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Why horses are dying at U.S. racetracks at an alarming rate

August 15, 2019


>>Sreenivasan: AFTER A DISQUALIFICATION IN THE KENTUCKY DERBY, A RIDERLESS HORSE IN THE PREAKNESS AND DIFFERENT WINNERS IN BOTH RACES, THERE WILL BE NO TRIPLE CROWN WINNER AFTER THIS EVENING’S BELMONT STAKES. BUT IN HORSE RACING THIS YEAR, THE FOCUS IS NOT ON THE WINNERS BUT ON A TRAGIC STATISTIC. NEARLY TEN HORSES A WEEK, ON AVERAGE, DIED IN AMERICAN RACE TRACKS IN 2018, A FATALITY RATE THAT IS 2.5-TO-FIVE TIMES GREATER THAN IN THE REST OF THE HORSE RACING WORLD. JOINING ME NOW IS “NEW YORK TIMES” REPORTER JOE DRAKE, WHO’S COVERING THE SPORT AND THE RESPONSE TO THE DEATHS AND INJURIES TO THESE EQUINE ATHLETES. SADLY, WE ARE ONLY AWARE OF THIS BECAUSE OF THE NEWS AROUND BIG RACES OR BIG RACETRACKS, THAT THAT NUMBER ADDS UP TO, WHAT, 500 HORSES A YEAR IN THE UNITED STATES?>>WELL, IT’S ACTUALLY A CONSERVATIVE ESTIMATE. WE DID A SERIES IN 2012 WHERE WE “FREEDOM OF INFORMATIONED” EVERYTHING, AND WE FOUND 25 HORSES A WEEK. AND THAT’S BECAUSE WE COUNTED TRAINING ACCIDENTS AND THINGS THAT HAPPEN OFF-TRACK. SO, THIS HAS BEEN OUT THERE. I’VE LOOKED A CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY ABOUT THIS GOING BACK TO THE 1980s. THIS IS NOT A SECRET. I THINK WHAT’S HAPPENED IS, SOCIETY HAS EVOLVED. THE FACT THAT IT HAPPENED IN CALIFORNIA, WHICH IS A PROGRESSIVE STATE, ESPECIALLY DURING TRIPLE CROWN SEASON BECAUSE NOW THIS IS WHEN THE CASUAL FAN TURNS IN, YOU KNOW? THEY WANT TO SEE THE BIG HATS AT THE DERBY AND THAT KIND OF THING.>>Sreenivasan: RIGHT. SO, IS IT… YOU KNOW, WE’VE HEARD, FOR EXAMPLE, SOME OF THE TRACKS AND THE BAD WEATHER. I MEAN, HORSES RUN IN MUD BEFORE. I MEAN, WHAT’S SO DIFFERENT ABOUT IT THIS YEAR?>>I THINK A COUPLE THINGS HAPPENED. CALIFORNIA GOT COLD AND RAINY, MORE SO THAN IT HAD IN 25 YEARS. BUT THERE’S ALSO A HORSE SHORTAGE. YOU HAVE LESS HORSES. WHEN I STARTED DOING THIS 20 YEARS AGO, A FULL CROP WAS 35,000. NOW, WE’RE DOWN TO 19,000. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, PEOPLE ARE RACING YEAR ‘ROUND AT VARIOUS TRACKS. I MEAN, RIGHT NOW, TODAY, WITHIN 200 MILES, THERE’S NINE TRACKS RUNNING. NOT ENOUGH HORSES TO GO ON. AND THEN, THERE’S THE DRUG CULTURE, AND THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE FOCUSED ON. AND THE DRUG CULTURE IS KIND OF TWO-FOLD. THERE’S THE PEOPLE WHO CHEAT, WHO TRY TO TAKE EDGES EVERYWHERE FROM VIAGRA TO HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE, TO PUT THEM IN THE HORSES TO MAKE THEM FASTER. AND THEN, THERE’S THE PEOPLE WHO JUST TRY TO GET THEM TO THE TRACK– MUCH LIKE FOOTBALL PLAYERS TOOK CORTISONE SHOTS TO PLAY THAT GAME. JUST TO GET THEM OUT… OUT ON THE TRACK, TO RUN ITS RACE AND HOPEFULLY MAKE SOME MONEY.