CHRIS McCARRON’S RATIONALE FOR FEDERAL REGULATION

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?

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

THE EUTHANASIA ALTERNATIVE

Euthanasia of healthy animals understandably evokes emotion-laden responses.  The overriding ethical issue is whether the premature life-ending procedure is a justifiable alternative to slaughter.  Is euthanasia the better choice from two bad options?

The Humane Society of the United States has taken unequivocal stances on both slaughter and euthanasia:  “Horse slaughter is a cruel, predatory practice” and “The humane euthanasia of animals has been acknowledged by a majority of animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, as an appropriate means of ending the suffering of animals in physical distress….and to end the lives of animals who have severe behavioral problems…”  Still, neither statement gives unambiguous guidance to horse owners struggling to decide if euthanasia is a morally defensible means to circumvent their horses ever going to slaughter, especially for a vigorous animal for which a good home ostensibly can’t be found.

In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued a 100-page document titled Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals in which it stated:  “AVMA policy supports the use of animals for various human purposes, and also recognizes the need to euthanize animals that are unwanted or unfit for adoption.”

Yet equine veterinarians don’t agree among themselves about acceptable end-of-life procedures.  To illustrate, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare is categorical in its stance:  “horse slaughter is inhumane, and …is an unacceptable way to end a horse’s life under any circumstance.  We believe that it is an unethical and dangerous practice for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to attempt to equate horse slaughter with humane euthanasia.”

Individual horse owners are left to determine for themselves if it is the right course of action to euthanize a healthy animal rather than risk selling or giving it away.  For instance, as for risk, a slaughterhouse buyer may use an intermediary to pose as a well-intentioned person looking to obtain an off-the-track Thoroughbred for a relative or friend.  Moreover, even a caring new home could turn out to be otherwise if the owner experiences financial hardship and becomes desperate to get out from under the expenses of maintaining the horse.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

HORSE-OWNER RESPONSIBILITY: THE CENTENNIAL FARMS EXAMPLE

A Thoroughbred owner can choose to view a horse as a tangible asset to be employed in breeding or racing.  In this bottom-line philosophy of doing business, the animal is just another balance-sheet item to be gradually depreciated on the books and then sold for salvage value.

An alternative perspective holds that a Thoroughbred is a noble flesh-and-blood creature capable of providing its owner with monetary and psychological rewards.  Under this concept, horses that cannot compete on the racetrack or succeed as breeding stock are not to be cast aside as scrap, but rather are to be provided for in a humane way.

The business of dog breeding and sales in the United States vividly illustrates these competing points of view.  On the one hand are puppy mills that sell privately or through pet shops and who tend to see dogs as products.  By stark contrast, responsible breeders temper their monetary goal of turning a profit with a deep and abiding lifetime concern for the welfare of their animals.  Conscientious breeders will almost always take back any dog they have bred and sold, even years later, though they do not refund the purchase price.  If the breeder cannot accept the dog, foster care is arranged until a good home can be found.

From a purely legal standpoint, a horse owner’s obligation to care for the animal ends once a sale takes place and the horse is transferred to new ownership, through a private transaction, at auction, or via a claim.  Yet some owners do not view their sense of duty to the horse as terminating with a sale and act similarly to responsible dog breeders.

Centennial Farms, an exemplary example, attaches a sticker to the registration papers of the horses acquired by its partnerships noting that the horses are not to go to slaughter and including a toll-free number to call.  Further, Centennial Farms horses are tracked throughout their careers and Centennial plays an active role in finding retirement homes; many are placed with members of the management team and partners.

Whereas it is naïve and unrealistic to believe that even most owners could or would accept lifetime responsibility for their animals, it is eminently practical to develop and promote facilitators, such as the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Connect, for those owners who do indeed seek good homes for their retired horses and need assistance in locating people looking to adopt.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business