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Initial industry responses to Times article are limited
The first article in a series planned by the New York Times examining injuries in horse racing has put the racing world under a harsh spotlight and may have serious consequences for the sport, including the possibility of a renewed push for federal regulation, according to racing officials.
The article, which appeared above the fold on the front page of the Sunday Times with the headline "Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys," was the most e-mailed story on the Times website as of early Monday morning. The comments section below the article had drawn more than 480 posts within 36 hours, the majority criticizing the racing industry.
The series is certain to pose additional public-relations problems for racing at a time when the industry is already being buffeted by criticism from animal-welfare groups and other organizations. In the past two weeks, the HBO television series "Luck" was canceled after an uproar caused by the death of a third horse being used in the production of the series, and, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for an investigation into a spate of catastrophic injuries at Aqueduct racetrack.
Officials representing major national racing organizations were said to be conducting conference calls Sunday and Monday to formulate a response, though a comprehensive response is not likely to be issued until the series runs its course.
"The New York Times piece offers a sobering look at certain aspects of horse racing," said Alex Waldrop, the president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which conducts many of racing's public outreach efforts. Waldrop declined to answer specific questions and said Sunday night that the association planned to issue a response.
The first installment of the series focused on injuries at racetracks in New Mexico, which, according to an analysis conducted by the Times using the results of racing charts for the past three years, had the worst safety record of any state. The article, which noted that all New Mexico tracks operate casinos, incorporated anecdotes of injuries to both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, and the data in the analysis appeared to include injuries to both breeds.
Eric Alwan, a spokesperson for Sunland Park, a racetrack and casino in New Mexico that was not prominently mentioned in the article, noted that Sunland is the only track in New Mexico that is accredited by the NTRA's Safety and Integrity Alliance, meeting standards of safety established by the alliance. The article took to task the tracks that have declined to seek accreditation through the alliance, which is voluntary.
"Although we don't agree with everything in the article, we hope that this article will lead to much-needed change in drug regulation in New Mexico horse racing," Alwan said.
The New Mexico Racing Commission, which was criticized in the article for its enforcement of regulations and penalties, said that it would issue a statement in response to the article later this week.
Ruidoso Downs, which was featured prominently in the article, said that it would not comment on the article. Penn National Gaming Inc., the owner of Zia Park, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The last time that racing faced such scrutiny was in the wake of the death of Eight Belles, the filly who broke down shortly after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Her death renewed calls from some U.S. legislators for federal oversight of the sport. Those calls frequently have been led by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky, and Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico.
In a statement Monday, Udall said he would "urge" other legislators to adopt a bill he introduced last year that would regulate racing under the Food and Drug Administration and prohibit the use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide on race day.
The bill was opposed by most racing organizations when it was introduced last year.
"The sport of horse racing, which, at its best, showcases the majestic beauty of this animal and the athleticism of jockeys, has reached an alarming level of corruption and exploitation," the statement said. "The consequences of inconsistent state-level regulation is an epidemic of animal doping that has led to countless euthanizations of helpless horses and the injury and death of their riders. The Times expose has shined a glaring light on the need for national standards in a sport that reaps gambling profits, but has lacked proper oversight for decades."
The article also cited the recent spate of fatalities at Aqueduct racetrack, and it stated that both Belmont Park and Saratoga "had incident rates higher than the national average last year," citing its data analysis. Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga are operated by the New York Racing Association.
NYRA issued a statement Monday, taking issue with the Times's use of chart notations referring to horses being pulled up, vanned off, or showing signs of lameness as an instance of an injury, contending that in many of those instances a horse has not suffered an injury. The NYRA response also cited three years of statistics released last week by the Jockey Club as part of the Equine Injury Database project that said catastrophic injury rates at Belmont and Saratoga were below the national average for catastrophic injuries.
"The low breakdown rates that both Saratoga and Belmont Park have had over the last three years, as reported in the official Jockey Club Equine Injury Database, demonstrate that they are among the safest racing environments in the country," the statement said. The statement noted that NYRA's three tracks have all been accredited.
The first and most logical step to take in response to this long standing problem is to stop the use of drugs. Drugging horses is clearly wrong and it impacts every phase of racing. If drugs are necessary to treat infirmities, injuries or surgeries than those horses who are affected should be given the necessary time off to recover before returning to training and competition. Unfortunately there are a number of trainers who cannot train successfully without medicating their horses and as a result horses a competing on a daily basis that clearly should not be. Medications consistently mask the physical problems that horses are experienceing which in turn leads to the many concerns and complaints that continue to pervade the industry. The horse is the product and protecting them protects the game, its fans and the public trust.
