More Hearing and Investigations Not the Answer for Horse Racing

On April 30 of this year, 2012, shortly before the running of this year’s Kentucky Derby, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health, conducted a hearing entitled, “A Review of Efforts to Protect the Health of Jockeys and Horses in Horseracing”, where there was powerful testimony about the need for oversight of a $40 billion horse racing and gambling industry that is basically left to police itself.

The media has offered a number of exposes recently on the problems of drugs in racing, the cruelty and danger to the horses, in an industry that is basically self-regulating.

This is not new, of course. There have been a number of Congressional hearings over the years dating back to a 1973 Congressional report that cited problems in racing including doping and poor enforcement. There were hearings on the Corrupt Horse
Racing Practices Act in the early 1980’s that would have prohibited doping. In 2008, following the collapse of Eight Belles after crossing the finish line at the 2008 Kentucky Derby, there was the subcommittee hearing entitled: Breeding, Drugs and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Horse.

But there seems to be a growing consensus that the $40 billion a year racing and gambling industry can no longer be left to its own devices.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently reached an agreement with state legislators that once it becomes law, means the governor and state legislature will take control of the New York Racing Association.

The take over follows a letter Gov. Cuomo sent NYRA, calling for an investigation of racing in the state. 16 horses have died on the inner track at Aqueduct since last November 30. In his letter to the New York Racing Association, the governor said, “This pattern of equine loss should not be allowed to continue”.

This is just the number of horses that died on the inner track at Aqueduct in the last several months. There are far more deaths also at the cheaper tracks. These horses are not counted. The number also does not include those horses that die during morning training or at sales where they are forced to run at speeds they would never be asked to reach during a race. Susan Stover, DVM of UC Davis
testified at the 2008 Congressional subcommittee hearing that 30% of the deaths in CA racing happen during morning training.

This number quoted by the governor does not count the horses that are euthanized days or weeks later after the drugs or joint injections wear off. It does not count the horses that limp into rescues that then have to be euthanized.

The Governor noted the NYRA has reaped $15 million in profits since the October 29, 2011 opening of Resorts World New York racino, a combination racing track and casino. NYRA, said the governor, should pay for a comprehensive investigation. He urged the NYRA to undertake an independent investigation. “Everyone understands that horse racing poses risks, but that cannot be an excuse for our
inaction. The status quo in all aspects of horse racing is not working, and we need to develop procedures now that work for the horses, riders and the racing public in New York.”

Also, the Wall Street Journal recently detailed financial improprieties that also pushed the governor into action.

While Gov. Cuomo is to be applauded for recognizing the danger to horses in racing, the last thing the public needs is another investigation conducted by a racing industry association of itself. This gambling industry receives substantial giveaways from the
public  – simulcast betting of horse races across state lines and exemption of internet gambling on horse racing from restrictions on online gambling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), 31 U.S.C.§§5361-5367. Surely, the public has
an interest in making this industry is not a front for animal cruelty, a fraud on the betting public who have no idea the extent of drugs used to mask injuries and increase speed.