Healing the Wounds - by Dan Liebman

 There were 417 races run on the flat in North America May 3, but only one captured the attention of the public. Normally that attention would be in celebration of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner, but this year the attention came in the form of criticism due to the tragic catastrophic breakdown suffered by second-place finisher Eight Belles.

The industry has been forced to defend itself in the wake of this criticism, mostly from those outside the sport, many with limited knowledge of Thoroughbred breeding and racing.

Criticism, constructive or otherwise, comes in many forms. There is little need to pay serious attention to radical groups calling for the immediate end to Thoroughbred racing, a multi-billion-dollar agribusiness that employs hundreds of thousands. But it is important to listen to those who suggest the industry should closely examine itself and discuss ways to make the sport safer.

Similarly, when a driver dies in car racing, or a fighter in boxing, those sports owe it to their participants and fans to examine the reasons why the accident occurred and see if significant changes can be made to diminish the odds of further injuries.

That, however, is where the similarities end between horse racing and other sports. When a pro football player breaks his leg, the bone is set and the leg is placed in a cast. No one calls for the sport to be banned. But because of the musculoskeletal system of the horse, too often the injured limbs cannot be repaired, and, as in the case of Eight Belles, unfortunately require euthanasia instead.

Those placing blame on the racing surface, owner Rick Porter, trainer Larry Jones, and/or jockey Gabriel Saez are way off base. Likewise, those who question running a filly against colts should watch a tape of last year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I); a single protest cannot be recalled after Rags to Riches’ victory.

Since the moment Eight Belles fell after fracturing both ankles while galloping out after the Derby, Thoroughbred industry officials have been busy spinning the news of the heartbreaking accident on racing's greatest stage. Blue ribbon panels have been put together to look at racing’s important issues and pre­sent reports to industry stakeholders.

More than likely, the issues that will be discussed will not be new topics. For years, industry groups have been studying such things as racing surfaces, medication, soundness, and durability. Perhaps, however, with the industry now under a microscope—from the press, the public, and possibly federal regulators—owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, and researchers will debate the issues with more urgency.

Those who have said good can come from the breakdown suffered by Eight Belles are correct, but it should not be done only in her name. On May 3, chart footnotes also stated:

• Camarero Race Track, race 3, Ahi Viene Cundo, broke down, fell three-eighths pole;
• Evangeline Downs, race 3, Hack Rein, broke down, vanned off;
• Evangeline Downs, race 11, Watchmybluff, pulled up, vanned off;
• Indiana Downs, race 7, Sparkling Sherry, pulled up, vanned off;
• Suffolk Downs, race 2, Elusive King, broke down, vanned off;
• Suffolk Downs, race 10, Evoked, broke down, vanned off;
• Turf Paradise, race 7, Global Boy, in contention early, went wrong at three-eighths pole, vanned off;
• Will Rogers Downs, race 8, Middle Earth, taken up, vanned off;
• Woodbine, race 8, Sargeant Silver, broke down, vanned off.

Network television cameras were not pointed at the other horses that broke down May 3, but they are no less important than Eight Belles. Although horses were breaking bones long before man ever thought about racing them against each other, they are breaking down all too often.
It should be the goal of everyone connected to the industry to help figure out why, and bring about meaningful change to make the sport safer for every Thoroughbred.

36 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Amanda

Very well-written, Mr. Liebman.  

13 May 2008 12:26 PM
Bernie

The article brings the issue right up to date. As time goes on more and more horses will break down every day. Will the industry finally respond with necessary reforms or will government have to step in and impose the needed reforms ? It's one or the other. To do nothing is not an option any more.

13 May 2008 12:30 PM
longtime racing fan

Dan, I agree with nearly everything you say in all your commentaries. However I must disagree with one thing today.  

