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Too Close for Their Comfort

Breeders' Cup unhappy about having two horse slaughterhouses so near its big event in Texas

By Bill Christine
Times Staff Writer

October 29, 2004

KAUFMAN, Texas Mary Nash lives in a two-story, 100-year-old house about 45 miles southeast of the Dallas suburb where the Breeders' Cup the richest card in horse racing will be run in front of a crowd of 51,000 on Saturday.

Nash also lives less than a mile from Dallas Crown Inc., a Belgian-owned slaughterhouse that kills about 15,000 horses a year and exports their meat to Europe. In France, "cheval" is frequently found on restaurant menus.

For the last three weeks, Nash said, she has been unsuccessful in chasing from her backyard two vultures attracted to the area by the scent of blood.

"They're hanging around, waiting to do what vultures do," Nash said.

Paula Bacon, a schoolteacher and the mayor of Kaufman, a town of nine square miles and 6,700 people, wants Dallas Crown closed down.

"On days when the wind is blowing the wrong way, the dead-animal and urine smells are overwhelming," Bacon said. "But more than that, what comes out of that plant is ruining our sewers. The next upgrade, to make the sewers conform to health standards, would cost the city millions of dollars. This is all in addition to what they do to those poor horses when they kill them."

According to those familiar with the process, horses at the slaughterhouses are knocked unconscious with a captive-bolt gun that shoots a metal rod into their brain. Their throats are cut and they are skinned and split open with an electric saw. Their hearts are kept beating in order to pump out all the blood.

"The American Veterinarian Medical Assn. recognizes the captive-bolt method of stunning a horse for slaughter as humane and effective," Dallas Crown and the Beltex Corp., another slaughterhouse near Lone Star Park, said in a report to the U.S. Animal Health Assn. last year.

Christophe Soenen, the manager of Dallas Crown, did not respond to phone calls seeking an interview.

Through its attorney, John Linebarger of Fort Worth, the company said: "Cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep and turkeys are living creatures humans kill and eat. So are horses. There is nothing peculiar about eating horse meat that morally distinguishes eating horse meat from eating beef, pork, sheep, lamb, chicken or fish that would morally require prohibiting horse slaughter for meat."

Beltex, in Fort Worth, employs 90 people, about twice as many as Dallas Crown. It is largely French-owned and kills about 25,000 horses a year. The only other U.S. slaughterhouse for horses is in DeKalb, Ill.

John Gaines, one of the founders of the Breeders' Cup and a prominent Kentucky horse breeder, wrote an open letter, published in the Daily Racing Form in May, that decried the juxtaposition of the eight championship races at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie and the nearby horse-killing plants. "In late 2002," said D.G. Van Clief, president of the Breeders' Cup, "the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. and the Breeders' Cup board of directors adopted a position opposing the slaughter of thoroughbred horses at slaughter facilities."

The Fund for Horses, a Texas-based organization, had planned an anti-slaughter rally at Lone Star Park this week, including Saturday, but instead its members have set up an informational table inside the track. The Breeders' Cup races, which carry purses of $14 million and have attracted horses from Canada, Europe and Japan besides the U.S., will be covered by NBC during a five-hour telecast.

There are several horse-protection groups that actively buy and place retired thoroughbreds before they are sold at venues that would land them in a slaughterhouse. The going rate for these horses has been estimated at up to 30 cents a pound.

Individuals like Cathy Riccio also get involved. A month ago, Riccio, who works for HRTV, a network that covers horse racing, spent $450 to buy the well-bred President's Decree, a 10-year-old who eight years ago nearly broke the record for 4 1/2 furlongs at the Keeneland track in Kentucky. Riccio was an assistant to trainer David Carroll when he had President's Decree, then considered a Kentucky Derby candidate. President's Decree, whose parents were Capote, an Eclipse Award winner, and Mitterand, another stakes winner, was running in bottom-of-the-barrel races at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia when Riccio found him. She sent him to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which found him a home at the Blackburn Correctional Facility in Kentucky.

