Exceller’s Fate: Racing’s Heart?


Features Editor, Daily Racing Form

Go for Wand was “Wanda” to those who knew her – she had a nickname, she had a family and she was loved, and her death created an inestimable hole in the hearts of those who spent day after day with her.

The on-track demise of Go for Ward, Ruffian and, most recently, Hello, as well as horses of lesser repute, is a heart-wrenching experience for all who share the view that horses are more than program numbers to be stammered to mutual clerks. To those less attached, her death served as a reminder of the Nordic belief that to die in battle guarantees interment in Valhalla. But what of those horses who no longer compete?

Do they lose their nobility, dignity and courage when a 110-pound human is taken off their backs? Are horses merely commodities that turn into liabilities when no longer profitable, either at the racetrack or at stud?

Exceller stopped being Exceller when breeder interest waned. At that point, he became just another horse. His final destination was similar to that of an estimated three million American horses from 1986-’96.

Anne Pagmar, who led him to slaughter, said Exceller knew what was going on. He smelled blood and expressed fear. Tied off and hung by a single hind limb, fractious horses thrash while their executioners bludgeon and bludgeon. They are alive when their throats are cut and they are bled to death.

It’s an unpleasant reality; it isn’t the topic of pleasant conversation, and it probably won’t be part of next Sunday’s Round Table agenda.

One American horseman, when told of Exceller’s last walk, said, “They have to die sometime.”

That response leads to another question: How hardened must the human spirit become to survive in this sport?

Not everyone has grown cold. Christine Picavet galloped horses after coming to America from France, and one of those horses was Exceller. She went on to become a noted artist and she painted the horse twice. She still bears the scar of a playful bite. When she heard Exceller’s story, she struggled for words describing his generosity and kind disposition. Then, in tears, she apologized, begged for time to compose herself and put the phone down. Could that horseman’s emotionless response be the product of denial?

Haven’t you wondered what happens to horses who won’t survive surgery? Not many get the send-off Go for Wand or Ruffian received, with services and burial in the infield of a major racetrack. Horse meat is still favored in many of Europe’s industrial countries, and many stockyards that specialize in this particular trade in America are European owned. There are several grassroots organizations that have popped up to save horses from slaughter, such as the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, created by Monique Koehler; the United Pegasus Foundation, run by Helen Meredith; the Equis Foundation, presided over by Linda Moss; and the California Equine Foundation, with Kathleen Doyle as its president. Doyle is trying to push through the California Legislature a proposal called “Save the Horses,” which would classify horses as companion animals, not as animals bred to be slaughtered, and make the out-of-state exportation of horses for slaughter a felony. Doyle needs 600,000 signatures on a petition this summer for the proposal to be put on the ballot in November ’98.

Monique, Linda, Helen and Kathleen…see a pattern? With few exceptions, men are conspicuously absent from this initiative, and so, too, are racing’s executives.

Many fans don’t know where or how to contribute, so perhaps a short note in the track program would help. Tracks would also receive a PR boost if they stabled horses who accomplished something of note locally, rather than allowing them to ship to whoknowswhere.

But there’s one last nagging question: If complaints of poor customer service fall on the deaf ears of racing executives, what chance do horses have?