It is imperative to pay attention to this radical group --- they are not going to go away without making a BIG stink, and they have high media attention and (hard to believe as it may seem) strong credibility and influence with a large segment of the public. They are dangerous and have lots of high-profile members and supporters. Never mind that they are ignorant; they have an agenda toward eradicating all human/animal interaction, and they will not listen to reason, never mind fact. They cannot be ignored; the racing world needs to marshal a counter-offensive against their attacks, and it starts with educating the general public about what is RIGHT about it, and with setting down rules about racing under medication.

The major breeders, the big players, need to VISIBLY get behind the idea of breeding for soundness and stamina. The tracks need to write more races on turf and at longer distances. It won't happen overnight, but it won't happen at all until the movers and shakers start moving and shaking in the right direction. THEN racing will regain credibility in the eyes of the public and the wounds can really heal. And these creeps can go find somebody else to harass (and they will!).

One other item: everywhere else in the world, females race against males; why not here in North America? Are our females so much inferior? Makybe Diva won the Melbourne Cup three times... and that is not a females-only race. Eight Belles earned the right to race in the Derby; she showed her quality; and if she had not had an unfortunate accident AFTER the race she would today be hailed as another potential Rags to Riches or Genuine Risk, etc.

Thanks for a great publication and the opportunity for a racing and Thoroughbred fan since Native Dancer and Citation to have a bit of input.

13 May 2008 1:18 PM
Lisa A.

Thank you, Mr. Liebman, for giving a nod to the "unknown soldiers" who break down to little or no notice. I have long dreaded seeing the letters "DNF" in the results chart, as it made me wonder if some poor, lovely creature lost its life that day.

Thank you, also, for pointing out the reasons why horse injuries can be more catastrophic that similar injuries in humans, and showing that more research needs doing in veterinary medicine to help keep horses alive, even after an injury.

13 May 2008 2:30 PM
UCLinden

For statistics to have any type of meaning , those stats have to be consistent. Right now, we can not say any one particular track surface is better than the other , unless a horse were to run on the same surface. With polytrack , dirt and those who may run on grass , has anyone thought if there is any consequence from going back & forth on the various track surfaces on the horse's leg's ? If you know anything about the leg bones of horse's, you will know that the leg bone remodels itself. If switching from surface to surface has any effect on the leg bone's , then maybe we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

13 May 2008 3:30 PM
Sea Tower

Having worked on NTRA racetracks, I am familiar with backstretch goings-on.  Many practices are deleterious to the horses and others are most beneficial but the underhanded practices lead to the mishaps that are focused on by the media.  My observation of the Triple Crown races over the years has brought me to two primary conclusions:  horses that are not Derby or high stakes winning caliber are getting into the race by posting huge late entry fees; the Kentucky Derby has become a cavalry charge (20 horses).  I suggest that the Kentucky Derby be limited to a 12-horse (one starting gate) race for the best three-year olds in the U.S./world and that way the field for the other two Triple Crown races will be almost guaranteed (not like the current Preakness). In addition, I contend that races at that distance in such a short time frame leaving little time for recovery are too much for today's three-year olds.  Why not let them grow one more year so that their legs and joints catch up to their bodies? Or, why not set the races at least 4-6 weeks apart?  Why do we start these babies so very young...I fear the answer to that question is money. Many races are written in the U.S. for 2 and 3 year old maidens but few are written for 4-year old maidens, which is also very sad.  I agree with your stand on safety concerns but I also offer that it is very difficult to get racetrack owners to upgrade surfaces (very costly)unless owners/trainers whose horses are injured as a result of poor track surface conditions (not weather-induced)are availed the opportunity to sue the ownership for such unsafe conditions in the event one of their horses is injured due to those conditions.  This would probably only be applicable to the better more well-attended racetracks rather than at the fairgrounds and other such race venues. I do not like to push for litigious behavior but sometimes it is the only way to get the people with the resources to pay attention (sad but true when their concern should be for the four-legged athletes that draw the bettors and their money). I was devastated with the destruction of Barbaro and refused to watch any footage/stills about Eight Belles' tragic end (I watched as one of my grandparents stakes-winning horses go down in a race in which he was leading and have to be destroyed on the track...never again will I knowingly witness such a horrific event).  The good thing that comes from Eight Belles' demise is the scrutiny that will be placed on horseracing by public demand. Bless her and all who were involved with her short life.  Thanks for a balanced, well-written article.

