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Some 604 horses died from race-related injuries at New York’s 11 racetracks since 2009, state data show
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing for a law that would set up an independent anti-doping agency to oversee drug use in the horseracing industry.
New York’s junior senator and 2020 presidential candidate is the lead sponsor of the Horseracing Integrity Act, which was introduced in the Senate Wednesday.
If made law, the act would set up national laws for drugs used on racehorses. Today, there are 38 different state racing jurisdictions in the country, each with its own policies.
The group Animal Wellness Action issued a statement praising the legislation, saying it could help “end a shameful period where unscrupulous trainers have put horses and jockeys at risk.”
“Horses should run on hay, oats, and water, not on a cocktail of performance enhancers and medications,” Marty Irby, the group’s executive director, said in the statement.
The bill, a version of which was already introduced in the House, is co-sponsored by Sen. Martha McSalley, R-Arizona.
Horse racing is under new national scrutiny after a spate of thoroughbred deaths at Santa Anita, a prominent California track. Critics say doping is a rampant problem, leading animals to push themselves beyond their natural limits while masking minor injuries from veterinarians.
There have been a reported 29 horse deaths at Santa Anita track since the end of 2018, leading to a temporary closure of the track and calls across the country to bring changes to the industry.
New York state tracks are statistically less deadly than other tracks, data show. In 2018, New York tracks had an average of 1.29 deaths per 1,000 starts, below the national average of 1.68 per 1,000 starts, according to regulators.
Scott Palmer, the state’s equine medical director, told state lawmakers at a hearing June 5 that context is important because most thoroughbreds race only 25-30 times in their lives. At Belmont Park, home of the Belmont Stakes, there are 5,000 races but more than 30,000 training events per year.
“You hear a lot about there are a lot of racehorses dying across North America at the racetracks — it’s in the news, it’s in the public relations statements in certain organizations,” Palmer said. “The fact of the matter is there are a lot of them, there’s a lot of racing.”
Horses weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and race at speeds approaching 40 mph. But critics say any amount of death is immoral, and they say death totals need to include training deaths and other industry-related incidents.
In total, some 604 horses died from race-related injuries at New York’s 11 racetracks since 2009, state data show. Those numbers include racing on all surfaces and harness racing-related deaths.
More than 1,300 died over the last decade when factoring in training deaths and other non-racing deaths tracked by the state.
During the state hearing, animal advocate John Scheib testified that thousands of horses die on an annual basis due to the industry. By comparison, three athletes have died in the history of the country’s four major professional sports.
“Equine welfare on the track will always fail because it’s a hundred percent about a business and there’ll always be enough bad actors to ruin it for the rest of us,” he said.
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