It is often painful to read, but the New York Times's piece "Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys," is still essential for anyone who wants to understand what, exactly, goes on at horse tracks in America. With the cancellation of HBO's Luck, a drama set on a horse track, after the death of three horses during production, there's suddenly a spotlight on a sport that has long operated in the relative shadows.
In the second paragraph of the Times's piece, you are treated to this image: "Nineteen seconds later, under a brilliant blue sky, a national champion jockey named Jacky Martin lay sprawled in the furrowed dirt just past the finish line, paralyzed, his neck broken in three places. On the ground next to him, his frightened horse, leg broken and chest heaving, was minutes away from being euthanized on the track."
It gets worse in the next paragraph: "The next day, it nearly happened again. At virtually the same spot, another horse broke a front leg, pitching his rider headfirst into the ground. The jockey escaped serious injury, but not the 2-year-old horse, Teller All Gone. He was euthanized, and then dumped near an old toilet in a junkyard a short walk from where he had been sold at auction the previous year."
The story, reported by Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara L. Miles and Griffin Palmer, details, among other queasy realities, the drugs that are pumped into race horses to keep them on the track and earning money despite being in pain and unfit to run. Their reporting uncovered that since 2009, trainers in the U.S. have been caught illegally drugging horses 3,800 times, "a figure that vastly understates the problem because only a small percentage of horses are actually tested," they write.
“It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through,” said Dr. Rick Arthur to the Times, the equine medical director for the California Racing Board. “In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.”
What are some of the drugs being pumped into horses so they can run? The Times lists chemicals such as cobra venom, viagra, blood doping agents, stimulants, cancer drugs, and chemicals that are used to bulk up cattle and pigs before slaughter.
If you're an animal lover, or simply want to know more about the horse racing industry's treatment of these animals, we highly suggest you read the full Times piece here.