13 May 2008 4:07 PM
Jack

Say what you will Dan, this is just the latest "cause celebre" that will slowly fade away with little if any action being taken by the industry.  Speed is money and money talks while stamina walks that lonely road to oblivion.

13 May 2008 5:07 PM
E. Smith

Thank you long time racing fan!!! I'll add this-

Can racing be made safer for horses AND better for horsemen? Yes!!! Can you ever satisfy PETA and animal rights activists? NO!!! Let HORSEMEN WITHIN THE SPORT brainstorm improvements. IGNORE PETA and similar crazies- don't even let them come to the table with their ideas, misinformation and propoganda. All you can expect from PETA is to use the media to spread their message of no animal use period. They will contact racing sponsors and tar and feather horseracing with manipulated statistics and propoganda (check out the PETA controlled "Help Horseracing" threads on the MSNBC horse racing forum, the head of this "group" is in direct contact with PETA's head of Animals In Entertainment division.) Randy Moss should think twice before ever endorsing a PETA idea. Ban the whip? Not if the use of the whip can in any way keep that precious human life on board safer. Please let's make horse racing better with true research on breeding for durability. Identify the sires and bloodlines that can help make the breed hardier, publish this information and let the free market take over- I am sure their are still alot of owners who want their horses to be able to race past their two year old birthdays. Limiting racing medications to all horses makes a level playing field, right? Publish the numerous studies that would indicate that horses that train or run at two have less breakdowns or soundness issues as three year olds. THE HORSE RACING INDUSTRY MUST RAISE IT'S VOICE LOUD AND CLEAR! Otherwise all the uninformed public will hear is the voice of PETA. All the information and "statistics" will come from these groups that want to "help" horse racing with their misinformation and media manipulation. You don't partner to help horse racing with those who want to abolish it.

Their initial demands are always outrageous, they aim high to start with.  Continued outrageous behavior and even their bad publicity just conditions us all so that we are not shocked as their demands escalate as time goes on.

13 May 2008 5:43 PM
Nancy

I find it interesting that blame on the part of the owners, trainers, and/or jockeys is considered way off base in the article, which then goes on to list a series of chart footnotes reflecting injured race horses.  The owners, trainers and jockeys are well aware of the rampant horse injuries and deaths in their business. They apparently do little or nothing to change them. They are also the ones who support drugging the horses to mask injuries and pain. Therefore, they are culpable.    

13 May 2008 8:33 PM
STEVE STONE

Hello Dan...Your current commentary regarding the Eight Belles tragedy leaves myriad of questions to still be answered...You note in your lead that the industry has been forced to defend itself in the wake of this critism... Why has the industry waited for this an other high-profile similar on-track tragedies to take an pro-active posture and address these vexing problems that has been hovering over the industry since day one...Sadly we live in an society that is reactive vis-a-vis proactive..not just in the racing field but in  all aspects of life itself..misplaced priorities...This is very sad commentary indeed.....Why is it the racing industry still does not have an national unified drug program?In the 36 or so states where racing is conducted..every state/district has their own playing field..Its uneven..Even the jockey's in these states have their own riders fees..nothing unified...Kindly tell me what the Jockey Club Round Table conducted in Saratoga every August by Dinny Phipps et al resolves?...Its nothing more than a group of sportsman gathering around the round table articulating the ills of the game...however nothing ever gets remediated...How long does it take to implement an idea(s)? Now we are pontificating the conditions of racing surfaces...medication issues...soundness in horses...racing @ four...spacing the Triple Crown Races apart and so forth and so forth...Its no wonder that attendance is plummenting at every race track in the nation...there is no new and younger fan growth...attendance is inert...after all there is more to racing than the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup...and now the industry is awakening to the clarion of animal rights group demanding the nadir of the sport after over 400 years resultant from an abberational mishap on the track...The bottom line to all of this is that apparently the industry cannot and will not get its act together after all of this protracted time...so sad indeed....And even more sadly is the fact the the federal government will do it for us..total intervention and we then do not have to worry about its demise from the animal rights group..Washington will be doing it for us... Thank you for your window always...Steve Stone...East Hanover... New Jersey

