Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who is Michael Gill? Apparently, not an asset to racing

In an unprecedented protest last Saturday night, jockeys at the Penn National racetrack refused to ride in any race where New Hampshire owner Michael Gill had a horse entered. They declared it is a safety issue -- Gill's horses are breaking down at a high rate and endangering other horses and riders.

The stats
Ten of Gill's horses broke down and were euthanized on the track in 13 months — two last week alone (LA Times article). On January 23, Gill's Laughing Moon broke down after the finish line, causing a jockey and horse to fall behind them (read article about Laughing Moon's breakdown). That event apparently prompted the ban.

The talk
There are many accounts of this jockey ban (see Resources below), but this recent L.A Times article indicates there will be a probe into the deaths and breakdown record of this owner. There are many, many blog articles and threads on COTH and other forums on this topic too, and the buzz is, this has been a long time coming. I've excerpted an article below that reports not only on the breakdowns, but also reports that Gill's ex- racehorses are routinely sent to slaughter. The Paulick Report shares some of Gill's comments on the controversy.

Melodeeman, broke down Jan. 21

I have to say that I only know what I read. I've seen nothing first-hand, and do not know the racing industry that well. But in this case the outcry has been pretty overwhelming, and we're not talking about PETA here--this is from within the industry. What I'm reading about Penn National suggests that pre-race vet checks and monitoring of placement of the 'retired' horses has been spotty at best. I get the vet-check angle - can someone tell me/readers what formal role a racetrack has in placement of horses?

clipped from

Racing and slaughter controversy consumes Penn National Race Course

On Saturday night, during the fifth race at Penn National Race Course, Michael Gill's third place finisher, Laughing Moon collapsed and was euthanized in front of a crowd of onlookers. It is no mystery that horses are known to break down on the tracks as they race, but Gill's reputation has jockeys, owners, trainers and outside observers accusing Gill of an unusually high rate of horse injuries and deaths.

Just before the sixth race, about 25 jockeys gathered together to take a stand and refused to ride in the next race unless a Michael Gill horse was scratched. Jockeys feared for their own safety, and this seemed to be an unprecedented decision when jockeys refuse to ride because of an owner. Jockey Emilio Flores claims he had too many close calls and even took a spill riding another one of Gill's horses that fell during the past week.

blog it


Jockeys focus on owner Michael Gill from Thoroughbred Times

Jockeys speak out against thoroughbred breakdowns from The Horse magazine

Horse World Wonders Why It Took Jockeys, And Not Penn Gaming Officials, To End The Rampant Break-Downs Of Mike Gill's Thoroughbreds

PA jockeys won't race against N.H. owner from Boston Globe

PA commission to investigate Gill
from Thoroughbred Times

Michael Gill raises controversy over breakdowns
from Equine Reader

Penn wants commission to investigate Gill from

Gill threatens to sue Paulick Report
from Paulic Report

Penn jockeys revolt against Michael Gill from Canadian Gambling News

Is anybody watching this? From GallopFrance blog


  1. Wow. Not often that I've heard of sanctions within the racing community.

    I know horses' breaking down is more common than we realize--unfortunately--but this does seem excessive. And I don't like the sending horses to slaughter either. A lot of the breeders are joining groups now to take back their horses if they come to bad ends in racing.

  2. Nice the Jockeys are taking a stand, I applaud them and their courage

  3. Suffolk Downs bans trainers whose horses are shipped to slaughter:

    It's not a universal thing, but at least one track IS involved in what happens to horses after the track.

  4. At some tracks, Finger Lakes for instance, if there is evidence a trainer has allowed horses from his program to be sold for slaughter the trainer is banned from that track. There are several tracks with this policy in place. There are watchdog groups who send people to the sales to check horses for tatoos and report any found to the nearby track authorities.

  5. I find it interesting that it's the owner taking the heat and not the trainer. I wonder if this is a case of the owner continually pushing the trainer for more results, or if the trainer's doing this under his/her own steam. Glad someone's objecting, though!

  6. For specifics on tracks banning trainers for sending horses to slaughter, go to and search slaughter track thoroughbred.

  7. Unbelievable. When jockeys start calling it dangerous, it must be pretty bad. Refusing to ride races when that 's a major part of their income is sending a pretty strong message.

    I don't know of any racetrack that plays a formal role in placing race horses, but I do know that there is a fund that is supposed to help pay for retirement so ex-race horses don't end up at slaughter. The Ferdinand Fund or something? How much good that does when there is no system to track the horses, I have no idea...

  8. I don't know anything about placement, but I do know I have a BIG problem with the entire racing industry running 2 and 3 year olds. Horses are not physically mature enough to ride until age 5 or so (and this is not my opinion, but an actual fact that virtually nobody listens to). Dr. Deb Bennett has added some info about the racing industry to her original "Ranger Study" article on this topic. If you're interested, you can find it here. Extended turn out (room to zoom) and rough play is a key ingredient to the success of a young horse in developing strong legs as they mature. This is often denied to many of the potentials who are considered much too valuable to put at "risk". The replacement training does not offer the same beneficial results nature does. Sadly, it seems only natural that when you combine these two issues (and this part is my opinion) that the terrible breakdowns we see on the track are the tragic, yet inevitable result.

  9. I'm also surprised the trainer isn't taking the heat. He said he fired his trainer but it seemed that it was more of a political move on his part. He races a LOT of horses.

  10. Michael Gill has been a thorn in the side of racing for many, many years. At one point he won the Eclipse Award for top owner, simply because he was running a numbers game in the claiming ranks. He had an overwhelming number of wins, but for every person who voted for his Eclipse, there was somebody else who hated him for the way he treated his horses like cogs in a machine. After he received his Eclipse he announced his retirement, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief.

    And then he came back.

    The thing about Gill is, he will do literally anything to turn a profit. Everybody in racing views it as a business instead of a sport (except for perhaps a handful of old school, independently wealthy folks), but Gill takes this to another level. And he has no qualms about saying the most heinous things out loud.

    Racing has many faults - for example, tracks play no formal role whatsoever in placing horses - but people who race DO worship the horse. If not in fact then at least in ideal. Gill makes no pretense about seeing them as disposable. And his breakdown rate follows him regardless of what trainer he's using, so it's pretty clear where the problem lies.

    Independent of racing, he's also crook when it comes to financial dirty dealings.

    I mean, this is a guy who, if he were to see a kitten, he'd then kick it.

    P.S. Things ARE getting better in racing. Even before Barbaro things were getting better. One of the biggest things that changed after Barbaro's death is that a nation-wide program to collect data in the wake of breakdowns was implemented. This is HUGE. Instead of obsfucating the problem, they're shedding light on it. Knowledge is power, and daylight is the best disinfectant. Also, a culture of interest in horse's post race career has really come along. For example, when Bobby Frankel died, he bequeathed his estate to TRF, Old Friends and other similar organizations, and requested donations in lieu of flowers. So, it IS getting better. A lot better.

  11. Good for them! It's nice to see people actually take a stand for what they believe in and achieve some results. I hadn't heard of this issue, but I'm going to spend some time reading through the links you provided. Thanks for posting this and keeping us informed.

  12. I read an article in the Thoroughbred Times tonight stating that Gill was leaving the buisness. Good Riddance!!

  13. more on Mike Gill from Ray Paulick

  14. And more....


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