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17 February 1999 Issue

Horse Racing: A Losing Bet

Horse racing, despite its elitist image, is fraught with abuses and problems.
Drug abuse, injuries to horses, race fixing, organized crime, and declining
public interest all plague the industry. The industry's whips and blinders are
visible reminders that horse racing is merely another form of animal exploitation.
As trainer Ron McAnally said after champion Go For Wand shattered her leg
in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff race: "It's part of racing. They give their lives
for our pleasure."(1)

Drugs and Deceptions
Racehorses have a drug problem; many have been turned into junkies by their
trainers and even by veterinarians, who frequently provide drugs illegally to
keep horses on the track even when they shouldn't race.(2) Commonly used
drugs, such as "Lasix" (furosemide) and "Bute" (phenylbutazone), relieve
symptoms like pain and bleeding but don't treat the underlying disorders.
Horses are forced to race with hairline fractures that would, without drugs, be
too painful to run on. As a result, injuries and chronic lameness are common.
At Waterford Park in West Virginia, the number of horses who had to be killed
after "breaking down" during races doubled from an average of 30 a year to
60 after Bute was legalized.(3) According to a 1993 University of Minnesota
study, 840 horses were fatally injured in 1992 and 3,566 horses were so
severely injured they could not finish the race. Countless more horses suffer
injuries that are not revealed until later.(4)

Lasix is also used to disguise the presence of illegal substances by weakening
their concentrations. Some drugs can be used in such small quantities that it is
virtually impossible to detect them. Trainers also seek new drugs that are more
difficult to trace, including ones "that haven't even been named yet...[from] a
black market in domestic drugs and drugs coming in and out of the country,"
according to one veterinarian.(5)

Racing Regulations
Many of the state laws and regulations regarding horse racing pertain to drug
use. Racing commissions are generally less concerned with the horses' health,
however, than with increasing business for the industry. Even dangerous races
such as Washington state's "Suicide Race" or potentially fatal endurance races
are legal, although there may be some restrictions concerning required rest
stops, minimum age of riders, etc., in accordance with local anti-cruelty laws.
Neither the Animal Welfare Act nor the Horse Protection Act apply to horse
racing, so the horses are at the mercy of racing commissions and local
officials.

Hidden Costs
Racehorses are made to run in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of tracks.
Because states want to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of the
tracks, they may require them to stay open year-round, even where winters
are harsh. Yet for many states, horse racing is a losing gamble. Maryland,
which receives only half of one percent of a track's intake, compared to six
percent in Iowa (6), passed a bill in 1985 to give the dying industry a shot in
the arm in the form of a $12 million annual tax break.(7) In Minnesota, Canter-
bury Downs track lost $7.9 million in one year despite expectations that it
would earn the state $10 million. Money spent on administration and drug
testing labs also drains racing income designated for states.

When Horses Don't Win
Centuries of selective breeding have made thoroughbreds increasingly fragile.
"They go 45 miles per hour, weigh 1,000 pounds and have ankles as big as
yours and mine," says trainer Nick Zito. Agrees New York Daily News racing
columnist Bill Finley, "The thoroughbred racehorse is a genetic mistake. It runs
too fast, its frame is too large, and its legs are far too small. As long as man-
kind demands that it run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will
die at racetracks."(8)

Thoroughbreds' genetic troubles are exacerbated by harder track surfaces,
year-round racing schedules, and corporate owners who view horses as
"investments" and race them too frequently in an effort to make more money.
Unnaturally hard tracks may improve race times, but they can cause injuries
to horses' limbs. Horses often are run at two years of age, before their bones
have fully matured, and are often injured as a result. The American Association
of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has labeled 60 to 90 percent of racehorses
"significantly lame"(9) and lists two-year-old racing as one of the major causes
of injuries to racehorses.(10)

Horses who fail to bring in winnings are rarely rewarded with an easy retire-
ment; more likely, they will suffer an unceremonious, early death and their body
parts will be turned into dog food or glue. Slaughterhouse "killer buyers" usually
have standing agreements with race tracks to purchase horses whose owners
have decided that they are not performing adequately. (11)

Horse Illustrated magazine estimates that up to 75 percent of racehorses wind
up at the slaughterhouse.(12) Former racers' journeys from the winner's circle
to the killing floor are hardly a bed of roses. They may endure up to 36-hour-
long trips in double-decker cattle trucks (for which they are too tall to fit without
hanging their heads or falling to their knees) with no stops for food, water, or
rest. No federal legislation regulates the transport of horses to slaughter.(13)

Some horses are killed violently for insurance money. Two hired schemers in
New Jersey suffocated horses with garbage bags and ping pong balls, broke
an animal's neck, electrocuted horses, shot one in the head, and killed others
in intentionally set barn fires.(14) In 1994, investigators into the 1977
disappearance of candy empire heir Helen Vorhees Brach concluded that she
was killed to silence her about a big-money equestrian insurance fraud scheme.
As a result of the investigation, 22 prominent riders, trainers, and owners were
indicted. (15)

Very few horses earn high stakes, become famous, and appear to lead glamor-
ous lives. The vast majority lead stressful lives, which all too often involve
crippling injuries and premature deaths.

By refusing to patronize existing tracks, by working to reform and enforce
racing regulations, and by lobbying against the construction of new tracks,
concerned citizens can help phase out this cruel and exploitative activity.

References available on request. Source: PeTA

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