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New York Racing Association's Shame

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New York Racing Association's Shame

From Patrick Battuello, In Behalf of Animals
October 2012

Considering that horseracing is the trainers (who act on behalf of the owners), vets, and regulators, how can this sport be seen as anything other than morally-bankrupt? Enough already.  

Back in the spring, Governor Cuomo’s office ordered the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to convene an independent panel to investigate a spate of racing fatalities at Aqueduct’s 2012 winter meet. Ultimately, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board (RWB) appointed a 4-member “Task Force On Racehorse Health and Safety,” which included two equine vets, a Hall of Fame jockey, and a racing attorney. The Task Force found, surprise, that “there may have been opportunities to prevent 11 of the 21 fatalities” (there were actually 30 Aqueduct deaths from mid-November to mid-April). Summarizing the findings, Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, says (The New York Times, 9/28/12), “At the New York Racing Association, concern for the health of the horses finished a distant second to economics.” Here are the report’s highlights:

horse racingLack of transparency and disclosure: There were no complete necropsies for any of the fatally injured horses. In addition, there were no urine samples collected and only limited blood testing, leaving the question of illegal doping open. And although rules are in place for when and how much drugging is allowed, trainers are failing to report injections, and the RWB is failing to monitor compliance. Also, there is virtually no disclosure of drugging from seller to buyer in claim sales, so redundant medicating is likely. Furthermore, racing’s ubiquitous corticosteroids often mask breakdown-causing injuries or preexisting conditions (graphic photo of screws that held a horse’s leg together), making the track vet’s job all the more difficult. And lastly, there are discrepancies between the trainers’ description of veterinary care and the practicing vets’ actual records, which, by the way, are not required to disclose dose information, and justification for treatment is being inconsistently reported.

Conflict of interests: All regulatory veterinary responsibilities are performed by NYRA veterinarians who answer directly to NYRA racing officials; these officials, not the stewards, execute scratches, and racing officials do not like scratches. In addition, “written protocols containing standards and practices were not provided to the NYRA veterinarians,” leading to inconsistent pre-race procedures and scratch criteria. Worse, the dollar-driven, mind-your-own-business culture discourages whistleblowing: Trainers are unlikely to tattle on other trainers, and jockeys, who are especially sensitive to the horse’s physical state, are disinclined to object at the gate for fear of losing future gigs.

Disproportionate purses in claiming races: The Resorts World Racino, which opened this past season, resulted in artificially inflated purses in the claiming races that predominate at Aqueduct. The extraordinarily high purse-to-claim ratios (up to 5.3) “incentivized poor decision-making by a range of stakeholders that increased the risk for mismanagement and subsequent injury.” In short, racing cheap, broken horses for jacked up purses makes for an enticing risk-reward, the horses’ lives be damned.

So, let’s see if I have this straight: The owners, buying and selling at a frenzied and historic rate, are chasing racino cash with second-rate, expendable assets, many of whom have no business physically being on the track; the trainers, operating in a highly competitive environment where everyone else is doing it (e.g., clenbuterol), are either skirting or outright flouting existing drug rules, often with a wink and a nod from private veterinarians who disdain answering to bureaucrats on medical matters; the track vets, made to understand that field size is paramount, are compromising their professional integrity; and the jockeys are placing their teammates’ lives at risk, not to mention their own, to protect a paycheck. And all this under the not-so-watchful eyes of NYRA, the operator of the three largest Thoroughbred tracks (including Saratoga) in the state, and the RWB.

After years of steady decline, VLT money has the industry feeling pretty good lately, so expecting horsemen who are entirely motivated by personal gain to be overly concerned about a few extra dead horses is naive. The New York Times says (9/28/12), “The report and the governor’s recommendations for reform were the strongest alarm yet about a growing national scandal in which the industry’s economic incentives find trainers, veterinarians and regulators cutting corners and putting horses at risk.” Considering that horseracing is the trainers (who act on behalf of the owners), vets, and regulators, how can this sport be seen as anything other than morally-bankrupt? Enough already.