Friday, March 20, 2009

3 Breakdowns a Day Since the Derby

According to Nancy Heitzeg, a professor at St. Catherine’s University in Minnesota, that's how many horses are breaking down daily since Eight Belles was euthanized on the track at last year's Kentucky Derby. The question that people need to be asking is why?

William Rhoden of The New York Times attempts to address this issue in his column from today's paper. In it, he looks at whether or not legal medications are allowing race horses the ability to perform when in another era they would not be out on the track.

Rhoden cites that since January there have been seven fatal breakdowns at New York's Aqueduct Race Track. The breakdowns are not reserved to race conditions at the Aqueduct, a dirt surface; Santa Anita in California, a synthetic surface, has also seen seven fatal horse breakdowns since late December.

Paul J. Campo, the vice president and director of racing for the New York Racing Association, believes there is no rhyme or reason for the recent surge in fatal breakdowns. “I don’t think there is any explanation to it. It’s an unfortunate part of our industry that we don’t like. But we try to minimize any type of breakdowns we have using all the policies and procedures we have in place.”

I think I’ve heard that type of thinking before from other sports leagues in the past. Deny, deny, deny and think that all protections and procedures are in place when in reality they are not. Far from it, especially in a sport like horse racing when the horses have no say in what goes in their bodies. Rhoden lays out three types of legal drugs that should be curtailed. They are: Lasix (race-day drug used to prevent bleeding of the lungs), nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. phenylbutazone, flunixin and ketoprofen since they mask deficiencies in certain horses) and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (used to decrease inflammation).

If more fatal breakdowns occur on horse racing’s biggest stage, look for more outcry leading to even more change for the sport. Hopefully, the leaders will look at the numbers and instead of citing bad luck, realize that there is something bigger and more pronounced going on and that they have the ability to curtail more horse breakdowns in the future. Perhaps policies and procedures will need to change…again.

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