While this is a problem in a horseracing, I think most horse players will recognize this as a headline grab from the New York Times. It might keep a few casual fans away from the game, but won't affect the regulars. A bigger problem facing Horse racing is the drugs, the trainers winning at a 50% clip, Horse moving up after being claimed by certain trainers. Credibility is becoming a big issue. I used to never miss a day, now I play only on the "big days", and only the big races. I was at the track (playing poker) the other day, when I heard some horse players talking about the 90-1 shot that just won. I've known the trainer (Ida Paquette) personally for years, so I borrowed the form just to look up the horse. It was a first time starter. She never has won with a first time starter as long as I could remember. I noticed the horse workouts were in Ocala, with only 1 local work. I'd be willing to bet she was trainer in name only. The 6/5 favorite finished second. Listening to all the horse palyers complaining about being knocked out of the pick 4, and pick 5, I couldn't help but wonder how many more beats like this they have to take before they too walk away.
Wake up time for Horse Racing. If you don't want federal regulation, police your sport yourselves. Time for a National Racing Commissioner with real power to set and enforce policy in the United States. Horse racing at its best is a beautiful and exciting sport. It's sad that it is now in the control of drug-happy trainers, and casino gamblers.
i bet n.y. tracks everyday and because of the increased purses in cheap races you had greedy owners and trainers running and claiming horses so frequently that this shaky horses to begin with wre breaking down, also the on track vets should be looking closer at thes cheap claiming horses they are the ones that are the problem! as far as belmont & saratoga thats a joke you rarely see horses break down, the TIMES should get their facts straight
I am in New Mexico, have been here for 5 years and I regret to say that 8% of the article was pretty correct, the other 15% was cheap sensationalism. I believe the writer(s) began with an anti-racing bent and found the stats to use in their arguments. They stated that QHs breakdoiwn at a rate 29% higher than TBs, then ran past that and posted the NM breakdown stats against other states who aren;t subjected to the high mortality rate of Amnerica's Disposable Horse, the QH. NM has alot problems, not the least of which is the Commission arbitrarily dismissing appeals that go on too long or that involve the Good Ol' Boy Club here. May help those of us pushing for a more level playing field out here, in the long run. I agree the shporter races are harder on horses and I think surface plays a huge role. I am not a polytrack advocate, but I do think they need to slow these dirt tracks down. 40 years ago they had Bute and Banamine and testing was in it's infancy, horses ran more often, but the tracks were slower. One of the Laws of physics is speed=force. The faster they go, the harder it is on them. Even just 10 years ago we ran on a 5/8 bull ring in MI with the crummiest horses in the midwest. We ran them every 10-14 days, there was no money for much vet work, we did have Bute and Banamine. For 3 years straight we had less breakdowns than any other track in the US. It was a slow track, but the horses lasted and ran year after year.
The sad thing is that the majority of the people who will read this article in the Times are sheep who will believe anything they read negative about racing right now because its the hot topic of the month. The bash horse racing bandwagon is on. I have always hated the NY Times as I have always found their articles to be biased and uninformed. This article is no different.
Just another way to bring down the greatest sport being played outdoors.
The series"Luck" being cancelled had little to do with anything. The show was negative, with no likable characters, and nary a laugh, and hence disposable. The Times article is something that has to be met head on... A horse of a different color, so to speak. And it should be dealt with swiftly, and with deadly aim. It is so off base in it's understanding, it's general reporting and demeanor, and it's misuse of inappropriate and inaccurate statistics. It other words, it was as about as bad as the series "Luck". "Luck" is gone - could be a "cult classic", but the stench of this Times article could mingle with any sort of rose flavored scent in the Blue-grass springtime. Time to call "Time" out.
I don't think conditioning is a major factor. If a horses is tired he stops running, he doesn't break down. I think American racing is geared for speed. Running at high speeds generates high stress on horses relatively thin legs. I would like to see a study done on the fatality rate in races of a mile and a quarter and longer. Of course American horses are mostly bleeders and are breed to run short so it would be very difficult to move in the direction of longer races.
It would be good if the industry had a national commissioner. Not necessarily federal, but something that links all tracks as a league or leagues.