Racing executives remain complacent and clueless while horses suffer and die


After meeting for two days in Lexington to discuss horse safety and welfare, racing executives remain complacent and clueless while horses suffer and die.

The third Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit ended June 29 in Lexington with a commitment to create a national rider injury database, something that Keeneland president and CEO Nick Nicholson said was his No. 1 priority going into the meeting.

Not another database.

“I think we need it, and I was going to be very disappointed if we didn’t get (an agreement to pursue) it,” said Nicholson, whose track has hosted all three of the summit’s editions. “Personally, I think our No. 1 objective should be to prevent injuries to people, so we’ve got to track how and where they are getting hurt. Our No. 2 priority is the safety of the horses, and it all goes together. If you provide safer racing facilities for horses, one of the consequences of a safer racing environment for horses is fewer injuries to people.”

Source: Rider Injury Database a Summit Priority, Deidre Biles, Blood Horse (Jun. 29, 2010)

The summit, according to its title, is supposedly about the welfare and safety of racehorses, not the jockeys. Stating that the safety of people comes first and the safety of racehorses second is putting the cart before the horse. Not that having an injury database for jockeys is a bad idea. However, if you put jockeys up on racing fit, drug free horses, there would be little if any need for a rider injury database.

In 1978, injuries to jockeys and even a death generated no reforms to improve horse or jockey safety.

“Butazolidin is the brand name for the drug phenylbutazone, a medication that can reduce swelling and inflammation, which in turn eases pain. It’s the most widely used drug in the horse racing industry, yet, on the heels of a series of recent accidents, its very mention generates emotional sparks.

And jockeys—including Rudy Turcotte, who broke his collarbone in a horrendous four-horse spill at Pimlico earlier this month that killed one rider, Robert Pineda—are questioning its use. Jorge Velasquez, one of the nation’s top jockeys, says, “In my opinion, these places that use Bute are really not in control of it.” And Steve Cauthen says, “The thing I don’t like about Bute is the horse tries to overextend himself. The horse is better when he knows how he feels.”

Indeed, a big knock on Bute—albeit a much refuted one—is that it does make a horse feel better than it really is, thus making it possible for the animal to put too much pressure on a bad ankle or knee. The newest question raised about Bute is whether the drug adversely affects healing of an injury, and whether bone density is subsequently weakened. This question arises because of a feeling that serious breakdowns are increasing, that instead of horses coming back lame after a race, too many are snapping their legs and going down during it. Studies are under way.”

The Bute goes on.

Source: New Uproar Over A Controversial Drug, Douglas S. Looney, Sports Illustrated (May 22, 1978)

Earlier this year, more than 30 years later, a group of jockeys took a stand at Penn National refusing to ride in races where Michael Gill owned horses were running because of safety concerns.

On Saturday night, during the fifth race at Penn National Race Course, Michael Gill’s third place finisher, Laughing Moon collapsed and was euthanized in front of a crowd of onlookers. It is no mystery that horses are known to break down on the tracks as they race, but Gill’s reputation has jockeys, owners, trainers and outside observers accusing Gill of an unusually high rate of horse injuries and deaths.

Just before the sixth race, about 25 jockeys gathered together to take a stand and refused to ride in the next race unless a Michael Gill horse was scratched. Jockeys feared for their own safety, and this seemed to be an unprecedented decision when jockeys refuse to ride because of an owner. Jockey Emilio Flores claims he had too many close calls and even took a spill riding another one of Gill’s horses that fell during the past week.

Only then did racing authorities take any action because the headline making event forced their hand. Gill eventually sold his horses and walked away. End of story. Issue buried.

Source: Racing and slaughter controversy consumes Penn National Race Course, Cheryl Hannah, The Examiner (Jan. 26, 2010).

The Biles article also contains a laundry list of objectives put together by attending horse racing executives. There was only one item that directly mentioned racehorse welfare.

Creation of veterinary guidelines, in conjunction with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, to determine potential and appropriate second careers for racehorses based on physical condition.

Since the American Association of Equine Practitioners is historically and irreversibly pro horse slaughter, the second careers for racehorses based on their physical condition may be as someone’s dinner.

The slaughter of racehorses is no longer the sport’s dirty secret it used to be. Yet horse racing executives appear to believe if they ignore the issue, it will simply disappear from public consciousness. That is highly unlikely and continues to damage horse racing’s reputation.

At the end of the Biles article Nicholson states:

“Coming into this third summit, I thought it was very important for us not to be complacent, an[d] we had some real successes because the participants rose to the occasion and challenged themselves to reach out even further,” Nicholson said.

Not nearly far enough.

Read full Blood Horse article by Deidre >>

7 thoughts on “Racing executives remain complacent and clueless while horses suffer and die”

  1. Complacent yes definitely, but clueless I doubt. They are clearly in it for the money and I believe well aware of the real issues behind horse safety and welfare. In the minds of these “executives” the horse comes last. It is no longer the “sport of kings” but merely exploitation by incompetent jesters whose greed surpasses accountability. If this industry doesn’t clean itself up it will be devoured by its own greed. This summit is but a practical joke.


    1. Agree, Jane. It appears they are totally clueless as to the damage their complacency is doing. But you are right. They probably are not clueless even about that. Well, we have a great treat in store for them all, the good, the bad and the clueless.


  2. I cant and will never understand why these people do not see properly where horses are concerned ,these are magically beautiful beings, they are sensitive , loving with so very much to offer us, they give so trustfully, if only they could see what we see in them………….And wholeheartedly address it for what it is……………. and what it has always been they keep getting shafted so badly, I could just scream out for them…… Everyday no action in their behalf, there is something we can do and make it stick I just know it, we must figure this out with no further time wasting by those no solution meetings………………………………….


    1. Are these people trying to look like they are serious about racehorse safety and welfare? If so, their attempt is a big FAIL.

      Does any of this sound to you like a group who care about the safety and welfare of horses or jockeys? What an insult to the horses and the riders. These executives/officials need to collect data on how many of horses and jockeys are being injured or killed, so they can crunch the numbers to see if any of it warrants fixing? That’s what it sounds like to me.

      These people are as despicable as the BLM and all the other horse abusers. And they are happy to make their living off these beautiful, sensitive creatures while not giving a toss about what happens to them when they are “used up.”


  3. Horse Racing must realize that most injuries to jockeys is because of the drugs the horses are on………………Safety for both horse and jockeys all hinges on the kind care the horse is receiving, horse racing is a wonderful sport, but it needs caring individuals running it……Drugs for horses are good when they are administer properly, as with anything common sense is needed……………… Most owners really care for their horses, and want them to be healthy, but their are those who would stop at nothing to win that race and that purse jeopardizing both Horse and Jockey without remorse, wouldnt it be great if every horse would run with their own shear power, without anything propelling them, if a horse is sore or something is bothering them physically they have no business running ,the very lives of all in that race……are at stake……Common sense when used can prevent tragic accidents , Meetings need common sense if they would only use it…… Those jockeys that refused to ride when they knew that drugs were being used their common sense,and sent an important message its a great way to make an stand…………………… Again meetings that produce no results are a waste of time………. meetings need to address only the issues at hand or why have them……………………………..


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