13 May 2008 8:56 PM
pam

yes, i agree with what you said, it's not just the derby, right after the derby last weekend at hollywood park, they had a freak accident where two horses collided and one i believe was destruyed although tvg wouldn't say it probably because all of the publicity fom the derby they actually looked frightened to metion it all they said was the one horse had a catastrophic injury which we know what that means most times, lower price horses don't go to dr. dean richardson like barbaro did.

13 May 2008 9:20 PM
Kathleen VR

Thank you for this well written article.  This story must not die. The racing industry has been "trying" to heal itself of these problems on it's own. It's time for them to admit, they aren't doing a good job policing themselves.  

These horses are being asked to do too much to early in life. It's time for real changes. Allowing babies to mature, limiting the use of drugs, spacing out the racing schedule. Serious regulations with serious penalties need to be put in place.

There is a lot of good in horse racing and a lot of good people but the senseless death of these horses cannot be allowed to continue. This story will not die. Public pressure for change is not going away. Eight Belles will not have died in vain.  

Articles like yours will help bring about the meaningful change you suggest!!

13 May 2008 11:51 PM
Oglalla Sue

Longtime Racing Fan is right on every single point, including that this is a well-written editorial.

They may be wrong and ill-informed, but sticking ones head in the ground and ignoring this particular radical group is not the answer.

That doesn't mean racing needs to do what they demand. It just means you can't ignore the stink they're making or the way it shapes public (mis)perception.

14 May 2008 12:55 AM
normajean81258

Once again~~ BRAVO Dan!!!

You're the best!

Norma Jean

14 May 2008 4:14 AM
Coco Fernandez

Have you ever seen a Professional Tennis player's arms? One arm doubles the size of the other. Horses gallop and breeze counter clock ONLY.One side of their bodies are always under more stress than the other side. The muscles developed like the tennis player's arms,unbalanced.Racetracks should alternate the traffic way every other day to allow their bodies to develop evenly and symmetric.

I'm a full time Farrier(CocoCaballo.com) and I noticed that detail throughout my career.

Thanks.

14 May 2008 5:29 AM
UCLinden

Here is a thought I think we should all give serious attention to. In Mr. Liebman's article, it brought up various other sports. In that vein, I want you to think about these sports ... and what you know or have heard about them:

Tennis .... clay courts , grass courts

Football .... artifical grass , natural turf

Baseball ... artifical grass , natural grass

I am sure most of you know about the various pros and cons about the surfaces those players play on; whether it be how the ball reacts differently or that famous

" turf toe ".

For horse racing , a horse can run on turf ( grass ), dirt , or polytrack. If a human or a ball reacts differently , then certainly, various surfaces must effect the horse also.

How many in depth studies have been done about the horse's leg bones on various surfaces ? How long does it take for a horse's skeletel system to recover/ remodel from each race on any given surface ? If we say the horse's lower leg reacts like a shock absorber; we all know eventually we change the shock absorber on our vehicles. So, taking that thought , does the horse need more rest, recovery time switching from surface to surface ?  

We have a product we put on the track for the viewing (betting) public. Don't you think we owe it to them (and our horse's) to conduct various studies and make those studies known to the public ?

My feeling is, they want to know we are acknowledging the injuries and are addressing them.

14 May 2008 7:27 AM
Mike M

Can someone please explain one thing to me. How do some trainers claim horses from other trainers (both good horseman), and the claiming trainer is able to magically move the horse up in class. In addition why does it always seem to be the same three trainers at each track. Please don't tell me it's a change of equipment,feed, etc.

