Racing to Their Deaths

Once again the fabulous app, Zite, has introduced me to a world I knew nothing about. I was doing some research on the horses who died during the filming of Luck, the HBO series on horse racing that was canceled after a third horse died in the production of the show, and came across several articles that put horse racing in a whole new category for me.

Of course, I should have known. Why would those seeking profit from the lives of horses be any different from those who profit from dog racing? After reading the March 24th New York Times editorial titled, “Horses to the Slaughter,” I’ve discovered “[t]horoughbred racing trades on bucolic imagery and glossy beauty,” to cover over the “the casual and continual mistreatment of vulnerable, overmedicated and ultimately disposable athletes … a culture of rampant cheating and feeble regulation, where injured and fragile horses are forced to run while drugged, to the great peril of both animals and jockeys.”

I recall the 2008, Kentucky Derby, and the horse, Eight Belles, who  broke two ankles on national television and was euthanized, and I recall all the blustering in Congress as they got folks in the racing industry to promise to make horse racing a safer sport. They instituted bans on anabolic steroids, which is, of course, difficult to track since so many tracks don’t keep accurate records of accidents. How convenient. However,

an investigation by The New York Times has found that industry practices continue to put animal and rider at risk. A computer analysis of data from more than 150,000 races, along with injury reports, drug test results and interviews, shows an industry still mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains far worse than in most of the world.

Horses are being injured and euthanized at an alarming rate, and jockeys are risking their lives knowing full well the horses they are riding are doped up, injured, and sick.

Just ask Jacky Martin, a national champion jockey who broke his neck in three places and is paralyzed after being thrown from his horse who went down with a broken leg and sent Martin sprawling. The horse was euthanized on the track. Martin got about $60 for coming in 4th in that race and faces the possibly of lifetime tethered to a respirator. I couldn’t even find the name of the horse who gave his life for that 4th place showing.

The Times editorial notes that

On average, 24 horses die each week at racetracks across America. Many are inexpensive horses racing with little regulatory protection in pursuit of bigger and bigger prizes. These deaths often go unexamined, the bodies shipped to rendering plants and landfills rather than to pathologists who might have discovered why the horses broke down.

We hear about the famous races and horses–the Triple Crown winners like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, and contenders such as Real Quiet, War Emblem, Smarty Jones, and Big Brown. These horses and these races get the most attention, but the mainstay of racing in America is the lower tier, “so-called claiming races,” and it is these horses that are the most vulnerable; regulators don’t pay as much attention to them, don’t test them as often for  potentially dangerous drugs such as a variety of pain killers and the oddities such as “cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs.” Many owners and trainers will try anything to win regardless of what damage they are doing to their horses.

The disregard for and deaths of these animals point to just how different many Americans think about animals. Why are we so outraged by some recreational uses of animals, but overwhelmingly approve of activities that are even more cruel? I don’t know how to explain this moral inconsistency. I’m guilty of it myself. I’ve long been advocating the end of dog races and yet remained wholly ignorant about the abuse and cruelty in horse racing.

I suppose I thought the costs of these beautiful creatures would deter owners from putting them at risk. I was wrong.

It is time we expose the horror, cruelty, and pain these beautiful creatures are forced to endure for our entertainment and the pursuit of the all mighty dollar.

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