Thursday, March 22, 2012

Early Spring

Well I'd planned an upbeat post about Zenyatta's foal and the good racing this crop of 3YOs has shown, but the Sunday front-page article Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys has cast a dark shadow over that. It is an excellent and important article. I sometimes struggle with Joe Drape's writing, which hems a borderline mawkish tone when it comes to inserting a human element, but I need to give him a break here. Life isn't just stats; color is necessary. And Drape provides chilling, comprehensive stats regarding racing "incidents" that I've never seen attempted before. It's very difficult to get incontrovertible stats regarding equine breakdowns because governing bodies have never mandated this transparency. In fact, in the ban of steroids these governing bodies had no jurisdiction and could only recommend that all circuits comply with an anti-steroids policy.

One possible outcome of this article is a renewed clamor for a centralized body that can improve the safety of the sport and certainly a more transparent reporting of injuries, so they don't get stung with a gory 14.1 per 1,000 runners stat that Ruidisio Downs registered in 2011. Compare this with a little over 1 per 1,000 runners almost every other country that races averages. And this stat is flawed in part and could be lower if racing stopped ignoring the need to make these stats transparent. 

The other big issue that comes up is drugs. What does performance-enhancing mean? If a horse runs faster than he should because he can't feel a problem that a drug is masking is that drug a performance-enhancer? Therapeutic drugs are by definition used for healing and curing not masking pain. These are complicated issues, but one thing could make them easier: a complete ban on the use of these drugs the day a horse is racing. This would be a start. Mandated x-rays would also help curb fatalities in that many occur from pre-existing conditions.

The people involved in this sport, for the most part, love horses and are not grinding them up for profit. But it's not an easy sport and people seem to have less of an appetite or more choice for entertainment and gambling that doesn't come with the possibility of seeing a horse and jockey lying in the dirt. This danger can never fully go away, but what direction are we moving in? And how can we get there more quickly? 

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