Retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron is a vocal proponent of federal legislation to establish national medication rules and to certify an organization to uniformly enforce those rules in American horse racing. In a speech to the Thoroughbred Club of America, he cited several examples to illustrate his conviction. A trainer is still licensed in spite of having 46 medication violations in Florida in 23 years. It is permissible in Oklahoma to race a horse on the anti-inflammatory drugs Banamine and Phenylbutazone. A horse can run in a race in Arizona even though the animal is on the vets’ list in California.
Mr. McCarron used the words “ludicrous” and “crazy” to describe such situations. He added: “There are a lot of horses running who shouldn’t be…” because owners put pressure on trainers to run unsound horses in an effort to defray expenses. His conclusion: “Drugs don’t kill horses, people kill horses.” Mr. McCarron lamented that running unsound horses also results in more injured and deceased jockeys.
Although Mr. McCarron’s views are based on great personal experience and expertise, what data-based evidence can be brought to bear to support his assertions? A cross-nation look at racehorse fatalities offers some insight.
A recent study in Great Britain (“Descriptive Epidemiology of Veterinary Events in Flat Racing Thoroughbreds in Great Britain, 2000 to 2013”) found that 70% of injuries to racehorses over the 14-year period were minor and not career-ending. Moreover, the fatality rate in Great Britain was 0.76 per thousand starts, where the preponderance of races are held on turf. According to The (American) Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, the fatality rate per thousand starts at U. S. racetracks on turf in 2015 was 1.22. Put differently, the fatality rate on turf is about 61% greater in the United States than in Great Britain.
Why is this? Following are five hypotheses.
1. Turf racing surfaces in Great Britain are generally safer than turf surfaces in the USA.
2. British trainers are more skilled at conditioning racehorses than their U. S. counterparts.
3. British owners care more about their horses’ well being than U. S. owners.
4. Medication regulations in Great Britain more effectively prevent unsound horses from running in races than is the case in the United States.
5. Drug-rule violators are more strictly policed and sanctioned in Great Britain as compared to the USA.
Which of these potential explanations seem the most plausible?
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