that currently own them.

They are not universally unwanted, but nor can they be universally rescued, even in a world of perfect information.

A theme similar to the above, is something like, “I want the horse, but cannot afford it.” So while the horse might not be truly unwanted, it is an economic burden which means that there is a population that might want, but cannot have, a horse. In addition, plenty of people purchase a horse, but then cannot afford the long term financial obligations that purchase creates, which puts the horse in jeopardy. A horse is expensive.

Another theme, there are no ‘unwanted horses’, by definition there is a kill buyer buying horses, so they are wanted, for the slaughter pipeline. Well, that is somewhat some of my initial point, the slaughter business helps take care of the ‘unwanted horse’ problem, as do horse rescues, rehab organizations and anyone else who is a customer of a horse seller.

This answer also does not cover the horses even the kill buyers choose not to purchase; I have seen them turn away from horses in the ring that do not fit the type of horse they seek.

Some argue that kill buyers outbid rescues in an attempt to acquire horses for the slaughter pipeline. This argument was not covered in the conversation thread above. While this is true, I have witnessed it, it is anecdotal at best, and occurs somewhat infrequently. A kill buyer may be needing to complete a load that will be shipped shortly, so finishing up that load creates this behavior. My own experience suggests that there are usually plenty of horses available to kill buyers without them needing to bid against those seeking to save the horses.

Others noted that the behavior of dumping horses, to let someone else deal with the problem, is simply symptomatic of the society in which we live. A culture of “instant gratification”, before we move on to the next cool thing. Or the horse simply gets old, injured, is no longer useful, fast, pretty, or whatever. Sadly I think that is probably correct.

Horses can live long lives, oftentimes their useful life (as a racehorse, sports horse, or working horse) is far shorter. The horse switches from an asset, generating dollars, to an economic burden. Oftentimes, owners of these horses’ economic relationship is such that they will only keep the horse while it is an asset. Those horses then become unwanted by those owners as soon as they become a liability.

The reality is, semantics aside, there are horses that in certain circumstances, find themselves in jeopardy. Whether we call them “unwanted”, or “unlucky”, they are at risk for slaughter.

By denying there is an unwanted horse problem, we won’t come up with the appropriate solutions needed to ensure we can end horse slaughter. We also lose credibility in the horse slaughter debate. If we deny something that most people actually agree exists, it damages the credibility of other claims we might make about the horse slaughter system.

My series, Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter focuses some of its attention on the issue of unwanted horses, as well as the myriad other arguments that are used to support or end horse slaughter.

Kill Pen: an interview with the director of soon to be released documentary on Horse Slaughter

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Sharon Boeckle is the director of Kill Pen, a soon to be released documentary that addresses the horse slaughter issue in the United States. Her work on this project was the inspiration for my own project, Horses: Sports, Culture and Slaughter.

Please watch the trailer for Kill Pen.

I asked Sharon a few questions about Kill Pen. Her answers are very revealing.

What inspired you to explore the subject matter in Kill Pen?

Three years ago I – like most of the public, I assume – had no clue that we ever slaughtered horses for human consumption in the United States. A chance visit to a wonderful horse rescue facility on Long Island in New York, Baiting Hollow Farm & Horse Rescue, opened my eyes to the reality of what often happens to horses in this country.

I’m not a “horse” person – have never owned one, never spent time around them – but I’m an animal lover and I have a strong sense of obligation to all species vulnerable to exploitation. So I started digging further, and there was a lot of information to uncover.

The story just kind of exploded – it was going to be a short documentary on Baiting Hollow but I realized quickly there was much more to expose. I followed the trail, the many trails, and realized that this issue is far more about politics and economics than it is about animal welfare, although the animal certainly pays a price for the forces pushing and pulling on this issue.

What key ideas have you learned, while working on the documentary, regarding horses?

I think the big takeaway for me has been an understanding that this is one singular animal in a very unusual and precarious position in our country; the horse has been a work animal, a sports animal, a companion or pet … but it’s never been a “meat” animal, at least not in our country to any wide extent.

That being said, it’s an animal that defies clear cut classification … to many, it’s a pet. To others, it is livestock. I think most of us in the country would agree that a dog is a pet; it’s not a work animal or livestock, not like a pig or cow. But engage in the same debate about the horse and you’ll find that the opinions vary significantly around the country. That gray area puts the horse in an unfavorable and unstable position when it comes to protection.

