Horse News

Horse racing reaches critical moment after rash of deaths

CBS News

Growing concern over the number of horses dying on race tracks – an average of 10 a week – is forcing the racing industry to reassess how it conducts its business. Some are calling for more regulation, while others want an outright ban, CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reports.

No one knows the thrill, and the risks, of the sport more than Hall Of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. He won 5,000 races, including the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes three times each. He even had a role in the movie “Seabiscuit.”

But Stevens is now worried the sport he loves is in existential danger.

After the most recent death of a horse at Santa Anita during the Breeders’ Cup Classic despite an unprecedented number of reforms implemented at that track the past few months, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued an ominous warning: “If the horse racing industry is unwilling to treat these magnificent creatures humanely, it has no business operating in the United States.”

Stevens said: “I’m scared for racing here in California. I really am.”

“The misconception is that we’re not caring for these horses, and that we as a group don’t care. We care,” he said.

There have always been fatalities in horse racing. When the half-ton athletes are racing at full speed — about 40 miles an hour — only one foot at a time hits the ground, which is an enormous amount of violent pressure on relatively narrow leg bones. When a broken bone occurs, thoroughbreds are simply physiologically incapable of staying alive while the bone heals.

But horse race deaths in the United States are two to three times higher than in Europe, where there are tighter controls on race-day medications and where training and the tracks themselves are different.

The biggest problem in the U.S. is the lack of a strong central authority, said Arthur Hancock III, whose Stone Farm stables in Kentucky has fielded 14 international champions. There is no commissioner, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting regulations over drugs, veterinary records, and even use of the whip.

“We have 38 different racing jurisdictions. … I call all these groups fiefdoms and they can’t get together,” he said.

Hancock also believes American horses are entirely over-medicated, and many drugs mask underlying issues, putting perhaps slightly injured horses on the path to a fatal injury.

In most states, both Lasix, an anti-bleeding drug, and the anti-inflammatory Phenylbutazone, known as bute, are allowed on race day. A European study released this month statistically connected bute to on-track breakdowns.

“I contend that if a horse needs drugs to run he doesn’t need to be running. He needs to run on his natural ability … not some chemically induced ability,” Hancock said.

A bill now before Congress would eliminate all race-day medications and give enforcement authority to the doping agency that oversees the Olympics. It would also establish an independent central authority charged with improving horse and rider safety.

Stevens said he would “absolutely” support that type of authority.

“Are you optimistic now that change will happen?” Dahler asked.

“It’s gotta happen, or they’re done here. Period. And if they’re done here, it’s going to be a tidal wave across the United States,” Stevens said.

Just this month, a group of owners, tracks and organizations that represent 85% of American horse racing announced their own initiative to establish a thoroughbred safety coalition. But Hancock is skeptical that the industry is capable of policing itself.

6 replies »

  1. But NO mention of the basic cause! They are training colts & fillies less than two years old – then racing them at – I’m guessing sometimes before. NO mention of the stress & abuse that does to bones, ligaments, joints that have not matured! Because if they mention that fact – it will cost them money. Altho, they better wake up because the money spigot will stop if racing is banned!!!

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  2. Banning same-day drugs would be a start, but wouldn’t exclude doping a horse at midnight to prep for the next days’ race, and a blood draw would still show it. Racing should follow rules at least as strict as those for Olympic competition, but all this requires monitoring and enforcement, which all costs money. Maybe a percent of the purses could be earmarked for higher enforcement, since it seems the alternative is for racetracks to shut down, which sadly means the bush tracks will probably increase, racing off the radar.

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  3. Different subject, but as always, PEER has lots of information.

    https://www.peer.org/the-newsroom/peermail/

    “By all indications, BLM’s livestock grazing program is landscape malpractice on an epic scale,” stated PEER’s Advocacy Director Kirsten Stade, noting that commercial livestock grazing is also a major climate change agent, releasing millions of tons of carbon annually and more than one third of all human-induced methane. “American taxpayers are subsidizing a program that is driving desertification, destruction of riparian areas, and introduction of invasive species.”

    Despite the program’s size, BLM has shrunken the cyberspace accorded to it, demoting commercial livestock grazing from a program to a sub-program on its website, sharing equal billing with “reindeer grazing in Alaska.”

    “BLM’s lack of institutional candor is reducing much of the American West to terra incognita,” added PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins who filed the organization’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “What is new is that BLM no longer tries to explain, let alone justify, what it is doing to our public lands.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • How can they justify with a straight face then that the Wild Horse and Burro Program has primacy over the grazing program, which encompasses millions more animals, costs the public ~$150 million more than it brings in, and props up private, for-profit interests at the expense of unwilling taxpayers? This while also charging the public the costs of roundups and removals of protected wild horses and burros from their small percentage (~12%) of all public grazing lands), while forcing competition between them and commercial livestock. It seems well past time the BLM was relieved of “management” duties as we are approaching a 50 year public lands mismanagement history (2021). Anyone in in the private sector delivering such high costs and poor results (crisis by crisis) would have been sent down the road long ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Horse racing is a joke! The underlying cause is running babies! Period! They are weaned early and begin a life of HELL as a poor yearling! Forced out of noisy metal gates with people screaming! Or many cattle proded out of shuttles! Who the hell knows what they do. But it certainly isn’t right! Beautiful animals killed for greed and the Almighty dollar! NO horses should die! 1 is too many! If they WONT come to a humane conclusion, then close the damn tracks down! All the committees and all the bs! Come off of you pedestal and look at the horses, be with the horses and love the horses like many of us do!

    No just kill them! These insurance companies need to.change some language in these policies too! If a horse dies on the track or after the race, NO MONEY PAL!

    And for God’s sake cut off the paths to the auctions, kill buyers and slaughter!

    And stop selling some of our best horses to foreign countries! Quite frankly they don’t give a shit! Money is nothing because some still go to slaughter after being in foreign countries!

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