Those who own and handle the animals stand to lose plenty when a horse is put down.
Timothy Capps, a professor at the University of Louisville’s equine industry program, said most racehorses don’t carry mortality insurance. The ones that do typically carry only a fraction of their projected value as a stallion or mare, Capps said.
After the gruesome breakdown of Eight Belles, the Jockey Club created a national panel to examine safety, and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority did the same on the state level.
Among the topics being reviewed are track surfaces, medication (particularly steroids), the use of the whip by riders, and whether — as Bramlage suggests — thoroughbreds are becoming less durable because they’re being bred to emphasize speed rather than stamina early in their careers.
“Those that do get hurt maybe get hurt worse because of their speed and size,” said Larry Jones, who trained Eight Belles. “A good big horse will outrun a good little horse, and they can be more fragile because their legs and joints have to hold a lot more.”
A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee has asked states for the figures they have on fatalities ahead of a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Of particular interest to Congress is the influence of steroids, which were legal this spring in most racing states including Kentucky, Maryland and New York — which host the Triple Crown races.
Those advocating a steroid crackdown got ammunition when Big Brown, who easily won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with the steroid Winstrol still in his bloodstream, ran the Belmont without it and finished last.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said steroids should be banned — not regulated — in horse racing but questions whether the sport has the ability to police itself.
“There are enough people I have great respect for who say this industry is really beginning to be in trouble,” Whitfield said.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the sport gets a bad rap for what he believes it does best — take care of the animals.
“There isn’t a trainer worth his salt that doesn’t look into this 24 hours a day,” Lukas said. “I’ll guarantee you that if any one of those purists who feel like it’s an abusive sport would spend two weeks in my barn, they’d walk away a different person and have a greater appreciation for the care. Animals don’t have a say in it, but when they get to this level, they have a pretty good deal going.”
Trainer Shug McGaughey is still thinking Belmont Stakes for his Kentucky Derby winner after Orb galloped a mile Thursday morning at Belmont Park.
Jon Siegel & Joel Cunningham recap an exciting Preakness Stakes and review the breakout performance by Oxbow. The colt remains in the TCI Top 4 after final Derby preparations, despite his poor Arkansas Derby showing.