14 May 2008 9:25 AM
gaye goodwin

Will Rogers Downs? I was not even aware of a second-rate track near Tulsa, and I grew up in Dallas. Middle Earth used to run at some of the first tier race tracks, against the best of company. THAT is what is wrong with the sport - good horses run until they cannot run anymore, going down the claiming ranks to the second tier tracks, where the general thought is to get whatever money out of them that can be gotten. You want to stop the scrutiny about Eight Belles? Clean up the sport - evict those who have a continuous history of medical violations. Repeat offenders need to go make a living in something other than horse racing. Medications used to mask pain cause unsafe racing conditions and are heinously inhumane. Period!

14 May 2008 12:05 PM
Cassidy

I think the general fans of racing and these organizations want some accountability.  It appears there is not accountability when it comes to breaks downs on the track.  I believe if there was a true effort to change the surfaces of the tracks, the public would feel as if the industry was trying to save the horses from these terrible ends.  

Maybe owners should demand safer surfaces for their horses or not take them to a particular track.  If enough people stand up, the tracks will be forced to change the surfaces to further the best interests of the beautiful athletes that run on them.  

After all, without the horses on the track, there would be no public at the race tracks betting and spending money at the gate and inside the restaurants, etc.

14 May 2008 1:37 PM
End Horse Slaughter!

Very good article. Thank you for the added information. Will the industry also address the 'from stable to table' slaughter of thousands of young, healthy horses who weren't in the money?  

Everyone can say what they want about PETA, but if it weren't for their media blitz on Monday morning, would we even be having this discussion at all?

14 May 2008 3:10 PM
Rggc

Ive been a fan for decades and I believe we must not ignore the animal rights people.Remember the quote "First they came for the Communists..." Well if we bury our heads in the sand there will be no one left to speak for us.In order for racing to survive, we must show the world we speak for the horses first! If the public abandons our sport will they run horses in front of empty stands? I think not.

14 May 2008 8:05 PM
Terry

Interesting idea re tennis. That makes sense, alternating the direction of training and racing every day to help the horse develop  evenly. That should help prevent injuries.

Re spacing of races. In Canada, our Triple Crown races are much further apart and don't even start until after the U.S. Triple Crown is finished. That has to help the horses. Funny thing, we get a lot of fillies running against the boys in our Triple, and they do very well. Up here, the fillies are always a threat running against the boys.

I think the Polytrack used at Woodbine has to be safer than dirt surfaces. All you have to do is watch the races. The surface is less likely to have potholes, it doesn't get slippery, heavy or sticky and it has some bounce to it that helps cushion horses' legs (and jockeys' bodies when they hit the ground).

That's something else that must be considered: jockey safety. When a horse breaks down, jockeys can receive catastrophic and sometimes fatal injuries, too. Racing sound horses on safer tracks makes the riders safer.

Another good point was raised about maiden races for 4-year-olds. At Woodbine there are often maiden races for 3- and 4-year-olds, some for "and up". There was a 5-year-old first-time starter in one of those races last week.

I still think moving all racing up one year would help, because if horses can't race until they are three, and the Derbies and other similar stakes are for 4-year-olds, there is no need to train them before they've even reached their second birthday. Just shift all the races up, so all the current 2-year-old events are for 3-year-olds, 3-year-old races are for 4-year-olds, and the traditional handicaps are for 5 & up. It may help keep stallions out of the breeding shed a little longer, and also might reveal which ones are unsound and therefore not breeding quality before they have gone to stud.

I used to breed dogs. "Breeding quality" means not just show wins or working titles. It means the dog had passed numerous health tests for physical soundness. Hips, elbows, eyes, thyroid, heart, everything is checked by a reputable breeder before they will breed a dog. Breeding quality and show quality are two different things, and not every dog has both. Maybe that criteria needs to be applied to racehorses a lot more than it is. A few stakes wins at two or three don't tell you much about the animal's true health and soundness, since it is still a few years away from maturity. Not every stakes winner is sound enough to use at stud, and not every mare is worthy of producing foals just because of her pedigree or because she was a major winner.