What is your plan for getting the documentary out there for people to see?

We have just begun the film festival submission process, and we’ve just released the trailer publicly so that it can be shared and promoted on social media. Once the film has screened publicly, we will explore other distribution channels as they open up to us.

What can people do, now, to support this work?

Share the Kill Pen trailer! Let people know the film is out there, it is complete, and we are looking for an opportunity to share it with the widest audience possible.

If we look at the difference made by such films as Blackfish, it’s clear that viewers have a lot of power in promoting films that spark the conversation to create major change. I think that could happen with Kill Pen. I KNOW it could happen, with the right champions behind it.

Your documentary inspired me to develop Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter. We adopted different approaches, you tell a story, my series is purely informational. Can give the viewers an idea as to how you developed your “story”.

We anchor Kill Pen with the European horse meat scandal of 2013, where a number of very well-known companies were found to have “beef” products containing up to 40% horse meat. I think most people were not shocked that food labeling is deceptive, but they were very shocked to find out that it was HORSE meat (not pork, chicken, or lamb) being used as a cheap filler for beef.

So we open the film with that deceptive adulteration of products, and from there, explore the intricate web of politics and economics that brought many of our country’s racehorses, work horses, and – sadly – pets into those products. From there, an even bigger issue becomes the key argument of the film: with a nearly unregulated pipeline, there is no way to trace what dangerous toxins are in those racehorses, work horses, and pets before they end up in someone’s burger.

While we knew we wanted to address the often cruel and insensitive nature of horse slaughter itself, we decided to reduce the focus on that aspect of the issue for a few reasons; one, it tends to turn off sensitive viewers who might otherwise watch the film; two, on the opposite side, many people are not affected much by animal welfare or the realities of slaughter. For those folks, the suffering of the horses isn’t the strongest argument against horse slaughter; it was clear that a stronger argument could be made on food safety issues, and so we decided to steer the focus of the film in that direction.

Thank you Sharon, great work.

Please watch and share the trailer for Kill Pen.

American Pharoah completes final Belmont workout: Triple Crown challenge next

American Pharoah completed his final breeze on Monday morning at Churchill Downs, ahead of his attempt to win the Triple Crown this Saturday at Belmont Park.

How good was the work? Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form, who scrutinizes works for the big races, and is not afraid to call it what it is, headlined his tweet: “American Pharoah… WOW!! His quick report included,

“Hard to find any better description for AMERICAN PHAROAH’s performance this morning.”

The further American Pharoah went, the more Welsch was impressed.

Here is the workout, on YouTube:

Can American Pharoah become the twelfth horse to win the Triple Crown, the first horse to win the series since Affirmed in 1978? Thirteen horses have won the first two legs of the series, only to falter at the final leg, since Affirmed defeated Alydar. Certainly, this horse seems in a different class to his peers at this stage of their careers, but he also appears to be much more than that.

Launching: Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter

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Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter

I am super psyched to launch this video series: Horses: Sports, Culture, and Slaughter.

The goal of this series is purely educational. I take a deep dive into one of the most controversial topics facing horse industries, horsemen and horse lovers, in the United States.

The series is deliberately “non gory”, and examines the issue from both sides, while also exploring horse sports, the different horse cultures and horse history, to provide appropriate context.

Here are the three videos:

Introduction, current state of horse slaughter, horse’s role in history, horse cultures, horse racing, rodeo, equestrian / pleasure

Work horse, breeding, Wild horses. Horse slaughter history, horse slaughter arguments

How the horse slaughter system works, case studies, horse slaughter and Washington DC, next steps

I am psyched to get these videos launched; if you like them, please share them.

These videos are permanently available at alexbrownracing.com/advocacy

Celebrating War Horses

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Horses have served us well, whether it was for transportation, agriculture, telecommunications & banking, and settling land.

One role the horse played, for many years, was to carry us to war.

This picture hangs in my mum’s house. This horse fought in the Crimea War, 1853 – 1856, and then returned home, where he was buried.

This image will be featured in my upcoming YouTube project, Horses, Sports, Culture and Slaughter.