Taking the reins on racehorse safety
Baseball and bicycle racing aren't the only sports whose reputations have been tarnished by doping. There's also horse racing, where the four-legged athletes are routinely pumped with performance-enhancing drugs and pain killers to get them to run faster and more often, and make more money for their owners and trainers.
It's cruel and dangerous, and the result is predictable and ugly: Hundreds of horses break down each year at racetracks in this country and have to be destroyed. Sometimes their riders are injured as well.
To its credit, New York state is taking the problem seriously. After 21 horses broke down on the Aqueduct inner track during last year's winter season, Gov. Cuomo appointed a task force to investigate the equine deaths and make recommendations for preventing them in the future. The time was right for action because Cuomo had already appointed a reorganization board to set the troubled New York Racing Association (which operates Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga) on the right course, and was also remaking the Racing and Wagering Board.
The task force concluded that there was no single reason for the 21 deaths, but focused on three contributing factors: use of cortisone and other drugs that mask injuries; veterinarians who report directly to NYRA; and an infusion of video lottery money that dramatically increased purses even for smaller races and encouraged owners and trainers to run inferior, sometimes injured, horses in them.
All three have now either been addressed, or may soon be. The state has adopted the toughest drug policy in the country. On Monday, NYRA announced that it will create an independent veterinary structure led by a medical director. And at its Jan. 25 meeting, it will consider reducing the number of racing days each week, and races each day, at Aqueduct's inner track.
In the short term, these changes could mean less revenue for New York's horse racing industry, whose overall economic impact is in the billions. But in the long run, they're the best way to ensure its integrity, humanity and sustainability.