Horse jockeys suffer debilitating and sometimes fatal injuries when their horses break down while racing. Between 700 and 800 racehorses die from injuries every year. The New York Times recently conducted an investigation that reveals that many of these horses were given cocaine, cobra venom, Viagra and other performance-enhancing substances. According to the Times, an average of 24 horses die every week at American racetracks. There are no postmortem examinations of the animals. Since 2009, there are records of 3,800 incidents of illegal doping at American tracks. Given that only a small percentage of horses are actually tested, this figure is likely to be greatly understated. During that same period, the number of horses that broke down due to injury is 6,600, a figure that is on the rise. The general consensus is that this high figure is due to drugs.
Of perhaps greater concern are the legal therapeutic pain drugs administered to these animals, such as Corticosteroids, Phenylbutazone and Flunixin. Pain medications can mask injuries, rendering prerace examinations less effective. As many as 90% of horses that break down are believed to have pre-existing injuries.
In addition to masking injuries, legal levels of pain medications can be fatal to the horses. Virginia=s fatality rate went up after regulators in 2005 raised the allowable level of Phenylbutazone to 5 micrograms from 2. Iowa=s fatality rate rose more than 50% after it permitted a higher level of Phenylbutazone.
5.2 of 1000 racehorses had breakdown incidents due to injury from 2009-2011. Figures in Canada, where laws and regulations regarding medications are less permissive, are significantly lower. One Toronto track had 1.4 breakdowns per 1000 racehorses. In England, where drugged horses are forbidden from racing, breakdown rates are half of what they are in the U.S..
The issue has serious consequences for humans as well as animals. Jockeys are at tremendous risk of injury when the horse breaks down. Jacky Martin, a well-respected jockey, recently became a quadriplegic when his horse collapsed and threw him to the ground. The track where Jacky Martin was injured had a 14.1 per 1000 breakdown rate.
State regulations have failed to curtail this illegal activity. New Mexico regulations are the most lenient as it gives a free pass for trainers= first violations, a $200 fine for the second, and a $400 fine for the third. Four of the five tracks in that state do not report accidents or positive drug tests to groups that monitor such events. Since January 2005, 116 trainers have had 5 or more drug violations and 10 trainers had 10 or more.
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