Two Thoroughbreds broke down Thursday: 7-year-old Hammurabi in a claiming race at Golden Gate Fields and 4-year-old Cat Tail Cutie in a claiming race at Remington Park.

Earlier in the week, at Monticello Raceway, Standardbred John Henry broke a leg (in a non-racing fall) and was killed. This is Monticello’s 2nd death of the year (Standardbreds break down far less frequently than their Thoroughbred cousins), and NY’s 109th overall.

Racing’s biggest problem, according to the racers themselves, is the perception of a pervasive drug culture. They fret on this for good reason: The New York Times says (10/31/13), “Nearly four in five bettors — 79 percent — factored in the possibility of illegal drug use when handicapping races at certain tracks or in certain states. By a 9-to-1 margin, bettors said they bet less, not more, as a result.” For years, especially since Eight Belles, the industry has reassured the (betting) public of its commitment to cleaning house. Yet this morning, a Congressional panel meets (again) to discuss an intervention.

Beyond the absurdity of Congress, yes Congress, threatening to parent American horsemen, the larger questions are why: Why does government think it within its charter to save a second-rate, ever-so-slowly-dying “sport”? Aren’t the patently unfair racino subsidies enough? And why can’t (hasn’t) a 150-year-old industry police(d) itself?

I submit that American racing isn’t overly concerned about a higher-than-most breakdown rate – it’s just the cost of doing business. Nor is it too dismayed that, as The Times reports, 19 of this year’s top 20 trainers (in cash) have at least one career drug violation – the rules and regulators, you see, are inane. What it does care about, and all that matters in the end, is what the gamblers think.

In this, there is wonderful irony. To restore confidence – save itself, really – in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, baseball imposed draconian penalties on players who fraternized with society’s “seedier elements.” The gambler’s stain on baseball had to be removed. Today, racing, facing its own (unique) “integrity” crisis, considers harsher drugging rules in a desperate attempt to keep – or woo back, as the case may be – those very same elements exiled from baseball so many years ago. One sport’s pariah is another’s lifeblood.

I confess to not being interested in the perils of jockeyhood. It’s not that I don’t care about injured riders, just that what they do is entirely voluntary. Jockeys choose to risk life and limb for a paycheck; the horse, alas, has no such freedom. Equally true, and further debunking the jockey-racehorse-partnership myth, is that dinged up jockeys always garner press, their dead “teammates,” rarely.

And so it is that the Daily Racing Form recently (11/15/13) set out to chronicle 2013’s injured jocks, underscoring the profession’s “unforgiving” nature. The piece was typical DRF marketing fluff: Behold the jockey, our sport’s underappreciated hero. What did catch my attention, however, were the post-article comments from the mostly conditioned, often obtuse horseracing fans. A sampling:

“It really amazes me what jockeys experience on a daily basis. I cannot think of any other occupation – save those of soldiers, policemen and firemen – who risk their lives constantly.”

“Jockeys are such courageous athletes who deserve our respect and admiration for every day (morning, afternoon, and evening) that they get a leg up and risk their lives.”

“They earn the term survivor every day they ride.”

Soldiers. Policemen. Firemen. Jockeys? Courageous and deserving of respect and admiration are descriptions best reserved for people who contribute to the greater public good. Like the soldiers, policemen, and firemen. Jockeys are no more admirable than boxers and racecar drivers, and as whip-wielders, probably less so. Sometimes the racing people need to be called out on their, forgive the euphemism, nonessential matter from the horse’s digestive system.

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The NYS Gaming Commission has announced that 5-year-old M P Joe, who was listed on this weekend’s ambulance report, was, in fact, euthanized after being vanned off Saturday at Aqueduct. Of the 12 NY horses vanned off since we began reporting on this a month ago, 6 died later in the barn. (Two other NY horses, Formulaforsuccess and Miss McKeown, died on-track, and one, Congaree King, though not vanned off at Finger Lakes on October 15th, “appeared lame after race” and was killed the next day.)

NY is still the only state to publicly disclose track deaths as they happen. Last week, 30 horses were vanned off in other states, their fates, as of now, unknown. But using the NY average, a reasonable guess is that 15 or so are gone. This is horseracing.

The following, unless otherwise noted, were “vanned off” American tracks this weekend.

Friday:
3-year-old Kentucky Gem, Retama, race 7

Saturday:
5-year-old M P Joe, Aqueduct, race 6
4-year-old Baby Harlow, Charles Town, race 9 (“broke down”)
4-year-old Another Trick, Churchill Downs, race 1 (bled, vanned off)
7-year-old Atthebuzzer (61st start), Delta Downs, race 7 (“broke down”)
4-year-old Red Man Run, Golden Gate, race 2 (“pulled up lame,” vanned off)
2-year-old One Run Runaway, Los Alamitos, race 2
3-year-old National Prayer, Parx, race 9 (confirmed dead)
6-year-old Modern Cowboy, Penn National, race 5
3-year-old Beyond Heat, Retama, race 8
6-year-old Divine Sophia, Thistledown, race 5 (“pulled up lame,” vanned off)
8-year-old Sliden Clyd, Zia, race 1
3-year-old Finishrich for Me, Zia, race 5
2-year-old S S Star, Zia, race 7

Sunday:
5-year-old Eyesablazin, Hollywood Park, race 2
5-year-old She’s All Yours, Hollywood Park, race 9
4-year-old Manly, Gulfstream, race 3
4-year-old Thimble, Los Alamitos, race 2
2-year-old Hezabadamigo, Los Alamitos, race 4
4-year-old Smart Cool Guy, Thistledown, race 8 (“broke down”)