15 May 2008 3:25 AM
Charlotte

Excellent comments from everybody, concerned.  You all verbalised my thoughts which I was struggling to do.  I wish this thread was posted on every site talking about the fatalities.

15 May 2008 10:27 AM
Garrett Redmond

The comment about The Jockey Club's Round Table is spot on.  All talk -- no action.  Quit listening.  Ignore them.  We need a new approach.  It will probably take a new organization, composed of people who need racing to continue, because it is our livelihood, not a rich man's hobby.

Must refer to comment by E. Smith regarding banning the whip.  ES says "[not if it's use can keep the jockey safe]"  In more than seventy (70) years participating in and watching racing have I seen an instance where use of the whip kept a rider 'safe'.  On the contrary, the whip has caused countless dangerous situations and accidents.  The whip has no place in humane horse racing.  When most people see a horse being flogged to exertion beyond it's natural ability, they are turned-off racing.  Can't blame them.  

15 May 2008 1:08 PM
needler in Virginia

Just one thought on a gray, drizzly Thursday afternoon. I wrote Mr Haskins and applauded his remarks, as I do with Mr Liebman's article here; As I watched the PETA loonies run around condemning racing in general, I heard them demand an end to racing.....full stop. Disregarding EVERYTHING else, suppose we DO ban horse racing in all its' forms?? My question to Mr Haskins is the question I pose here. IF WE DO BAN RACING JUST WHAT THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH ALL THESE THOROUGHBREDS? Can the PETA proponents answer that one for me?

Condemnation is easy, ESPECIALLY if you know NOT whereof you speak. REAL answers and solutions are VERY hard to come by. I suggest we might begin by examining all aspects of racing and considering some sane, rational and humane suggestions for solutions rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

MAY ALL HORSES AND RIDERS HAVE SAFE TRIPS WHENEVER AND WHEREVER THEY MAY RACE.

15 May 2008 3:19 PM
edzepplin

The finger pointing over Eight Belles tragic breakdown by fans, Vets,press ect has been extremely disappointing.Necropsy is in and she had NO pre existing bone injury.This filly posessed a "Daisy Cutter" gait and historically stumbled over her own toes when decellerating according to Larry Jones. Physics and inertia placed the right amount of force on the right spot at the wrong time. Breeders and Stallion owners seemed to have been the most pointed at and that is just plain wrong. The suggestion that slower plodders should only be bred is not realistic and would make hundreds of thousands of horses unwanted and therefore slaughtered because there would be no market for previously speed bred horses. Right now 75 to 80% of all races carded in America are run at less than one mile. To change the breed to gallopers, 80 to 90 % of all races would have to be carded at 1 1/16 to 2 miles. That could not happen for at least 60 to 70 years and there would still be horses breaking their legs because of God's design of the animals legs.A stumble or trip at the wrong time will break their legs at the track or in the field. This industry must stop pointing fingers at the breeders and Stallion owners. Speed will always be fashionable because speed wins most races. Not Cheap 21, 44 speed but explosive turn of foot at the close of a race.

15 May 2008 7:35 PM
Industry Insider

Dan,

  I agree with most of what you say, but we cannot take the wait-and-see approach.  Take a position, the only position that this tragedy demands--and that is the position that medication needs to be controlled, banned in some cases, and clearly more strictly regulated, than the regulations with which we have been complacently comfortable, and those that have allowed us to damage the breed to the extent that we have.  

  Sure, it will affect the economic base of our industry in the short term, and this short term will not bear any similarities to the short term mentioned with our country's recession;  this short term will result in shorter fields, fewer races and fewer race days until we can see the impact of using the sounder, more success racehorses as our breeding animals.  The degeneration of the breed has been on a 40 year tear, and if we react now and call for states to take drastic actions controlling and in some cases, prohibiting, medication, there will be a vibrant industry for future generations to enjoy, both at the fan level and the breeder/owner level.

