The horse-racing industry is suddenly under intense scrutiny in the wake of the cancellation of the HBO show “Luck” because of several horse deaths. Horses are dying at tracks all over the country, many in New York State.
In a damning report called “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys: Death and Disarray at America’s Racetracks,” the New York Times reveals an average of 24 horses die each week at the country’s racetracks.
A computer analysis of data from more than 150,000 races, along with injury reports, drug test results and interviews, shows an industry still mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains far worse than in most of the world.
If anything, the new economics of racing are making an always-dangerous game even more so. Faced with a steep loss of customers, racetracks have increasingly added casino gambling to their operations, resulting in higher purses but also providing an incentive for trainers to race unfit horses. At Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the number of dead and injured horses has risen sharply since a casino opened there late last year.
Governor Andrew Cuomo called for investigation into the Aqueduct horse deaths.
The Finger Lakes Racetrack has the best horse-injury record in New York State and among the best the country, according to the New York Times. It has 2.5 incidents of breakdown or signs of injury per 1,000 starts. But a veterinarian there alleges horse deaths are on the rise:
“It’s hard to watch these poor animals running for their lives for people who could really care less if they live,” said Dr. Margaret Ohlinger, a track veterinarian at Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack in upstate New York. She performs pre-race inspections and treats horses injured in races but is not responsible for their overall care.
Last year at the track, Dr. Ohlinger counted 63 dead horses. That, she said, is more than double the fatalities of five years earlier.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the safety of California’s tracks and focused on synthetic versus dirt surfaces.
There are several possible outcomes to all of this scrutiny. The racetracks could clean up their acts and do a better job protecting jockeys and horses. Another scenario is public outcry could kill an industry struggling to attract younger people. It’s also possible nothing will change, but something tells me this issue is about to explode.
In New York State, the racetracks desperately want to become full-fledged casinos. They have a lot riding on getting this right.