>>Sreenivasan: NOW, IS THERE… YOU KNOW, IN BICYCLE RACING, FOR EXAMPLE, THERE HAVE BEEN… DRUGS HAVE BEEN ABUSED. AND SO, RIGHT AFTERWARDS, THE ATHLETE HAS TO GO AND GET TESTED. IS THAT THE CASE WITH HORSES?>>THERE… THERE IS TESTING. IT’S NOT TERRIBLY EFFECTIVE, AND THERE’S 38 DIFFERENT JURISDICTIONS, SO THERE’S NO UNIFORM DRUG LAWS OR PUNISHMENTS. SO, IT’S KIND OF A PATCHWORK OF STATE-BY-STATE. AND, YOU KNOW, JUST LIKE THE HUMAN SPORTS AND THE OLYMPICS AND CYCLING, PEOPLE WERE JUST WAY AHEAD OF THINGS. I MEAN, THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LABS. BUT, YOU KNOW, THEY… OVERALL, THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BIG EFFORT TO CATCH PEOPLE AND TO MAKE SURE THAT THESE HORSES ARE SAFE AND SOUND AND ARE USED PROPERLY. AND THAT’S OBVIOUSLY GOT TO CHANGE.>>Sreenivasan: BUT WHEN YOU START TALKING ABOUT LABS, THAT REMINDS ME, THIS IS A VERY EXPENSIVE SPORT TO BE IN, AND THERE’S A LOT OF MONEY AT STAKE.>>THERE IS. I MEAN, THERE’S MILLIONS IN PURSES, BILLIONS IN PURSES. $15 BILLION ARE BET ON THE HORSES THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. YOU KNOW, IT WAS THE SPORT OF KINGS FOR THE REASON. THEY DID IT AS SPORTSMEN. THEY’RE NOT TRYING TO LIVE OFF THEIR PURSE MONEY. BUT THAT DYNAMIC HAS CHANGED, YOU KNOW. 90%, YOU HAVE SYNDICATES NOW WHERE YOU’VE GOT 20, 40, 60 PEOPLE PUTTING IN A LITTLE BIT THERE. AND, YOU KNOW, THEY NEED TO PAY THEIR WAY THROUGH THE SPORT. AND THAT’S WHERE I BELIEVE THE ABUSES STARTS. YOU KNOW, YOU LOOK THE OTHER WAY. YOU’RE LIKE, “GET HIM OUT OF STALL. LET’S RACE HIM.”>>Sreenivasan: IS THIS MOMENT LIKELY TO CHANGE THE FUTURE OF HORSE RACING?>>THIS MOMENT IS GOING TO CHANGE THE FUTURE OF HORSE RACING, AND IT IS EITHER GOING TO CHANGE IT TO WHERE IT DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE. OUT IN CALIFORNIA, YOU ONLY NEED 600,000 SIGNATURES ON A BALLOT INITIATIVE TO VOTE IF IT SHOULD EVEN EXIST. THERE’S POLLS SAY THAT WOULD BE A CLOSE VOTE, AND IT WOULD PROBABLY END THE SPORT IN CALIFORNIA. IF CALIFORNIA FALLS, IT KEEPS GOING ON ACROSS THE COUNTRY. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IS REAL REFORM AND A “LESS IS MORE” SORT OF MODEL HERE. I MEAN, THERE’S TOO MUCH RACING WITH TOO FEW HORSES, AND THEY NEED TO BE RESTED. THEY NEED TO BE TREATED LIKE ATHLETES LIKE THEY ONCE WERE IN THE ’50s, ’60, ’70s OF THEIR HEYDAY. AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, AND, YOU KNOW, THAT’S GOING TO CAUSE A LOT OF PAIN. A LOT OF PEOPLE GOING TO LOSE JOBS. WHENEVER THERE’S DISRUPTION, JOBS GET LOST. AND, YOU KNOW, THAT’S… WE SEE IT OVER AND OVER IN SOCIETY. SO, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO LOSE THEIR JOBS AND THEY’RE GOING TO THROW PEOPLE OUT, OR IT’S NOT GOING TO EXIST. SO, THAT’S WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW.>>Sreenivasan: ALL RIGHT, “NEW YORK TIMES'” JOE DRAKE, THANKS SO MUCH.>>THANK YOU.

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