"I don't have the means to save them all," Riccio said, "but I keep looking for the ones that were good to me over the years."

Cviano, a half-brother to Birdstone, one of the favorites in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic, was rescued from a Pennsylvania holding pen after a 49-race career for seven trainers at 13 tracks. But Exceller, who has been enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Ferdinand, winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1987, weren't as lucky. Exceller was killed in a Swedish slaughterhouse in 1997 and Ferdinand reportedly died the same way in Japan two years ago.

In Texas, a law prohibiting the selling and transporting of horse meat for human consumption was passed in 1949 and validated by the attorney general two years ago, but the Texas slaughterhouses have challenged the law and remain open pending a decision by a federal judge in Fort Worth. Dallas Crown, opened under different ownership in the 1950s, used to slaughter cattle but quietly switched to horses several years ago, while no one in Kaufman was paying attention, Mayor Bacon said.

"It's sad that something like this is happening in our town," said Mary Nash, who rode horses when she was younger. "This is a town that's long been associated with horses in the right way. They used to say that you couldn't throw a rock in Kaufman without hitting a horse, and that was in town. Kids used to ride around town on their horses. There were literally posses of kids doing that."

Patrick Biancone, one of France's leading trainers before relocating to the U.S. a few years ago, is running two Breeders' Cup horses Saturday. Bian- cone said that he has never eaten horse, nor does he know many fellow Frenchmen who have. Biancone disputes that horse is considered a delicacy in France.

"What I know about horse," Biancone said, "is that the people who eat it do so because it's cheaper than other meats."

CLASSIC CONTENDERS

Race records of some of the top horses in the $4-million Breeders' Cup Classic:
YEAR AGE STARTS 1ST 2ND 3RD EARNINGS
GHOSTZAPPER
2004 4 3 3 0 0 $ 510,000
2003 3 4 3 0 1 $ 378,400
2002 2 2 1 0 0 $ 27,720
Total 9 7 0 1 $ 916,120
AZERI
2004 6 7 3 2 0 $ 915,000
2003 5 5 4 1 0 $ 817,080
2002 4 9 8 1 0 $ 2,181,540
2001 3 2 2 0 0 $ 46,200
Total 23 17 4 0 $ 3,959,820
PERFECT DRIFT
2004 5 7 0 5 1 $ 663,795
2003 4 8 5 0 0 $ 1,505,388
2002 3 8 3 2 1 $ 695,120
2001 2 2 1 1 0 $ 20,860
Total 25 9 8 2 $ 2,885,163
ROSES IN MAY
2004 4 5 5 0 0 $ 923,277
2003 3 5 2 2 0 $ 71,910
Total 10 7 2 0 $ 995,187
BIRDSTONE
2004 3 5 3 0 0 $ 1,236,600
2003 2 3 2 0 0 $ 339,000
Total 8 5 0 0 $ 1,575,600
FUNNY CIDE
2004 4 9 3 2 3 $ 1,075,100
2003 3 8 2 2 2 $ 1,963,200
2002 2 3 3 0 0 $ 136,185
Total 20 8 4 5 $ 3,174,485
PLEASANTLY PERFECT
2004 6 4 3 1 0 $ 4,400,000
2003 5 4 2 0 1 $ 2,470,000
2002 4 8 4 2 0 $ 479,880
2001 3 1 0 0 0 $ 0
Total 17 9 3 1 $ 7,349,880
DYNEVER
2004 4 5 1 2 0 $ 234,694
2003 3 9 3 3 1 $ 1,154,020
Total 14 4 5 1 $ 1,388,714
Source: Equibase

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BREEDERS' CUP

  What: Eight races of the World Thoroughbred Championships

  When: Saturday, 10 a.m., Ch. 4

  Where: Lone Star Park, Grand Prairie, Texas