In her May 15 letter, Jo Ann Simmons writes about the deaths of equine athletes Jilati and Luke a Duke at this year's Virginia Gold Cup Races. Ms. Simmons writes, "It is unconscionable that two horses had to die in accidents that probably could have been prevented." Sadly, these deaths are just the tip of the iceberg.

According to a 1993 University of Minnesota study, 840 horses were fatally injured on U.S. tracks in 1992, and 3,566 horses -- or one horse in every 22 races -- were so severely injured they could not finish the race. Countless more horses suffer injuries that are not revealed until later.

That's hardly surprising. Ellen Parker, a bloodlines expert, reminds us that greed is a thoroughbred's biggest enemy. People get to thinking of horses as machines. You have to think in terms of the animal first.

Unfortunately, too few owners and trainers seem to do this. Many horses are raced before their bones and knees have fully matured. And trainers turn horses into junkies by pumping them full of such drugs as Lasix and Bute, which allow injured animals to continue racing. Compounded injuries and chronic lameness are common.

Horses that are lucky enough to escape injury don't necessarily escape with their lives: According to Horse Illustrated magazine, the final destination for most racehorses is the slaughterhouse.

Horse racing is a losing bet for animals.

PAULA MOORE

Virginia Beach