  Dan, call for all organized study groups to use their respective influences to 'encourage' state regulatory bodies to ban all steroidal and painkilling drugs, NOW.  The sooner we start the real healing process from the loss of Eight Belles, the sooner we can start to recover our lost fan base.  The Kentucky Derby shows us that we have an event that world wants to see and be a part of.  Let's give them a reason to want to come back.

15 May 2008 8:48 PM
Arazi

RE: "Safety proposals ignore the big issue" by Andrew Beyer and publised in Washingon Post.

In his interesting column, he focused on the consequences of adopting the "permissive medication" policy which has made US horses physically more vulnerable. He wrote:

"Yet despite the evidence that the U.S. medication policy has been a failure, horsemen have regularly resisted most efforts to curb the use of medications. American racing is addicted to drugs, and American horses will never again be fueled by hay, oats, and water alone. But until the industry faces the medication issue seriously, all of its efforts to address equine safety will be misguided."

We all know that things can't be done easily in the US especially in the racing industry.

Whereas I think it's impossible to revert back to non-drug days immediately, there could be the middle grounds that all parties can agree upon which may, in the long run, will produce more reliable and stronger horses in the US.

To begin with, what I think could be done is to apply the policy of not using any race day medication until the horse is 3 years old. That will ensure that our 2yo are saved from drugs. Maybe a decade down the road, the minimum age limit could be increased to 4 and so and eventually getting rid of all the drugs in this industry.

16 May 2008 8:23 AM
Susan Cook

I have quarterhorses that are reiners.  There are a lot of soundness problems with reiners and all hard working horses.  I agree that most horses are started too young and worked too hard in order to maximize profit. There are definitely changes that need to be made to make racing and other disciplines safer for the horses.

I have a PhD in water quality and toxicology.  Many of the soundness problems my horses had came from  water contaminated with heavy metals and poorly designed feeds.

Recently I did a study investigating nonsweaters and feeds.  I found many feeds do not supply horses with the minerals they need to sweat and to develop strong bones.  The main discovery was that many feeds contain aluminum which is stored in bone and weakens it.  Fluoridated water from surface sources also contains aluminum and heavy metals.  Much of the water in Kentucky is fluoridated and not safe for horses to drink.

We all assume that feeds and supplements that are marketed for horses are safe.  My study showed that unfortunately this is not true.  I feel a similar study of thoroughbreds would be very beneficial.  Please contact me via email and I will email the study results to you.

Susan Cook PhD

16 May 2008 12:35 PM
Secretariat's Secretary

Is it possible for this article to be published in The New York Times as well? The whole world needs to know how unfair this tragedy has been misjudged. The only way to overcome ignorance is by education. Very well said Dan!!!

17 May 2008 9:37 AM
A Random Poster

I've been a racing fan for almost 20 years, but ever since Go for Wand's Breeder's Cup I've been having a hard time watching the races. Too many breakdowns, too many horses pulled up lame, only to leave the track in an ambulance.

I'm sad for Eight Belle's connections, but even more concerned about the Preakness. Is anyone else disturbed by what they see when they look at Big Brown's feet? Do a Google search and take a gander. Miraculous "new" farrier discoveries are often heralded, only to be discredited a few years later.

What if Big Brown's spiffy glue job doesn't hold up to a thousand-pound horse barreling along at 40 miles per hour? Instead of rejoicing at the thought of a horse like this being held together, why are we not questioning why he has to risk his life, his jockey's life, and the lives of the others participating in the Preakness by running on such obviously bad feet?

For the first time ever I'm not hoping and praying for a Triple Crown winner this Saturday. I just want everyone to make it back to the barn safe and sound.  

