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
Anyone with a passing interest in Thoroughbred racing or animal welfare is very familiar with the breakdown of horses at Santa Anita Park during their winter/spring meeting.
This meet opened on December 26 and finished on June 23. There were a total of 30 breakdowns, including races and workouts. On March 14, Belinda Stronach, President and Chairman of the Stronach Group, presented an open letter on the future of Thoroughbred racing in California. Some of the important safety initiatives included:
There were two additional important proposed initiatives that are significant but do not relate directly to breakdowns. One is a restriction on the use of Lasix. Starting in 2020, no 2-year-old will be able to run on Lasix, and, in 2021, all Santa Anita stakes races will be Lasix-free. Secondly, the Stronach Group is proposing both structural changes in the composition of the whip and a dramatic reduction in how it can be used by the jockey. These two initiatives will have to go through the rule-making process, including consultation with horsemen, before they can be voted on by the California Horseracing Board.
Hollendorfer facts are hard to digest
On June 22, a horse of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer broke down on the Santa Anita training track and had to be euthanized. Unfortunately, this was the fourth Hollendorfer horse to break down, racing or training, during the meet, and he also had two breakdowns during the Golden Gate meet, which ended on June 2 and will re-open on August 15.
Later on June 22, Hollendorfer was told by the Stronach Group he would no longer be allowed to race or train at Santa Anita and that the four horses that he had entered on the final two days of Santa Anita were scratched.
The further facts are hard for me to digest, so I imagine how Hollendorfer must feel. He was elected to the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, lifetime he has won 7,617 races from a total of 33,519 entered, and until June 22 he had over 100 horses in training in California. Other than being ruled off by the Stronach Group, he does not appear to have heard any further details of why he was suspended.
Most racing jurisdictions have one organization for owners and trainers. However, in California the owners are represented by the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the trainers by their own organization, the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT). It is truly remarkable that, as of right now, the CTT has not come forward with a strong statement of support for Hollendorfer, who remains a licensee in good standing with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
An industry that has lost its soul
In sum, the industry is not full of change agents seeking new challenges and changing the business. However, as I tried to outline above, we are desperate to change in many areas. We need to identify and eliminate the cheaters in the game. We also need to protect the interests of our owners, breeders and employees to assure them that we run an honest business that works in the interests of all participants.
If we try to stand still with existing policies and business practices, we are only going to go backwards. I wrote what I thought was a very important article back on April 2. It was primarily stimulated by the most powerful case for reform in U.S. Thoroughbred racing and breeding that I have ever read: Vision 2025. If you are invested or interested in the U.S. Thoroughbred industry, you have to read this nine-page report.
I truly believe we are an industry that has lost its soul and its determination. We so desperately need the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019 and the important changes in the business model that the legislation requires. As I have tried to outline above, our current collection of industry organizations and regulatory bodies are simply going to bring the industry down. Please, no more ‘go along to get along’.
Source: Charles Hayward for TRC
Nearly 500 Thoroughbred racehorses died in the U.S. in 2018. Here’s why:
Each spring in the United States, the nation’s swiftest Thoroughbreds compete in the Triple Crown, a hundred-year-old series of three races. Fans don large hats, and jovial crowds gather to watch the elegant animals sprint down the track. Despite its popularity, horse racing is a dangerous sport for both horse and jockey. In the U.S. in 2018, 493 Thoroughbred racehorses died, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database.
Most of these deaths are the result of limb injuries, followed by respiratory, digestive, and multiorgan system disorders. In fact, most of the 23 horse deaths at the California racetrack Santa Anita Park in recent months were due to limb injuries.
Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, says the deaths may be because horse racing has become more competitive. Horses aren’t getting the rest they need, especially in temperate places like southern California, where the animals race year-round, he says.“It’s hard to keep an athlete absolutely at the top of their fitness 12 months out of the year.”
The unprecedented spate of fatalities at Santa Anita has also placed renewed focus on the safety of the sport. For instance, in March 2019, bipartisan U.S. lawmakers introduced a federal bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, that would create a uniform national standard for drug testing racehorses. The horse racing industry is currently regulated by states.
The Jockey Club, which works to improve Thoroughbred breeding and racing, supports the bill. “It’s time we joined the rest of the world in putting in place the best measures to protect the health and safety of our equine athletes,” the organization said in a statement.
While a broken leg is easily treatable for humans, it’s often a death sentence for horses. That’s because horses have so little soft tissue in their legs that the bone often tears through skin or cuts off circulation to the rest of the limb, leaving them prone to infection. In some severe cases, the bone shatters, making it nearly impossible to reassemble.
Even if the horse’s bone could be set, it wouldn’t be able to support weight for several weeks. If horses can’t distribute their weight relatively evenly, they risk laminitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of tissue inside the hoof. In general, if a horse can’t stand on all four legs on its own, it won’t survive and will be euthanized, Arthur says.
And when a horse falls, its jockey is often hurt, too. A 2013 analysis of about five years of California horse racing data showed 184 jockey injuries from 360 reported falls. Most of the falls occurred during races and were the result of a “catastrophic injury or sudden death of the horse,” the study found.
The drug controversy
Trainers have been accused of making an already risky situation worse by drugging horses with performance-enhancing substances or painkillers, animal welfare advocates say. Such drugs allow horses to run faster and power through the pain. For example, the drug furosemide, popularly known under the brand name Lasix, is a “performance-enhancing drug cloaked as a therapeutic medication,” according to a March report by the Jockey Club.
While it’s prescribed to treat bleeding in the lungs, the medication also causes urination and, consequently, weight loss. Lighter horses run faster, and Lasix has been shown to help horses run three to five lengths faster. The legality of each drug varies by state. (Read about the most detailed history of horse evolution ever assembled.)
While some animal activists feel such drugs should be banned, others in the horse racing industry believe better self-regulation is the answer. To that end, the proposed horse racing legislation would establish an independent, self-regulatory body—affiliated with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency—to regulate racehorse medication, list which substances are and are not permitted, and ban medications within 24 hours of racing.
Source: National Geographic