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New York Times - Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys

New York Times

RUIDOSO, N.M. — At 2:11 p.m., as two ambulances waited with motors running, 10 horses burst from the starting gate at Ruidoso Downs Race Track 6,900 feet up in New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains.

Nineteen seconds later, under a brilliant blue sky, a national champion jockey named Jacky Martin lay sprawled in the furrowed dirt just past the finish line, paralyzed, his neck broken in three places. On the ground next to him, his frightened horse, leg broken and chest heaving, was minutes away from being euthanized on the track.

For finishing fourth on this early September day last year, Jacky Martin got about $60 and possibly a lifetime tethered to a respirator.

The next day, it nearly happened again. At virtually the same spot, another horse broke a front leg, pitching his rider headfirst into the ground. The jockey escaped serious injury, but not the 2-year-old horse, Teller All Gone. He was euthanized, and then dumped near an old toilet in a junkyard a short walk from where he had been sold at auction the previous year.

In the next 24 hours, two fearful jockeys refused their assigned mounts. The track honored two other riders who had died racing. As doctors fought to save Mr. Martin’s life, a sign went up next to the track tote board: “Hang in there, Jacky. We love you.”

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.

In 2008, after a Kentucky Derby horse, Eight Belles, broke two ankles on national television and was euthanized, Congress extracted promises from the racing industry to make its sport safer. While safety measures like bans on anabolic steroids have been enacted, assessing their impact has been difficult because many tracks do not keep accurate accident figures or will not release them.

But an investigation by The New York Times has found that industry practices continue to put animal and rider at risk. 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.

Mr. Martin’s injury occurred in a state with the worst safety record for racetracks, a place where most trainers who illegally pump sore horses full of painkillers to mask injury — and then race them — are neither fined nor suspended and owners of those drugged horses usually keep their winnings.

The failure of regulators to stop that cheating is reflected in the numbers. Since 2009, records show, trainers at United States tracks have been caught illegally drugging horses 3,800 times, a figure that vastly understates the problem because only a small percentage of horses are actually tested.

In the same period, according to the Times analysis, 6,600 horses broke down or showed signs of injury. Since 2009, the incident rate has not only failed to go down, it has risen slightly.

The greatest number of incidents on a single day — 23 — occurred last year on the most celebrated day of racing in America, the running of the Kentucky Derby. One Derby horse fractured a leg, as did a horse in the previous race at Churchill Downs. All told, seven jockeys at other tracks were thrown to the ground after their horses broke down.

A state-by-state survey by The Times shows that about 3,600 horses died racing or training at state-regulated tracks over the last three years.

In one 13-day stretch of racing in 2010 at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in New Mexico, nine horses died racing, five were hauled away in ambulances and two jockeys were hospitalized, one in critical condition.

“It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Racing Board. “In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.”

Even some of America’s most prestigious tracks, including Belmont Park, Santa Anita Park and Saratoga Race Course, had incident rates higher than the national average last year, records show.

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.

“They are pharmacist shops,” said Dr. George Maylin, the longtime head of New York State’s testing laboratory. “Nobody has any control over what they are doing.”

Even so, legal therapeutic drugs — pain medicine in particular — pose the greatest risk to horse and rider. In England, where breakdown rates are half of what they are in the United States, horses may not race on any drugs.

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Older Comments about New York Times - Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys...

Andrew Beyer's Oscar *eulogy* >> http://articles.latimes.com/1991-04-11/sports/sp-221_1_oscar-barrera <<
I remember him now.But Oscars Shifty Sheik escapade will still be legend in Gotham Racing history.
Laz's right hand son.
Larry Barrera?????? Who was he? I thought there was Laz,Oscar and i think Luis. Was Larry the Joe Besser of the group.
Easy Blabs, April and Larry Barrera were close.
April. The new breed of trainers are just like many of the old breed trainers. There has always been a dark side to racing.
April ,if you want to get on the cases of the so called"New Breed"of Trainer corrupting the game. Believe me when i tell you. Far from them having exclusivety rights. The trainers in the past had their major share in the Larceny and corruption game.
I think its a crying shame how the new breed of trainers have corrupted my sport
Thank you Cocoa that was very nice of you to say. I will go through all my comments and post them as succinctly as I can.
Buckpasser, you seem ot have put plenty of time and energy into this. I ask, will you write and collect all of your modifications and post them as a news? I respect your opinion very much, and really want to hear what you say.
having seen the x-rays of theat comminuted fracture Barbaro sustained at the gate, freinds and myself asked "Is this a joke?" Why on earth are they trying to save this animal ona weight bering leg. Impossible at the outset.Dumb to make that one suffer.
I remember seeing a Sports Illustrated picture of Barbaro's injured ankle while he was being pulled up in the Preakness. It looked a lot worse than what I thought it would, i'll just leave it at that.
This NYTimes article evidently led to an Inside Edition (CBS) feature about thoroughblood racing's "dirty little secret" aired April 4, 2012 featuring video clips of several accidnets and injuries, including a close up of Barbaro's Preakness breakdown, and the picture of the horse's body that was disposed of in a landfill. It was really too painful too watch. References to drugs, 24 horses put down a week, etc. painted a pretty ugly picture of horse racing.
You are absolutely right shadow no. What is about to happen with the senate bill is that regulation of the business is about to undergo a sea change. The impetus to change horse racing is gathering momentum in many different areas. And I truly think that any of these govs trying to balance their budgets and eyeing the casino money is going to latch on to these issues to strip away present casino money and preclude tracks from getting any expanded gaming money.
Muddyshamrock and Buckpasser you both make valid points but the real question and solution lies with the individuals who want to cut corners and have done so unabated for some time. NYRA or any other jursidiction wants to test for steroids, no problem just load them up with pig steroids, put on muscle mass and no fat, win, win solution. Ractopamine may be illegal for use in China (WTF nothing is illegal in China) but it;s OK to feed to our racehorses, until they start making sanctions. Even then you can just lie and tell the board you must have used contaminated feed. Problem and the solution both start at the ground floor. And for those that want to think it is just Dutrow "that horrible bastard" doping horses spend a minute or two viewing the RMTC and you'll get a full blast of just how pervasive the "drug problem" really is.
Muddy shamrock you are absolutely right about jail time, but the state and federal legislatures are the ones who can institute fines and jail time for such offenses which I gather is also in this bill in the senate. That will definitely clean things up.
agreed. CUT the purses for these two year old contests and limit starts at 4 or 5 maximum
Along with the problem of illegal doping in horse racing, another issue that should be taken in to consideration is the idea of letting the horses mature an extra year , giving their bones and body more time to develop before they start their rigorous racing campaigns. However, in doing this, the whole Triple Crown set up would have to change. Now I know most people will probably bitch and complain about change and "Oh you can't do that, it would mess up all the record books and this and that" yada yada yada... They say a thoroughbred horse is at their peak at about 4 &5 yrs old anyway. So the question I ask is, Why wouldn't you want to see a horse run in the most coveted races during the most demading period of stretch in their careers at their peak perfomance level... I mean look around, every sport in American sports is slowly changing one way or the other. From baseball to football to even basketball. There's no reason why Thoroughbred horse racing can't either.... Oh and more thing. Stiffer penalties definitely need to be enforced in the industry. Banning someone from horse racing is not going to stop shit. Start tacking on some prison sentences and hefty fines for repeat offenders, and watch how fast shit will fix itself.
There was a owner at Woodbine that got ban for life in Canada,now he has a stable all over,Gulfstream ect: What's up with that..
buckpasser- spot on

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