When American Pharoah won the Triple Crown at Belmont Park last weekend, most people watching didn’t realize that just a few hours earlier, Helwan, a 4-year-old French horse, broke a bone and was euthanized on the same track.
But the Triple Crown hype didn’t blind everyone from the racing industry’s drug use, injuries, and deaths. Some columnists broke from their peers to remember Helwan and expose the dark side of the industry that killed him.
Here’s my wish: That American Pharoah goes out on a high note, and with him, the entire sport of horse racing. . . . What you don’t see behind the veil of seersucker and mint juleps are the thousands of horses that collapse under the weight of their science-project bodies. This weekend at Belmont, all eyes on American Pharoah meant nobody was paying attention to Helwan, the four-year-old French colt who had to be euthanized on the track after breaking his left-front cannon bone. … Helwan’s breakdown is by no means an outlier. … From 2009 to 2012, 6,600 horses suffered injuries or breakdowns. In that same period, 3,600 horses died at state-regulated tracks.
Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star wrote:
The dead horse’s name is—was—Helwan, and he deserved better than he got, when what he got was what so many horses, too many horses, get for their troubles: They get bred to within the limits of mortality, and every now and then a line is crossed and a bone breaks and another horse is destroyed behind a curtain, where you can’t see it and where the stewards of horse racing hope you won’t hear about it. . . . Behind it, who knows what was happening? We can only guess: Helwan was administered something to ease his pain, then was administered something to stop his heart. His body was driven off the track in a van. . . . What’s happening behind that curtain? Something horrible. It’s the price some horses are paying so the rest of us can watch American Pharoah become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years—three hours after a beautiful and blameless creature named Helwan died in the dirt.
More than 1,000 horses die on racetracks every year in the U.S., and those who don’t break down on the track are often sold to slaughter when they are no longer wanted.
What You Can Do
The best way to help these horses is to keep your money in your pocket—stay away from the track and never bet on a race.