A New York Times investigation into American horse racing has cast the industry in an unflattering light.
The lengthy report, entitled “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys” explores the circumstances around the horse toll within the racing industry.
The report found that industry practices continued to put animals and riders at risk.
It said a computer analysis of data from more than 150,000 races, along with injury reports, drug test results and interviews, “showed 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”.
The report, by Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara Miles and Griffin Palmer, was welcomed by the animals rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) also weighed in on the debate, with its president, Dr John Mitchell, talking of the fundamental obligation to provide the best of care and oversight for horses.
“There should be no higher priority for the racing community than the health and safety of its equine and human athletes,” Mitchell said.
“Reducing equine injuries must be the primary focus of all who care for the horse – from racetrack management and regulators to the veterinarians and horsemen who work daily in the barns.
“The racing community has a fundamental obligation to provide the best of care and oversight for our horses, and there are efforts to fulfill this mission.”
Mitchell pointed to recent programs aimed at improving the care of equine athletes, including the creation and refinement of an injury database, certification of tracks through the Safety and Integrity Alliance, the establishment of aftercare programs for retired racehorses, and research into equine health and safety.
“As the New York Times article points out, there is much work to be done.
“Nationwide adoption of best practices for pre-race inspection and post-race observation, along with uniform medication, testing, security and enforcement policies by all racing jurisdictions, are essential safety and integrity elements for all to embrace.
“Commitment to these principles is critical to the very existence of the sport and most importantly, the safety of its horses and human athletes. What is good for the horse is good for racing. The AAEP’s mission is to promote the health and welfare of all horses, and as doctors of veterinary medicine, we offer our continued support and expertise to the racing community.”
Peta, in its official blog, said: “The findings of the newspaper’s lengthy investigation into thoroughbred and quarter horse racing confirm what racing insiders have been telling us about their industry since Eight Belles died at the 2008 Kentucky Derby: Racing is a chemical-dependent industry in which too many people shrug off the casualties and turn their backs on the deaths of horses.”
The Times report said, on average, 24 horses died each week at racetracks across America.
“Many are inexpensive horses racing with little regulatory protection in pursuit of bigger and bigger prizes,” the report said.
“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.”
Peta said its own investigations into thoroughbred export, breeding, slaughter, and auction abuses showed that the racing industry in America had put the safety of the horses “at the bottom of its priority list when the animals’ safety should be at the top”.
The New York Times report can be read here.