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NY Times: American Racetracks Mass-Murder Horses and Maim Jockeys

It doesn’t cover sports often, but when the video desk at the New York Times does, it clearly favors carnage and heartbreak. In the winter it was a series on fallen NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard. This week it’s the story of dead horses and broken jockeys, and it would bring a tear to a glass eye.

Argue if you will the relative tragedy of a horse snapping both its ankles during a race, as Eight Belles did in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, versus a rider having “broken both collar bones,” as Randall Meier told the Times. The sport has always been dangerous. But there’s simply no reason the United States should kill 24 horses a week on racetracks, not when the England, which has tougher anti-doping laws, sees just half that breakdown rate.

The takeaways from the accompanying Times story — carrying the heft of four bylines, two taglines and a data analysis of 150,000 races — are stark. Since 2009 trainers have been caught illegally doping horses 3,800 times at American racetracks via a small percentage of tested horses. Death rates for horses are rising, in part because hybridized casino racetracks have pumped up the purses for races, enticing owners to shoot up cheap horses and run them through injuries.

It’s like a demolition derby with horses cast as unwitting jalopies. From the report:

[N]o accident over the last three years can match what occurred in a single race on Feb. 29, at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. Eight horses started. Seven fell. One finished. Along the way, seven jockeys were left scattered on the ground.
The next and final race was canceled, not just because it took so long to clear the track, but also because too few jockeys were available or willing to ride.

Meier accumulated a host of injuries on the way to winning 4,000 races. Another jockey, Chris Zamora, swore off “cheap horses” after an accident that collapsed his lungs, lacerated his liver, compressed his heart and fractured bones from pelvis to skull. Then there’s Jacky Martin, one of the best jockeys in the southwest, who was hurt while riding in New Mexico, the state the Times singles out as having the worst racetrack safety record in the country. The documentary is less than eight minutes long. Take care to stay for the ventilator-assisted interview at the finish.

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