On Sunday morning, ten racehorses were on their way from Florida to New York. They rode in a luxury hauler, ostensibly on their way to Saratoga Springs for entry into the eventual 2020 Saratoga racing season. These horses had raced at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park, two thoroughbred tracks that stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the horses, a three-year-old filly named Under the Oaks, is the filly of Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh. Another horse, named Hot Mist, was sired by Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, and had won her maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs.
They were on their way to Saratoga Springs.
They never arrived.
The tractor trailer that hauled the horses to New York was on the New Jersey Turnpike when the truck hit a concrete median and burst into flames. The driver and his co-driver were able to escape the burning truck with smoke inhalation and other minor injuries. All ten horses perished in the fire. They could not be saved.
This is horrifying news. No matter what you think about horse racing, whether you treat it as a sport of kings or you treat it as an abuse of animals, there is nothing but tragedy about ten horses perishing in a tractor trailer fire. They were essentially burned alive.
This is not a time for jokes. Although apparently, some people on the social media site reddit seem to think this is a great time for “glue factory” jokes and “Saratoga horse death count” jokes. I’ve always said I have a love-hate relationship with the social media site reddit. This is not one of those “love” times. Ugh.
The fact is, those ten horses had families – both human and equine. They had groomsmen and stablehands and jockeys and trainers. You might have looked at these horses as the possible finisher to your exacta, but to these owners the horses are just as much a part of their life as your cat is to yours.
It could have been worse. Much worse. The drivers could also have been killed. Other motorists could have perished in the crash. But make no mistake, this is a tragedy all around.
Maybe in the days to come, we’ll find out more about the accident – what caused it, whether it could have been avoided, who knows. But finding out the cause of the accident won’t bring those horses back. Perhaps, however, it will help define safer travel for these animals and their drivers. We shall see.