Horse racing: The deadly side of beauty

Eight Belles and Big Brown
Kent Desormeaux rides Big Brown past Gabriel Saez riding Eight Belles (5) to win the 134th Kentucky Derby Saturday, May 3, 2008, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

It is the first Saturday in May and all eyes will be on horse racing as people gather around the US and the world to watch the Kentucky Derby. It is beautiful, moving, stirring and exhilarating. The sport of horse racing is also deadly.

This time of year not only sends racing journalists and enthusiasts into a frenzy trying to predict the winner, but also horse advocates and lovers into an equal frenzy trying to expose the closely guarded “dirty secrets” of horse racing that destroys these magnificent animals.

There have been many laudable articles, but we have picked two to excerpt.

The first is “Lush Life for Kentucky Derby Horses? Don’t Bet on It”, by Marlene Fanta Shyer, Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 2011

Thoroughbreds sustain not only their trainers, owners, veterinarians, jockeys, and blacksmiths, but everyone from the hotel bellhop to the hot-dog vendor. Yet the price the horses pay is steep.

While Thoroughbreds’ life span is about 20 to 30 years, their productive span is five or six. Loud and strong on the track, they are mute and weak when it comes to pleading their own cause: funds to care for their post-race lives.

In their prime, 90 percent of them are given Phenylbutazone, “bute,” which helps them race despite injuries. Possible side effects include kidney damage, internal hemorrhage, and oral lesions. Racetrack fatalities, fractures, heart attacks, and breakdowns are ever-present hazards. The tragic, postinjury euthanization of Derby racers Barbaro and Eight Belles in recent years briefly called attention to the dark side of this industry. Has everyone forgotten?

The greatest harm, though, comes when the horses’ racing days are over. Having served well while they are able, they have no Social Security or other financial protection when they can no longer earn their keep. They may be sold for low-level “claimer” races, shipped from track to track until injuries bar them from running. After their racing days are behind them, if they are too old to breed, show-jump, or do simple trail riding, they are sent to “kill auctions.” Too often, it comes down to a horrific end in an abattoir.

While Kentucky should not carry all the blame for equine abuses, the “Horse Capital of the World” should lead the way in correcting the injustices of its major industry. The state Racing Commission is taking baby steps in the right direction, but so much more should be done:

The Jockey Club, which registers Thoroughbred births, should make mandatory – not voluntary as is the practice – a contribution to each foal’s retirement fund.

Racetracks should bar owners or trainers who allow a horse to be shipped to slaughter from its tracks.

Congress should finally pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

We should require the accurate reporting of injuries during training as well as during races.

Research on safer track surfaces is currently being done, but as with drugging, whipping, and other welfare standards, unanimous regulations don’t exist. Why not?

It’s time for the “Horse Capital of the World” to become the winner it could be. It should provide for its defenseless champions and turn the Derby into a source of dignity and honor instead of shame.

Read full article >>

The second is “2011 Kentucky Derby and Horse Injuries”, by Karyn Zoldan, The Tuscon Citizen, May 7, 2011:

The NY Times reported that 3,035 thoroughbreds, standard-breds and quarter horses died at racetracks between 2003 and 2008. The newspaper also reported that “of the approximately 15,000 licensed horse trainers, 1,335, or 8.9 percent, have been cited for medication violation.”

Eight Belles Breaks Down at 2008 Kentucky Derby
Eight Belles breaks down and euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Photographer Unknown.

Who can forget Eight Belles crossing the finish line, breaking both her ankles, and then being euthanized? I cannot. That’s what the Kentucky Derby means to me – horse abuse. Her trainer said, “She went out in glory. She went out a champion to us.” That means nothing to Eight Belles; she went out in senseless agony.

According to weather reports, Kentucky has seen much rain. There’s a 60 to 70 percent chance of rain on Kentucky Derby Day. Is a muddy track safe? I guess the Kentucky Derby will only be cancelled if there’s a tornado. Safety for horses or jockeys doesn’t seem to be a concern.

Read full article >>

5 thoughts on “Horse racing: The deadly side of beauty”

  1. Yes, there is a dark, ugly side that many are unaware of , the greedy ones that don’t care and the poor horses that have been used & abused for someone else’s glory :o(


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