NYRA’s Claim That Its Racing Is “Demonstrably Safer” Is Demonstrably False

As Santa Anita continues to reverberate, NYRA issued a statement last week that in addition to promoting the spring Belmont season, regurgitated the now-standard litany of “safety initiatives” that have (supposedly) been implemented at NYRA tracks. The whole Goebbels-esque statement can be read here, but here’s the gist:

“In addition to accreditation…by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, a variety of initiatives have been put in place since 2013 at all three NYRA racetracks…in areas such as racing surfaces and race-day scrutiny, as well as capital improvements and collaborative efforts…to ensure the safety of all participants. These extensive reforms and commitment to improving the safety of NYRA’s racing operations have led to demonstrably safer races.”

While I’m generally loath to use the word “lie,” to say that NYRA Racing is “demonstrably safer” since 2013 is demonstrably false. Whether it rises to the level of lying, I’ll leave to you to decide. Follows are the death totals (direct from the Gaming Commission) for the three NYRA tracks for 2013 and 2017:

2013 – Aqueduct, 23 dead; Belmont, 38 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 70 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 17 dead; Belmont, 40 dead; Saratoga, 21 dead; total, 78 dead

That’s an 11% increase in horses dying at NYRA racetracks from 2013 to 2017.

Okay, they’ll say, but those totals include deaths from “non-racing” causes (e.g., colic, laminitis). (By dubbing them so, the industry is effectively saying, “that’s not on us”; morally, however, the how matters not a whit – a dead racehorse is a dead racehorse.)

On-track (racing or training) only, then:
2013 – Aqueduct, 21 dead; Belmont, 32 dead; Saratoga, 9 dead; total, 62 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 19 dead; total, 62 dead

No change.

Increasingly desperate, I can then imagine them asking for racing totals only. Okay:
2013 – Aqueduct, 14 dead; Belmont, 6 dead; Saratoga, 5 dead; total, 25 dead
2017 – Aqueduct, 12 dead; Belmont, 10 dead; Saratoga, 8 dead; total, 30 dead

A 20% increase. But wait. In 2013, the three NYRA tracks had 247 days of racing; 2017, 234. Deaths up, number of races down. Now, to be fair the 2018 numbers did come down a bit: Aqueduct, 15 dead; Belmont, 29 dead; Saratoga, 13 dead – for a total of 57 dead. So, after five years of state-of-the-art technology (“ground-penetrating radar”), greater vigilance (multiple “inspection” and “observation” periods), better protocols (“enhanced levels of scrutiny”), the deaths went from 70 to 57. Is this what is to pass for “demonstrably safer”? Is this – only 57 dead animals for, I remind, gambling and entertainment – what we’re to call progress in 21st Century America? Citizens, awake.

8 Comments

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  1. As a horse lover, barefoot trimmer and owner of 2 back-yard mares who enjoy the best “natural lifestyle*” I can offer, it’s true that horses can be in some ways quite fragile and accident prone. However, TB’s are trained for racing before their bodies mature and subjected to solitary confinement (stalls) between excessive athletic demands as well as, in most cases, mandatory shoeing. Putting shoes on horses’ feet restricts blood flow and thus significantly decreases sensation of the terrain beneath, as well as preventing the hooves from functioning as Nature intended (circulatory support for the heart). Wonder how many equine deaths could be prevented by changing some or all of these factors, but know each and every one has a “cost” to the owners. I am told that originally MATURE Thoroughbreds raced cross-country (i.e., “steeplechases” in the UK) and were prized not only for their speed, but also endurance and soundness as they aged.

    *No stall confinement, free range on about 8 acres of native pasture for graze 24/7, always with access to water, shelter and the company of other horses, BAREFOOT sound and bitless bridles.

  2. The horses deserve much better! They are gentle, majestic creatures, who have been our partners throughout human history. Human civilization ( such as it is) would not have achieved what it/we have without horses. We owe them a LOT! They must not be treated this way! I wish more people rode, partnered with, and cared for horses. They need us!

    • Well said Donna!
      Unfortunately, there many humans who don’t feel as we do. They will take and take regardless of the mayhem they cause. “Giving back” never enters their minds. Greedy humans do not consider the fallout or long-term effects of their actions This type of orientation, however, comes at a great cost to the exploited. But the cost to humanity may be even greater in the long run.

  3. I always hate race track never understand why do we have to abuse those beautiful horses,let the people run instead of horses.

  4. Horse and dog racing qualifies as animal cruelty/abuse and should be prosecuted as such. Since proponents will never admit to their wrong-doing, we have to seriously strengthen animal cruelty laws in the U.S. by instituting appropriate jail time, heavy fines and prohibiting the owning of ANY animal EVER again! And when I say jail time – I don’t mean a slap on the wrist as is currently the case! Only severe repercussions will ensure that horse/dog racing won’t be worth the price to pay!

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