At Churchill Downs, Humans Failed the Horses Again

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The morning after the 2022 Kentucky Derby, horse racing took an exuberant and hopeful victory lap. Rich Strike had reintroduced the sport to the dreamer in all of us, profitable at odds of 80-1.

His coach, Eric Reed, was an on a regular basis Kentucky hardboot from the on line casino racetracks. His rider, Sonny Leon, had washed out on the extra glamorous Florida circuit earlier than discovering success driving each race doable in Ohio.

Suddenly, after profitable the first leg of the Triple Crown races, they have been stars, modest ones, however for all the proper causes.

By all rights, a colt named Mage, the Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano and the coach Gustavo Delgado ought to share that very same standing.

The modestly bred Mage rumbled down the stretch to win this yr’s Kentucky Derby on Saturday at 15-1 odds. Castellano, one in every of the most admired gents in his career, lastly gained at the solely massive race the place victory had eluded him. And Delgado, like Castellano a local of Venezuela, was standing in the winner’s circle that he had dreamed of being in as a boy.

But their accomplishments have been eclipsed by the demise of seven horses at Churchill Downs in the lead-up to the Derby. Four horses have been scratched due to veterinarians’ considerations about their well being. A fifth was scratched as a result of, nicely, the Lords of Churchill have been suspicious of the coach Saffie Joseph Jr. After two of his horses collapsed and died following races.

Officials declared their racetrack protected and suspended Joseph indefinitely from competing in the Derby or at another tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

After two extra horses, on the Derby undercard, suffered deadly accidents and have been subsequently euthanized, it was clear that this was not all Joseph’s fault.

So whose fault was it?

Long after the Derby was over and the lights have been going out on a tragic day, first, Churchill Downs, then the newly minted Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, launched statements with the identical message: It wasn’t them.

“While every incident reported has been distinctive, it is very important notice that there was no discernible sample detected in the accidents sustained,” Churchill Downs mentioned in his assertion. “Our observe surfaces are carefully monitored by trade consultants to make sure their integrity.”

The authority, established below the supervision of the Federal Trade Commission, agreed that Churchill’s surfaces have been protected and that regulatory veterinarians had proclaimed the two horses that have been put down match to race. Churchill Downs mentioned it will work with the authorities and the state racing fee to research the deaths.

“If a horse is deemed unfit to race by the regulatory veterinarians, it is going to be scratched, as was the case in various circumstances this week,” the assertion learn. “Both Chloe’s Dream and Freezing Point handed all inspections with out incident.”

Do the math. Seven horses useless. It does not add up.

What does is the knowledge that reveals America’s oldest sport is shedding its athletes, its revenues and its followers.

In 2002, greater than $15 billion was wager on races in the United States; final yr, the deal with fell to $12 billion. In 2000, almost 33,000 thoroughbred foals have been registered, virtually double the quantity from final yr, and there have been 4,300 stallions, 4 occasions the quantity from final yr, in line with the truth e book launched by the Jockey Club, a number one trade group.

Horse racing in the United States has lengthy admitted that it has a tradition of medication and lax regulation and a far larger fee of horses breaking down and being euthanized than most different locations in the world.

In 1991, the horse breeder and proprietor Arthur Hancock III delivered what he known as his “medicine and thugs speech” at an trade symposium, telling his colleagues what they already knew: Too many horses have been working on performance-enhancing medicine or have been so doped up. on anti-inflammatories and painkillers that they have been working unnaturally quick and hurting themselves, usually fatally.

He supplied up the Horse Racing Act of 1992, which known as for drug-free racing, uniform guidelines backed by stiff penalties and a central workplace to implement them. Thirty years later, lastly, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority exists, however not with out persevering with authorized challenges and cussed resistance from its personal group.

Now, it must do its job.

Enforce the guidelines. Punish the wrongdoers. Throw them out. Take accountability for the well being and welfare of the human and the equine athletes.

The sport has proven that it could possibly make progress when the outliers are wrangled and pointed in the direction of a typical objective. But it took hearings earlier than Congress to take action.

After the filly Eight Belles was injured and euthanized following a second-place end in the 2008 Derby, the Jockey Club created the Equine Injury Database to research how the accidents occurred and the way they may very well be prevented.

In 2009, its first yr, thoroughbreds had deadly accidents at the fee of two per 1,000 begins. Last yr, there have been 1.25 fatalities per 1,000 begins in comparison with 1.39 fatalities per 1,000 begins in 2021. It was the fourth consecutive yr that the fee had decreased and the first time it had been under 1.3 fatalities per 1,000 begins.

Seven horses died on horse racing’s greatest stage in the previous week and a half. Not solely do animal rights advocates wish to know who’s accountable, however so does anybody who bets a greenback on the motion or merely watches and marvels at a thoroughbred in movement.

It is the horses which might be feeding everybody in a multibillion-dollar trade. It is the people who’re letting them down.

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