Written by VIVIAN GRANT
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 >>