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 using each race doable in Ohio.
Suddenly, after profitable the first leg of the Triple Crown races, they had 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 12 months’s Kentucky Derby on Saturday at 15-1 odds. Castellano, certainly one of the most admired gents in his occupation, lastly gained at the solely huge 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 had been eclipsed by the loss of life of seven horses at Churchill Downs in the lead-up to the Derby. Four horses had been scratched due to veterinarians’ considerations about their well being. A fifth was scratched as a result of, nicely, the Lords of Churchill had been suspicious of the coach Saffie Joseph Jr. after two of his horses collapsed and died following races.
Officials declared their racetrack secure 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 had 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 had 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 observe that there was no discernible sample detected in the accidents sustained,” Churchill Downs stated in his assertion. “Our observe surfaces are carefully monitored by business specialists to make sure their integrity.”
The authority, established beneath the oversight of the Federal Trade Commission, agreed that Churchill’s surfaces had been secure and that regulatory veterinarians had proclaimed the two horses that had been put down match to race. Churchill Downs stated it might work with the authorities and the state racing fee to analyze the deaths.
“If a horse is deemed unfit to race by the regulatory veterinarians, it will likely be scratched, as was the case in numerous 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 would not add up.
What does is the information that exhibits America’s oldest sport is dropping its athletes, its revenues and its followers.
In 2002, greater than $15 billion was wager on races in the United States; final 12 months, the deal with fell to $12 billion. In 2000, almost 33,000 thoroughbred foals had been registered, nearly double the quantity from final 12 months, and there have been 4,300 stallions, 4 instances the quantity from final 12 months, in accordance with the reality e-book launched by the Jockey Club, a number one business group.
Horse racing in the United States has lengthy admitted that it has a tradition of medicine and lax regulation and a far greater 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 referred to as his “medicine and thugs speech” at an business symposium, telling his colleagues what they already knew: Too many horses had been working on performance-enhancing medicine or had been so doped up on anti-inflammatories and painkillers that they had been working unnaturally quick and hurting themselves, usually fatally.
He provided up the Horse Racing Act of 1992, which referred to 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 make progress when the outliers are wrangled and pointed in direction of a standard 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 might be prevented.
In 2009, its first 12 months, thoroughbreds had deadly accidents at the fee of two per 1,000 begins. Last 12 months, 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 12 months 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 largest stage in the previous week and a half. Not solely do animal rights advocates need 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 are feeding everybody in a multibillion-dollar business. It is the people who’re letting them down.