Its fan base is eroding and business trends have continued their protracted slide downward in metrics that measure the sport’s health and popularity.
Resultantly, racing’s future hangs in the balance. It is sincerely hoped that the sport’s critics, those who would happily watch the sport fall by the wayside, don't make their case better than the industry makes its own.
By Bill Casner
Horse racing has been hit hard over the past few months with the undercover PETA video, sports writer Joe Drape’s New York Times articles and, perhaps most damning of all, the “Real Sports” investigative magazine currently cablecast on the influential HBO network.
The harsh reality of the “Real Sports” broadcast is that the entire presentation rings true. As an industry, we have created this with our plethora of "legal medications" with little regulation and oversight.
Viewers had to wonder how can a trainer be allowed to medicate everything in his barn with Thyro-L (thyroxine), a more powerful endocrine hormone than anabolic steroids, one that is the master regulator of metabolism?
Thyro-L is not an illegal medication yet when supplemented on a daily basis over months it causes bone loss and thyroid gland atrophication, which eventually will cause a horse to crash.
It is not administered with any type of diagnostics and its sole purpose is to make young horses more precocious and elevate metabolism, “hyper” is the way Scott Blasi described it in the PETA video.
Multiple joint injections are rampant and standard procedure. “Changing' the oil" is legal, having no limits on how often a horse can be injected and or for what condition.
Butazolidin, a drug no longer used in human medicine because of its association with leukemia, is documented to cause stomach ulceration with as little as two treatments. It is an NSAID that interferes with blood clotting.
And we wonder why we have problems with bleeders.
Omeprazole, aka Gastro Guard, is used to treat stomach ulcers but also contributes to osteoporosis.
Lasix, the holy grail of them all, has a list of side effects longer than the average arm, including weight loss, calcium flushing, bone loss, increase chance of fracture, etc., etc.
There are volumes of science in the human field documenting the detrimental effects of these meds, but proponents, especially veterinarians, will always say that it "hasn't been documented in the equine model."
Primarily, it’s because few valid studies have been done with the horse as subject.
Drugs are stacked on top of each other with a magnification of side effects, including a cumulative derogatory effect on bone.
And we wonder why our horses have soundness issues? Of greater concern is its relationship with sudden equine death syndrome.
We can continue our perpetual state of denial and hope that it all goes away, like we always have. But the writing is clearly on the wall.
Assuredly, the troubling HBO segment will be aired over and over and will live “On Demand” in perpetuity.
Every time that happens, more and more viewers will become repulsed by horse racing. PETA will be emboldened by HBO's influence, and its attacks will continue.
An industry friend told me he watched the program with his 11-year-old daughter and she was horrified.
We lose our relevance one well-meaning person at a time.
Either we recognize that the world has changed and create meaningful oversight and punishment, or we will continue the slide into irrelevance.
We are delusional if we think that we can fix this broken model with 38 autonomous, dysfunctional state jurisdictions.
Our only hope for meaningful reform is through Federal legislation that gives central governance for drug oversight and tough enforcement.
Worried about the Feds getting into our business? How can they screw it up any worse?
We can only hope that it’s not already too late. Very sad, indeed.
Bill Casner is a successful owner-breeder and member of WHOA, the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance