The upside to what’s going on in horse racing? Bo Derek.
  • The upside to what’s going on in horse racing? Bo Derek.
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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.

State Drug positives   Deaths
California     296 635
Colorado 68 14
Florida 366 150-160
New York     159 366
Texas 618 108

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.”

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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.

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shirleyberan Aug. 6, 2014 @ 2:10 p.m.

Are they stupid enough to give race horses performance enhancing drugs that affect coordination?


clockerbob Aug. 7, 2014 @ 2:21 p.m.

. If Lief or Joe Harper were concerned about the welfare of the horse colony they would have requested the drug test results of the horses that collapsed or broke down and question the attending vets as to what drugs were administered pre-race.

Several of the 11 horses that died or broke down at Del Mar were labeled collapsed. I believe that other deaths that were labeled breakdowns really collapsed. Drugs are a cause of a runners' legs folding. If it takes ten months for drug test results from Del Mar's

current and future dead or mangled thoroughbred racers and its found that the same drug

was administered to all.


clockerbob Aug. 8, 2014 @ 2:31 p.m.

the “first vice chair” is Bo Derek. Here a fresh ruling by Bo Derek

Trainer Shane Moran has been fined $1,000 and suspended for 30 days by the California Horse Racing Board... According to a report in the Daily Racing Form, the ruling stems from a 2013 case where several of the horses in Moran’s small stable were found to be in very poor shape. Two of the horses were in such bad condition that they had to be euthanized at a veterinary clinic


Ken Harrison Aug. 10, 2014 @ 6:08 a.m.

The problem is too many yuppies are getting into racing, buying fractional shares of a race horse, just so they can say, "I own a race horse." Just look at them out in the Paddock, t-shirts and flip flops. To re-coup their investment, or actually try to make money, the stables run these horses before they are fully developed or are already non-starters, and they die. I also don't like the 14 horse cards, why so many horses in one race? Who can bet that and expect to win? It's a horse race I tell ya!


Ken Harrison Aug. 12, 2014 @ 1:39 p.m.

Maybe they need to get the horses back into the surf, like the old days. Something medicinal about salt water.


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