My article titled “Catastrophic Racetrack Injuries and Breakdowns:  The Dog That Did Not Bark,” elicited some passionate but reasoned comments, both the ones posted on the website and the ones communicated privately.  A poster by the name of Noelle wrote, in part:

A lot of research, including research that was ongoing in 1993, has been funded by the industry in recent years. If, as you say, “everyone” wants to end the carnage, I wonder how and why, with all the studies that have been done and all the committees that have been formed, “everyone” has managed to avoid the sort of basic common-sense investigation you recommend – even on a smaller scale – confined to the U.S. and Thoroughbreds, for example. It absolutely should be done and should have been started years ago.

At the same time, the scope you propose is so huge that the project would likely take years to design and complete even if it were funded tomorrow. Drugs are a problem now. Racehorses aren’t guinea pigs, yet their owners, trainers, and veterinarians have been allowed to experiment on them for years by sycophantic, incompetent racing authorities. Whether or not a causal connection between drugs and breakdowns can ever be proven with scientific certainty, American racing really cannot afford to continue its romance with drugs.

She is eloquent and precisely right about medication.  If an animal cannot race without the benefit of drugs, then it should not race–for the safety of the jockey and the horse, as well as for the protection of the betting public.  Arthur Hancock’s folksy but cogent admonition is right on target:  rid the sport of  “the thugs and drugs.” 

As for research into breakdowns, a basic study could be done quickly by just comparing the two or three racetracks with the fewest breakdowns to several with the most breakdowns.  What are the differences?  Then a large-scale study could/should be done over a longer period of time.

Last Kentucky Derby day I had a get-together at my home.  After the Eight Belles breakdown, a woman at the party said that she was going to find something else to bet on.   I had another person who makes a living in the Thoroughbred industry say that breakdowns are driving her away from the sport.

Racing cannot afford this kind of fan alienation.  Breakdowns, of course, are inevitable but not at the current rate.  Yet the medication continues, and the owners escape without suspension when their horses test positive while their trainers take the fall. 

Besides vigorously addressing the medication issue, the sport needs to take more common-sense precautions that mitigate the chances of jockey and horse injuries during races.  Most glaringly, the sport’s showcase event in the United States, the Kentucky Derby, is flirting with mega-trouble by not restricting the field size to one starting gate.   A 20-horse cavalry charge increases the probability of a pileup of horses and jockeys, especially on the first turn.  Perish the thought, but imagine the public relations debacle from that calamity.   One of the first questions that will be forthcoming is, “Why didn’t you limit the field size?” to which there will be no good response.

After all is said and done, more is usually said than done.  That can’t be the case with the breakdown issue.  The incidence of breakdowns imperils racing’s existence as a respectable sport.  

A modest action plan:  Immediately ban medication within 48 hours of a race.  Levy meaningful sanctions on both owners and trainers for violations.  Study the racetracks with the fewest breakdowns for clues as to how they differ from the tracks with the most breakdowns.  Stop inviting trouble and limit field sizes, in particular in the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup.

Carpe Diem.

Copyright © 2009, Horse Racing Business


  1. I couldn’t agree more, but I speak out against medication so often that I think people have stopped listening. The amazing thing is the mindset about medication in the United States. I know trainers who say they run on hay, oats and water…except Lasix, of course, which is such a given it no longer seems to count. All medications must be banned in a racing animal, first and foremost lasix. The rest of us in other countries get by fine without it.