CARACAS, Venezuela -- In his prime, the coffee hued Venezuelan racehorse known as Ocean Bay thundered down tracks and snatched up the nation’s most prestigious titles.
His end this week has outraged many: The stallion was stolen and butchered in what horse owners say it becoming an increasingly common crime in a nation where many are going hungry amidst a severe economic contraction.
“What a disgrace,” Ramón García, his longtime trainer, lamented on Twitter. “This isn’t the Venezuela that I grew up in.”
In recent years, farmers, veterinarians and others have reported dozens of similar crimes, but the slaughter of Ocean Bay struck a nerve because the horse was so well known.
One illustrator shared portraits of the horse online, while others decried President Nicolás Maduro’s government as being responsible for letting the nation slip into an economic crisis so deep horses are killed for food.
“This is painful for all of us,” Susana Raffalli, a nutrition expert who consults for relief agency Caritas Venezuela, wrote on social media.
Ocean Bay jumped into the spotlight by winning two of Venezuela's three Triple Crown races in 2016. He sustained an injury but returned the next year to win five more races.
The stallion had an elegant white streak of hair shaped like a diamond that ran down his face.
On Monday, an employee at the Haras farm in Tocorón, an area about 82 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of Caracas, noticed Ocean Bay was missing. The disappearance immediately sparked alarm; just three months before, seven other purebred horses – including Ocean Bay’s mother – had been stolen and slaughtered.
Hours later, part of Ocean Bay’s skeleton was found near the town’s jail. Police and Venezuela’s chief prosecutor’s office are investigating the crime. Thus far no one has been detained.
Venezuela is in the throes of an economic contraction worse than the U.S. Great Depression and it's now being further testing by the global pandemic. A U.N. World Food Program study last year found one in three Venezuelans is going hungry.
Vandals who slaughter horses typically sell the meat or use it themselves for food. The meat is not commonly consumed in Venezuela; some suspect it is sold to unknowing buyers who believe they are purchasing beef.
García said he has not been able to bring himself to look at images of the slaughtered horse that have surfaced on social media.
“He had a lot of heart,” he said. “He always wanted to be ahead of the others.”