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“Drug Culture” at Racetracks Assailed

PHOTO: Aqueduct Racetrack, the focus of Gov. Cuomo's task force investigation. Courtesy NYRA
PHOTO: Aqueduct Racetrack, the focus of Gov. Cuomo's task force investigation. Courtesy NYRA
October 1, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. - Twenty-four horses a week die at American racetracks, according to one account. New York may bolt to the front in an effort to reduce racehorse deaths, thanks to the release of a task force report on the deaths of 21 horses at Aqueduct Racetrack last year.

The report shows 11 of the deaths might have been prevented, and contends that track and racing officials do not do enough to regulate the use of corticosteroids in horses. It blames higher purses made possible by trackside casino earnings for the increased pressure to race unfit horses.

Brian Shapiro with the New York branch of the Humane Society says there is a "drug culture" in the sport, and he hails the report.

"It puts the veterinarians in the spotlight and says, 'You know what? You have to pay attention to the health of the animal and not just the money behind the horse-racing industry.'"

The governor's office, which now has temporary control of racing in the state, says an anonymous safety hotline will be set up so jockeys can report concerns without fear of reprisal. The Jockey Club, the authority for thoroughbred racehorses, says it hopes the recommendations are enacted quickly, not only in New York but throughout the country.

Howard Glaser presided over the release of the task force findings, which include 15 tighter rules and regulations, he says.

"These could serve as a national model. This is not just a New York problem today; it's a problem across the nation."

Shapiro likes the report's recommendation to prohibit injecting corticosteroids within five days of a race.

"The same-day medication of horses, on the day that they are to be raced, is not something that's in the best interest of the animal. It's actually harmful and dangerous."

A New York Times investigation earlier this year found that horses die at America's racetracks at a rate greater than in countries where drug use is severely restricted. Shapiro condemns the environment that allows such losses.

"You've got 24 horses a week dying, nationwide. There's a drug culture involved with horse racing, and that's a very serious problem."

The deaths at Aqueduct coincided with the opening of the Resorts World casino at the track, which expanded the size of the racing purses.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY