Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Dark Side: Horse Racing

The tragic death of Eight Belles, the young filly who finished second in the Kentucky Derby has already spawned a series of articles questioning the ethics of our horse racing industry.

The day before the race, the Wall Street Journal published an article that questioned the breeding of American thoroughbreds, Racings Royal Bloodlines. All twenty of the horses who ran the Derby were descendants of one stallion, Native Dancer. His bloodline can be found in about 75% of American Thoroughbreds. As if a tragic prophesy, the Journal reported:
Like hemophilia in the Russian royal family, Native Dancer's line has a tragic flaw. Thanks in part to heavily muscled legs and a violent, herky-jerky running style, Native Dancer and his descendants have had trouble with their feet. Injuries have cut short the careers of several of his most famous kin, most notably Barbaro, a great-great-great-grandson who was injured during the Preakness Stakes and was later put to death.

Overbreeding has exacerbated the problem.
For years, many have questioned the very basics - the young age at which these horses are trained and raced, and how hard they are trained and raced, all while their bones are still developing. Dangerous breeding and dangerous practices.

As the Washington Post stated this morning in Is Horse Racing Breeding Itself to Death? "[h]orses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them." The Post reporst that there are 1.5 career-ending breakdowns for every 1,000 racing starts in the United States. That's an average of two per day.

Four days before the Derby, Michael Matz, Barbaro's trainer relived the nightmare of Barbaro when his 4-year-old colt Chelokee fractured his right front leg during Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs.

The New York Times, Race Illustrates the Brutal Side of Sport, asks -
Why do we keep giving thoroughbred horse racing a pass? Is it the tradition? The millions upon millions invested in the betting?

Why isn’t there more pressure to put the sport of kings under the umbrella of animal cruelty?

Many more people will be asking these questions. Perhaps that will be Eight Belles' final contribution.

Post script: While this tragedy reflects on the problems throughout horse racing, consider the warnings about Eight Belles' fate in a blog posted on April 30, Eight Belles Deserves Better.

Wouldn't it be a good time for Farm Bill conferees to reconsider the inclusion of a $489 million capital gains depreciation tax break for thoroughbred horse breeders?


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