Horse Health

Kentucky Derby to kick off under cloud of horse deaths

By Lia Eustachewich and Jennifer Gould Keil as published on The New York Post

“Twenty-three thoroughbreds have died since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, the California track that’s considered one of the best in the nation…”

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Saturday marks the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs — but this year’s race will set off under a cloud of controversy originating at a track some 2,000 miles away.

Twenty-three thoroughbreds have died since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, the California track that’s considered one of the best in the nation.

The disturbing spike is now under investigation by Los Angeles prosecutors, sullying the industry ahead of the whimsical Derby Day — and thrusting concerns over the treatment of the animals back into the spotlight.

“The problem with horse racing is that it’s been sold to us as a sport from the beginning,” horse racing industry critic Patrick Battuello told The Post on Friday. “It’s animal exploitation, it’s animal cruelty and it’s animal killing.”

Battuello, 53, tallies all racing- and training-related horse deaths in the country through his blog, Horseracing Wrongs.

Critics have pointed to a number of potential issues at Santa Anita. The Arcadia track was hit with nearly a foot of rain during an unusually cold winter. Racehorses there were also administered Lasix, a common race-day medication given to prevent bleeding in the animals’ lungs. The drug, however, hasn’t been linked to any horse deaths.

Santa Anita shuttered for nearly a month as track officials made a series of changes, including phasing out the use of medication and whips on race days. Now, only 50 percent of previous levels of Lasix is allowed on race day and by 2020, all 2-year-old horses will have to race medication-free at the track and its sister site, Golden Gate Fields.

There hasn’t been a breakdown at Santa Anita since racing resumed in late March.

The horse-death phenomenon has happened before in New York. Between 2011 and 2012, 21 horses broke down at Aqueduct, spurring a probe that found racing officials ignored the health of horses and overused drugs to keep them competing.

Some have questioned why Santa Anita officials didn’t act more quickly in light of reforms implemented in New York, which now has some of the strictest drug rules in the industry.

“Why they took so long to get on top of it is beyond any of us,” said Alan Foreman, chairman and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “When you see spates of breakdowns like this, which are very unusual, you know something’s going on and something is impacting it.”

The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, said it “took the bold and necessary steps to begin to modernize and reform our sport for the betterment of horse and rider welfare.’

“This industry-led initiative successfully gained approval on groundbreaking Lasix reforms from California’s regulatory body for horse racing, the California Horse Racing Board,” the statement said. “While steeped in both history and tradition, the sport needs to be modernized in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of horses and athletes first and foremost.”

This year’s Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, includes a field of 19. Early favorite Omaha Beach was scratched earlier this week with an entrapped epiglottis. Haikal was also scratched. Game Winner stands as the morning-line favorite with 5-1 odds.

Post time is 6:50 p.m.

8 replies »

  1. It’s terrible when you see these beautiful horses fall, legs dangling, in shock trying to get up because they have no idea what’s happening! They need to outlaw the racing of these baby horses! You would not put a totler in a 5k race so why in the hell would you race a baby Through red! Big men, their strong, their knees are closed, their ready! BS! We do all our training too early with US horses. But racing is out of control! They shouldn’t look at the break downs and say we automatically say we lose 1 percent. It should be NO percent! 1 death is 1 too many unless MONEY is your only object! And the Lasix issue is another thing. Ladix is administered to keep the lungs from hemorrhaging. Doesn’t that mean that horses work out may be too challenging for it’s poor body?

    It’s disgusting! Baby horses jacked up with vitamins, high protein feeds, in most cases straight alfalfa hay and medication! It’s a baby brain and a baby body. So what do you have? To me a receipt for disaster! Then throw in the condition of the track! It’s no longer the Sport of the Kings.
    But the Sport of the Dead! And that doesn’t even with the ones who survive and discarded like yesterday’s trash! So those poor survivors are not kept on lavished farms, but are sent to auctions where have very very high chance of being shipped off to slaughter in a foreign country! Nice isn’t it for beautiful horse that has given it’s all to it’s breeder who made money. The trainer who earned a living off the horse and the veterinarians who was suppose to care for the horses physical welfare! What’s wrong with this picture! It makes me ill! No. Longer a racing fan! It’s out of control!


  2. “When you see spates of breakdowns like this, which are very unusual, you know something’s going on and something is impacting it.” Yes something is going on all right – whips & lasix arent the only cause – the cause is racing TWO YEAR OLDS! But thats not something you are going to hear from a “thoroughbred horsemens association” or any other pro-racing organization! Not while theres money to be made.


    • Lots of it, too (keep in mind this is for one day of horse racing):

      LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 3, 2019) – Wagering on Friday’s 145th running of the $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) reached record levels at Churchill Downs Racetrack as Serengeti Empress captured the race before a crowd of 105,719 that braved early morning rain. Attendance decreased 7% compared to last year which had more favorable weather conditions. This follows a record-breaking Thursday (“Thurby”) crowd of 48,212.

      Wagering from all-sources was the highest all-time on both the Kentucky Oaks program and on the Kentucky Oaks race.
      Wagering from all-sources on the full Kentucky Oaks Day race card totaled $60.2 million, an 8% increase over the previous wagering record total of $55.8 million in 2018. All-sources wagering on the Kentucky Oaks race rose 10% to $19.4 million from the previous Oaks race record total of $17.5 million in 2018.

      I’m also finding a lot of owners of winners who say “I won this race”, or similar, though of course they aren’t the ones running! At the end of the day it is the horse doing the hard slogging. Most jockeys never see a horse until minutes before they mount up for a race, and the trainers rarely ride them, so the closest anyone can claim to be to winning are the almost invisible exercise riders.


  3. I’m very leery this year – and two horses have been scratched from the race, and I’m sure they don’t want to take chances after Santa Anita. If the horses weren’t so damn beautiful I wouldn’t even peek, because I’d hate to see a disaster. 😦


    • We’ve all seen many disasters, havent we? Ruffian, Eight Belles, Barbaro – many many others – so I just dont watch. After reading the numbers of colts/fillies “euthanized” at Santa Anita in such a short time period? Its sickening to think there are people who believe this is such a fun “sport”! Until there is enough publicity put forth (not the cover-ups when a horse collapses on the track) & people are confronted with the physical picture of exactly how devastating this “sport” is to the animals that they believe “love to run”? The kill buyers & trucks behind the barn will continue.


  4. Yes, there have been. I’m leery every year, but this year especially so. And again, the godawful track condition! Apparently there was controversy about the winner who made contact with another horse, and it’s maddening because horse and rider could have been injured. The original winner was disqualified.


  5. A narrowly averted (by split seconds) total pile up, a dangerous lousy track, and IMO a lousy jockey on Maximum Security… wow.
    I didn’t watch, but saw the results. The angels were on it, as a lot of people were praying for. A travesty, and hope that this KD will be a lesson learned for the hubris of Bob Baffert and his cronies. The whole thing was very weird and a miracle that no lives were lost!


  6. Same here. I just couldn’t bring myself to watch this year, but I peeked at the end – and couldn’t believe what I saw. 😦


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