Quit Horsing Around

The thoroughbred scene will move from Belmont to Aqueduct in a few weeks, and racing will continue through the winter at the newly renovated racino in Queens. What happened at Aqueduct last winter must not be repeated, and it is up to the state to make sure that it isn’t. 

As The New York Times revealed in an eye-opening investigation of thoroughbred racing locally and throughout the nation, horses are dropping dead on the track in appalling numbers. The Times inquiry sparked a state investigation of the industry in New York. The probe found evidence of the worst sort of greed and lax enforcement of safety regulations. Twenty-one horses died on the track at Aqueduct during last winter’s meet. Investigators concluded that 11 of those animals would not have died if the state properly regulated medication and if racing authorities did not allow less-than-stellar horses to compete for casino-inflated purses.

The New York Racing Association runs the tracks and oversees, if that’s the right word, the sport’s rules and regulations. But it has become clear that NYRA has been poorly managed and operated in the best interests of horse owners. Gov. Cuomo already has instituted a series of reforms aimed at toughening regulation, but the state report shows that even more aggressive action is needed.

Ironically, greater government oversight is required in part because of the growth of racetrack casinos, or racinos. The horse industry begged state officials to allow slots and table games at some racetracks to supplement purses and to get people to the track at a time of rapidly declining attendance. Revenue from the racinos has led to inflated purses, which has led to many of the abuses cited in the state report. Owners, trainers and others involved in the industry have added incentive to get horses on the track, regardless of their health or talent.

The result: carnage on tracks around the country. Horses that should not be running because of injury or because they’re simply not very fast have been marched out to the track and have broken down and died. Of course, horses aren’t the only species put in danger by greed and mismanagement. Jockeys put their lives on the line every time they get in the saddle—it’s remarkable that more of them haven’t been killed or seriously injured as a result of spills.

Government regulation is not always the best remedy for an industry in crisis. Indeed, it is often the worst remedy. But the sad condition of New York racing demands prompt and aggressive action from state officials.

There can be no more carnage on New York’s racetracks.