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.
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.
Source: CBS News
After a tumultuous year in which dozens of horses died at the fabled Santa Anita Park, officials put in place a slew of groundbreaking reforms before the start of the 2019 fall meeting: tough new drug restrictions, the addition of four more veterinarians to oversee the horses, new rules on when horses could be trained and when they had to be stabled at the park before a race. Horses were already being blood-tested before races for evidence of “milkshaking”— in which a horse is given the performance enhancing drug sodium bicarbonate through a tube up the nose. Also, horses are randomly drug-tested after races.
It was the surge in deaths over a few weeks at the park earlier this year that raised an alarm at the track and a public outcry that put the park and the sport in general under an extraordinary scrutiny — and rightly so. That alarm led to the reforms now in place.
According to statistics compiled by the Jockey Club, of the roughly 49,000 thoroughbred horses that raced last year, 493 suffered racing fatalities. That doesn’t include training deaths. The average death per start — a start occurs each time a horse begins a race — in the U.S. last year was 1.68 deaths per 1,000 starts. Santa Anita last year was above average with 2.04 deaths per 1,000 starts. But other parks had worse records.
The idea is to institute reforms that bring down fatalities dramatically. Death should not be a regular or acceptable byproduct of horse racing. Santa Anita appears to be working hard on this. In addition to the reforms above, new diagnostic tools — a standing MRI machine and a PET scanner — should be in place by the start of the next racing season at the end of December.
But even more can and should be done. Advocates from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have urged Santa Anita to put in a CT scanner that can take images of all four legs of a horse at once. Park veterinarians say they are working on finding the right one. The more varied diagnostic tools the park has, says Santa Anita’s chief veterinary officer, Dionne Benson, the better they can evaluate the condition of horses before they’re cleared to race.
Santa Anita appears to be working hard on this. In addition to the reforms above, new diagnostic tools — a standing MRI machine and a PET scanner — should be in place by the start of the next racing season at the end of December. But even more can and should be done.
The park should also put in a place a central pharmacy from which all drugs would be obtained. Benson supports this as a way to monitor all the drugs given to horses during the days or weeks that they are at Santa Anita. (The track would enforce this through its on-site investigators and the hundreds of cameras in place.) And the park should seriously consider replacing its dirt track with a synthetic track. The park did this once before and took it out. It can be difficult to maintain but there is evidence that there are fewer fatalities on it. And the park has to continue to police trainers. The park has already banished trainers whose horses have suffered disproportionate fatalities.
Meanwhile, Congress should pass the Horseracing Integrity Act, creating an independent horse-racing authority to set nationwide rules.
The troubling thing is that even experts such as Benson are stumped by what is causing the recent deaths at Santa Anita and elsewhere. It would help if Benson had the necropsies of all the horses. The L.A. district attorney’s office set up a task force to investigate the deaths six months ago and the results are still not public nor does the office have a time frame for when they will be released. Benson says her goal is “safe horse racing with zero fatalities,” but she acknowledges how difficult it will be to get to that.
Hopefully, even more changes at the park will get Santa Anita closer. If it can’t, and if no racing park in the United States can, then the inescapable question for elected officials and the public in California and across the nation is: Do we want to continue a sport — even a historic and beloved sport — in which horses’ lives are routinely sacrificed so that people can be entertained?
Source: Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
A fifth horse has died at Santa Anita this fall, the 35th fatality at the famed Southern California race track since Dec. 26, officials said Friday. Six-year-old mare C Q Covergirl injured both of her front legs while running on the facility's training track Friday and was subsequently euthanized on the recommendation of the attending veterinarian. C Q Covergirl is the third horse to die on the training track in the last month. She had won six of 16 lifetime races and earned around $200,000, before her premature death.
C Q Covergirl was claimed in June for $40,000 by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, though Philip D'Amato had trained the mare for most of her career. D’Amato also trained Satchel Paige, who died on October 19, and Formal Dude, who died on June 8.
Although there is no rule to suspend trainers following a horse fatality in California, the state's race tracks have seen some changes in the last year. In March, Santa Anita Park declared a zero-tolerance policy for race-day medications, which may harm horses by pushing them beyond their bodies' physical capacities. In the same month, the California Horse Racing Board voted to limit whips in horse racing. Then in June, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing the racing board to immediately suspend racing licenses to protect the safety of horses and riders, as a response to the climbing horse deaths at Santa Anita.
Still, the iconic race track has seen a significant drop in attendance since the ongoing controversy. Santa Anita Park is scheduled to host the world championships of racing, the Breeder's Cup, next weekend, marking the end of its fall season. In the meantime, the body of C Q Covergirl will be sent to the University of California, Davis, for a necropsy, as is protocol.
Both the California Horse Racing Board and the L.A. District Attorney’s Office are conducting investigations into the spike of horse fatalities at Santa Anita.
Source: ABC News