The run-up to the hearings

Joe Drape in Sunday’s New York Times reported on racing fatality statistics provided to Congress by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. My post yesterday focused on the more dismaying elements of racing as a result of Jeffrey McMurray’s AP report published in the Washington Post; Drape’s piece presents a more measured view, and thanks to Alan at Left at the Gate who sent a link in an e-mail.

Ed Martin, president of the R.C.I., breaks it down: “ ‘When you look at the numbers, what they show is that 99.875 percent of the time when a horse starts a race, they (sic) walk off safely afterwards.’” Regarding medication infractions, Martin says, “ ‘Of 1,897 individual medication violations during the past five years, slightly more than two-thirds — 67.6 percent — were violations for surpassing allowable levels for therapeutic medications.’” Does this mean that the violations are relatively minor? Or that the “therapeutic medications” are allowing unsound horses to race without, or with less, pain? I suppose that it’s hard to generalize when one is talking about nearly two thousand violations, but I’ll be interested to hear how, on Thursday, witnesses put these statistics into context.

Drape reports that:

New York State Racing and Wagering Board broke down the 637 horse deaths on its
harness and thoroughbred tracks over the five-year period: 388 occurred on the
track, 60 occurred in training and 189 were nonracing-related deaths that
occurred in the backstretch.

“The 388 deaths that occurred while racing are out of a total of 521,703 starters (.07 percent),” it reported.

388 racing deaths aren’t good, and leaving out racing-related (i.e., training/backstretch) deaths does seem to artificially lower the percentage to .07%. But unlike other jurisdictions cited in the AP report, New York apparently keeps thorough records of what happens to its horses.

It’s a shame that it takes a Congressional hearing for this information to be made available to the public; I can imagine, fearful of a PR nightmare, that state racing officials might be wary of making available weekly injury reports, but it’s got to be better than the speculation and mistrust that currently exist.

Frank at That’s Amore Stable wrote on these issues yesterday, putting forth his own suggestions about next steps; as usual, he offers a reasoned, thoughtful, informed perspective.

4 thoughts on “The run-up to the hearings

  1. Can’t wait to cover the hearings! (mock sarcasm) . . . I think they’re going to fry Richard Dutrow. How can the two trainers chosen be Richard Dutrow and Jack Van Berg? Contrast of clean old and dirty new, and, likely, neither representative of the average and also if Dutrow can’t tell reporters what Winstrol does, what in the world is he going to say to members of congress? – J.S.

  2. The AP ditty was a surprise to me in my local paper; the report on horse racing fatalities seemed tantamount to the “Viet Cong body counts” I heard reported on the television when I was a child. (Quit snickering, we had a color TV).Truly, I believe that we should protect our equine racing friends. However, racing does not have a central governing body (although Superfecta has mentioned on a couple of occasions that she would make a great Racing Commissioner – and I would certainly vote for her!). And – correct me if I’m wrong – but racing is at the State’s level; it’s the State’s racing commissions, and laws, and gambling commissions. Why should our good buddies on Capitol Hill – who should spend their hours toiling away on a new Energy Policy – be involved with “Whazzup with horse racing?”

  3. Good post, Teresa.One of these days I’m planning to blog on the topic you raise of excessive levels of therapeutic meds. There are cheats in this game, for sure, but there are also a million ways for honest folks to run afoul of the rules (carelessness, miscommunication, bad luck, etc.) — to my mind, the enemy here is the habitual cheat, not the guy who screwed up once.

  4. Sue: From Drape’s article: “When the subcommittee announced the hearing last Wednesday, it made it clear that it intended to use the Interstate Horse Racing Act to enforce oversight of the industry. Congress could prohibit the off-track betting that in 2007 accounted for more than 90 percent of the $15.4 billion bet on thoroughbred racing.”Sounds much like the federal government’s use of its muscle regarding baseball’s anti-trust exemption to question baseball players. While racing is governed by individual states, it needs the federal government in order to send signals and collect wagering money in and out of state.

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