The tenth horse died at Del Mar on Saturday, August 2. This one was Chattering Gambler, a three-year-old colt who collapsed during the third race as he drove toward the finish line. This makes 10 dead horses in 13 racing days. Seems like a lot of dead horses.
Let me hurry to say I don’t know the particulars about Del Mar’s horse deaths; in fact, I don’t know the particulars about thoroughbred horse racing, or its politics or governing bodies, and blah, blah, lawyer talk, lawyer talk, lawyer talk. But, what I do grasp is that there are more horses dying on American race tracks than I would have ever guessed.
If you Google or Bing the topic you’ll quickly come upon, if not the definitive, then at least the controlling article about horses dying at race tracks; seems like it’s quoted in every other piece that’s been written on the topic. That’s the three-part series (a 15,000-word beast) published in the New York Times a couple years back.
“More than 3000 horses died during racing or training from 2009–’11, according to a New York Times survey of 29 racing states.”
We are Number 1. California has what looks to be an insurmountable lead in race-horse deaths and takes second place for race horses testing positive for drugs. Follows is from the NYT story.
The New York Times quotes Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board, as saying, “If the public knew how many medications these horses were administered after entry time, I don’t think they would tolerate it,” and, “It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans, you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.”
According to said California Horse Racing Board (the regulator of horse racing and pari-mutuel betting at licensed race tracks in California), 11 horses died at Del Mar in 2012, 12 horses died during the 2011 racing season, 5 dead in 2010, 9 dead in 2009, 14 in 2008, 12 in 2007, 13 in 2006, 23 in 2004, and 26 dead horses in 2003.
Those figures are for summer meets, 36 race days, give or take. This year’s death rate of 10 horses in 13 racing days is on course to be a record-breaker, but only by 1.769 dead horses. This was my second big surprise. What’s happening at Del Mar is within normal range. It’s the cost of doing business.
Normal has a hell of a body count. A 2012 NPR story, using the Times epic treatise as source, said, “On average, 24 horses a week die at racetracks in the United States. They [the NYT reporters] report that since 2009, more than 6600 horses have broken down or showed signs of injury. An additional 3800 horses have tested positive for illegal drugs. That figure underestimates the problem because few horses are tested for substances. At least 3600 horses have died either racing or training at state-regulated tracks.”
Like I said, I don’t know horse racing. Don’t know horses, don’t ride them. I have been to two rodeos, once when I was seven years old and once, a few years back, in Lakeside. I don’t dislike horses, I’m just not interested in them.
I’ve injected this bit of personal bio because I’m the kind of person horse racing needs to attract. I don’t have a baked-in position on the industry’s internecine arguments: doping; injecting medications on race day, particularly painkilling medications, particularly painkilling medications at high doses; a lack of enforcement; lack of money to insure enforcement; wildly different state regulations; wildly different state penalties; the introduction of slot machines into race tracks, thus artificially inflating purses, particularly in claiming races, so the incentive is to race the horse no matter what condition. But, since I don’t know the details of either side of these arguments, I don’t fully believe either side. I’m still persuadable.
Let’s go back to the estimable Dr. Rick Arthur of the California Horse Racing Board. He told the Guardian, “If you look at the marketing studies that have been done by the [National Thoroughbred Racing Association], for example, they’ve found that there are two things that the public doesn’t like about horse racing: they don’t like drugs, and they don’t like dead horses.”
Okay, okay, this is a depressing topic, but there’s sunshine, too. On the California Horse Racing Board, which, by the way, is an independent agency — it’s seven members are appointed by the governor — the “first vice chair” is Bo Derek.