17 May 2008 10:14 AM
Johnny

We need to be more proactive if we're going to resolve the issues that our industry is seemingly innundated with. And the tragic loss of Eight Belles, has put yet another exclamation point on this reality.

Dan, your commentary was sensitive and compassionate toward Eight Belles' connections and to all horses that have suffered similar fates. Let's use your words as one of the springboards for constructive change.

From the highest levels of industry management, to the horsemen, breeders, and owners, to the fans, like myself, it's time to roll up our sleeves, come together, and work out our problems. We owe our horses no less.

17 May 2008 1:24 PM
Lynne Veitch

I do think that groups such as PETA should not be antagonized by ignoring them.  Many of us who are involved with horses also support groups such as ASPCA, Humane Society, etc. because we own other animals as well.  PETA is outspoken but they have become very powerful & well known.  All these groups have been started with good intentions.  We should not offend any of these groups.  We've been accused for a long time of ignoring our own issues.  Repeat performances of this directed at others we do not need.  

18 May 2008 10:50 AM
CJ

Thank you for this piece, Mr. Liebman.  I wonder, what are the outcomes for each of the breakdowns you listed?  I very much admired Middle Earth when I saw him race last year, and hope he gets through this.  It's hard to find any information on it.

Even more than the breakdowns, however, I'm horrified by the number of horses disposed of by the racing industry -- see the recent rescue of Little Cliff from the direct-to-kill-pen at New Holland.  Many ex-racers die who are sound, or have good future prognoses if only given a chance.  Just because it happens off the track doesn't mean that the blood is off the hands of the industry.

How much could The Blood Horse do for the welfare of ex-racers if it began featuring a weekly profile spot of a retired race-horse in a second career!  It would help raise awareness of what great, versatile animals OTTB's can be.

If all in the industry can begin to see racing as just a few years' phase at the beginning of a long life, maybe we will begin to treat our three year-olds so that they can be sound at 23.

19 May 2008 1:20 PM
Kelly E.

Dan - excellent commentary as usual, thank you!

I really resent groups like PETA coming in and making a fuss over something they know very little about.  For instance, how can they say that the jock was abusing that filly?  He wasn't!  And neither was Larry Jones abusing that animal.  It was an ACCIDENT people!

There are changes that need to be made within the industry - but they have needed to be made for a long time now - maybe Eight Belles will be the impetus for getting something done this time!

I just think the industry would benefit from a little consistency in racing surfaces, rules, drug-policies, etc.  I don't think it needs to be made like Stock Car racing in that everyone is supposed to be exactly the same - but I think racing would benefit from levelling the playing field.  Whether that means making race-day medications illegal, or having one racing surface serve as the "dirt" surface...I don't care.

19 May 2008 1:53 PM
Flyinhome

Okayyy.....where to start? PETA isn't being ignored, NTRA is making sure of that. someone said earlier that trainers and jockeys condone and agree it's okay to drug and hurt our horses. BULL!! Not ALL trainers and jockey's do that. Drugs had nothing to do with Eight Belles, which is making me confused why people are talking about drugs on this forum...She was clean....of everything. so, PETA can kiss my butt with the whole drug thing, because we are fighting the drug problem. Patrick Biacone(sP?) anyone? that jockey in TExas with the crop incident?

Horseracing is a big thing, and i can tell you one thing, the reason why PETA is doing this, is because they want the attention and support.

I rode a horse in an allowance race once, and when she went down, i layed on her neck, to keep her from getting up and hurting herself more as well as the other horses on the track. i actually got THREATS from 'visting' people! i told them, "i'd rather do that, than lose her and possibly another horse involved." She lived, and is a proud mama now.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Sport Of Kings. we ain't goin nowhere. i LOVE the way all the Officials and Organizations are acting towards PETA! PETA's so angry, where we have right to be angry towards them for barging in. they didn't give a crap when 2 claimers were put down the same day where i come from. And what about Chelokee? he broke down on National TV and i havn't heard a peep.

Oh, and GREAT article Dan!

19 May 2008 4:41 PM

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