Let’s be charitable and chalk up such comments to self-delusion, because anyone who thinks horse racing is like any other major sport is lying, ignorant or kidding themselves. No other accepted sport exploits defenseless animals as gambling chips. No other accepted sport tolerates the cruelties that routinely result in the injury and death of these magnificent animals. The rot in horse racing goes deep. It is a sport that has outlived its time.
Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York on Monday announced the arrests of 27 racehorse trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors on charges of operating a massive international scheme to drug horses to make them run faster and to cheat the betting public. “What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York office. “They experienced cardiac issues, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury and, in some cases, death.”
Among those indicted were some big names of racing — such as Jason Servis, who trained Maximum Security, winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference and winner of four of five subsequent high-profile races, including last month’s $10 million Saudi Cup. The series of indictments unveiled in Manhattan makes clear that it is money like that in an industry valued at $100 billion that has given root to a culture of increasingly sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs that disregards the health and well-being of horses.
That one of those indicted, trainer Jorge Navarro, openly embraced his nickname as the “Juice Man,” speaks volumes about the indifferent attitude of racetrack operators and regulators who allowed the abuses to flourish. That some of the conversations caught on the federal wiretaps are eerily similar to the callous way horses are discussed and discounted on an undercover video taped by PETA in 2014 make clear that for all the talk about the love of horses, they are just commodities that are used and abused until they are sent off to the slaughterhouse.
Increased attention to the deaths of racehorses, on average nearly 10 horses a week, has shined a spotlight on horse racing’s dark side that is changing public attitudes. Activities involving animals that used to be tolerated — even revered — like circus elephants or killer whale shows ended as people learned of their terrible toll. Horse racing awaits a similar reckoning.