NYT Goes In-Depth on Horse Racing

Warning: Photo of dead racehorse at link

The title of the article helps prepare the reader for the misery that follows: Death and disarray at America’s racetracks – Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys

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.


Why racehorses break down at such a high rate has been debated for years, but the discussion inevitably comes back to drugs.

Laboratories cannot yet detect the newest performance-enhancing drugs, while trainers experiment with anything that might give them an edge, including chemicals that bulk up pigs and cattle before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs.

Illegal doping, racing officials say, often occurs on private farms before horses are shipped to the track. Few states can legally test horses there.

The piece states that in England, horses are not allowed to race while receiving any type of drug and that the country’s breakdown rate is half that of the United States.  While it’s likely too simplistic a solution to address a comprehensive problem, I can’t help thinking it would be a good, common sense place to start in this country.  If a horse in in pain from an injury or otherwise in need of medication, he should be treated appropriately and not raced until such time as he is completely recovered.  I can’t see any drawbacks to the rule itself, although enforcement might be daunting to implement across the board.

The Times does a good job putting pain and suffering – of both horses and humans – front and center.  After a family outing to a racetrack where her two grandchildren saw a horse’s leg bone snap, puncturing the skin, before he was euthanized on the track, Laura Alvarado wrote a letter to the editor of her local paper:

She said she sent copies of the letter to the mayor, the track, its chief veterinarian, the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Ms. Alvarado expected a response.

She never got one, she said.

I would posit that the mayor, the track, its vet, HSUS and the ASPCA were of one mind when it came to ignoring Ms. Alvarado’s letter:  There is no money to be made in forcing the horse racing industry to clean up and become accountable.

12 thoughts on “NYT Goes In-Depth on Horse Racing

  1. The US also races horses much younger than the UK does. And many of our track surfaces have shown to contribute to injuries.

    But it’s like racing greyhounds – there’s money in it and animals are cheap, so it’s ok to go through them like water. Of course, unlike greyhounds, horses have jockeys who pay the price, too.

    It’s no different from the shelters – leadership, accountability. Without them, there’s abuse.

  2. The horse racing industry does not need regulation, it needs to end. There is nothing beneficial about it. It’s an exploitative industry that hinges upon breeding structurally unsound animals and putting them in unnatural, dangerous situations for money. There is nothing redeeming about horse racing.

    And when their value (racing) disappears, so do the horses. Some of the most-winning stallions are in different countries producing semen and when they fail to do that, they are slaughtered and eaten. Way to say “thanks”.

    1. Exactly. I see nothing beneficial to racings horses, dogs, or any other type of animal like this. I believe all animals should just be able to live in their home comfortably, graise grass, etc. Not be forced to work. And then when you add the abuse and everything else to it, it makes me even madder. I think these things are just as serious in this country as animal shelters.

      1. Wow really? Are you against dock diving? Weight pull? Competitive obedience? Agility? Skijooring? Herding trials? Lure coursing? Hunting/hunting trials? Schutzhund/PP/bitework training? What about those who keep dogs to herd and guard their livestock? Search and Rescue (SAR), cadavdar dogs, service and therapy dogs, and sniffer dogs can all be considered “working” dogs as well, should nobody do any of these things?

        There is good and bad in everything. Some dogs and animals in general need more in their lives than sitting around growing fat. It’s called “enrichment” and all living things need it. Animals LOVE to work. It’s fun. It’s stimulating. It’s LIVING. It sucks when crappy people ruin it for the people who want to do things right. I hope the racehorse industry can figure out ways to regulate itself properly, there are undoubtedly many things wrong with it, but I do not think that racing animals, whether dog or horse, is innately wrong. It’s the way its done that counts.

      2. Some of those are the exception to the rules, like herding and agility courses, but essentially yes. I look at doing those things in the same way that I would look at a dog entering a beauty pageant except more severe. And I dont appreciate being called “crappy” because I dont believe that animals should have to “perform on cue” for human entertainment.

      3. Sighthounds and Scenthounds are meant to hunt and I would disagree in getting rid of hunting trials and lure coursing trials. I own a sighthound breed and went to a lure coursing event yesterday where my 11 year old ran the course and was able to chase the bunny-a white plastic bag. He almost caught the bag mid field as he slid in the grass to try to catch it and at the end of the course he killed it by attempting to shred it. This is instinctive on his part as there was no training required. In the backyard, my dogs chase birds, rabbits, and squirrels. If my dogs did not get a lot of exercise, the contents in the house would be chewed to shreds which some already are-yes, even the 11 year old still chews! I would never force my dogs to do something they did not want to do or enjoy doing. Most breeders are the same way when it comes to show dogs-if the dog does not enjoying showing they stop. It is too expensive to continue showing a dog like that and the judge can tell when a dog is not happy and does not have presence.

      4. If someone were to hunt and the person brings the dog and it naturally starts hunting, then that is a different situation. No one’s really forcing the dog to do that. But I have been against hunting since before I’ve become vegetarian, so to me hunting is awful anyway. As far as pageants go, no I dont have first-hand experience with that, but I cant imagine dogs being very happy forced to work like that instead of being able to sleep at home and be comfortable with their owners. To me its like those shows about toddlers in beauty pageants. They will act happy because they are supposed to and maybe afraid of what their mothers would think if they knew they werent, but what 2 year old really knows the difference like that? Guess we are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

  3. Animals are always the ones to lose when people find ways to make money off them. Money makes greedy folks do horendous things to animals & people alike.

    To stop horse racing is asking too much, but more rules are certainly called for. Just like losing race dogs, losing race horses are brutily treated & killed by the same people who train & care for them or sold to those who do it regularly.

    After the race is over & everyone goes home, horse AND dog raceing is a shamefull sport.

  4. I thought the Times did a great, great job with this story. And the comments are a torrent of outrage at the greed and cruelty involved in horseracing. The piece definitely struck a nerve. I’ve commented myself and just wanted to mention that you don’t need to subscribe to leave a comment. You just need to register, which is free.

  5. I live near 2 horse race tracks Fingerlakes Race track and Batavia Downs and never been to ether one of them and never will unless there is a protest going on! I think the whole industry is rotten to the core. I hate any entertainment that uses animals. The animals don’t have a choice. There is always the money in the pocket before the best interest of the animal.

    1. IMHO, Breyer’s piece is for the most part so many excuses in a line; the only issue he seems to consider of import is that of legal and illicit drug use, with the rest brushed off as not us or as matters of perception over reality. I’m especially disgusted at his insistence that it’s all about PETA’s criticisms when in fact it’s not. The majority of the issues the NYT raised have been simmering for many, many years, in the industry and outside of it, and it’s way past time for substantive change.

      I also question his dismissal of surface as an issue, given that since California mandated synthetic tracks the fatal injury rate in the state dropped by half, and after Santa Anita successfully petitioned to return to dirt and did, their new statistics show their fatal injury rate doubled. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-horse-deaths-20120324,0,1689108,full.story

      … and queue the chorus of complaints; even with this data, they’re still trying to find reasons that the surface isn’t a significant factor.

      Then, too, something none of the recent articles have brought up: http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/behind-racetrack-tough-existence-backstretch-workers-12174

      Horse racing really, really needs to clean house, but I suspect that once again – as they’ve done to my direct knowledge since the late 60s – they’ll just slap a few band-aids over the gaping wounds and hopes no-one looks closely. Meanwhile the sport is dying, and despite having loved it I’m finding it impossible to defend it any more. Let it go. There are things I’d miss, but none of them could possibly balance so many injuries and deaths, so much misery, so many good horses dumped at auction for their price per pound. None.

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