US racehorses at risk of slaughter in Japan

War Emblem War Emblem
Ferdinand Ferdinand

The Equine Welfare Alliance in the US says animal welfare group PETA may have thwarted efforts to bring racehorses home from Japan who are at risk of being slaughtered.

“As reported on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, PETA has inserted itself into the issue of American racehorses being slaughtered in Japan,” the EWA said. “The slaughter of Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand in 2002 brought outrage to American horse owners and was the catalyst for anti-slaughter awareness in America.”

Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 US Horse of the Year, ended up as a stallion in Japan. He was not a big stud success was killed for human consumption in 2002.

PETA revealed its undercover investigation, with footage shot in a Japanese slaughter house, at the weekend, timed to coincide with the running of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of US racing’s Triple Crown. It focused on War Emblem and Charismatic, who are both standing at stud in Japan. Charismatic, the 1999 horse of the year, was on his way to winning the Triple Crown in 1999, when he broke his leg near the finish of the Belmont Stakes. War Emblem also won the first two races in the Triple Crown, in 2002. He was sold to Japan later that year, for $US17.7 million.

The ESPN programme reported on the two stallions, and interviewed Michael Blowen, owner and founder of Old Friends, A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds and Kathy Guillermo, vice-president of laboratory investigations for PETA.

Over the years, Blowen has developed an excellent relationship with key personnel in Japan that has smoothed the way for retiring these great athletes to Old Friends. He keeps a list of thoroughbreds that are nearing the end of their stud duties and has been following their stud careers for years. At the top of his list are War Emblem and Charismatic. Blowen has been in discussions for the past 18 months and developing plans with his Japanese contacts for their retirement to Old Friends.

“Despite the claims of slaughter advocates to the contrary, PETA had until now, remained out of the horse slaughter issue. But now, in true PETA fashion, the message was horrific visuals of the cruelty inherent with slaughter, however, their organization offered no assistance in bringing the athletes home,” the EWA said.

“At one point, Ms Guillermo actually challenged Blowen by saying she was not aware of anyone that was working to bring the horses home. Blowen had recently discussed just this effort on EWA’s Howling Ridge radio programme.”

Blowen’s most recent Japan rescue was Wallenda who earned $1.2 million in 33 lifetime starts on the track. Old Friends also expanded its facility from 40 acres to 92 acres last year and currently has over 40 retired athletes including Popcorn Deelites, one of the horses that portrayed Seabiscuit in the box office smash hit about the legendary California racehorse.

“I’m hoping things like PETA is doing won’t hurt our relationship with the Japanese,” Blowen said, asking the extremist animal rights group, “Are you just going to keep showing footage of horses in excruciating painful situations or are you going to try to build a relationship with the people that actually own these horses, that actually control them – to find a place for them and work really, really hard to bring them home?”

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