Morning Read: Decline of NY horse-racing turns into freefall

It’s hard to know which dire story to link to, as we ponder the sorry state of the horse-racing industry in New York state and the North Country.

Breeding and training thoroughbreds and harness horses has been a tradition in our region for decades.

But shifting ethical practices, purses based more on slot-machine returns than actual horse races, and alleged corruption have crippled the sport.

The head of the New York Racing Association is now on leave, under investigation for allegedly skimming winnings owed to bettors — a scandal that is only the latest setback for debt-wracked NYRA.  This from the Albany Times Union.

New York Racing Association President Charles Hayward…already on thin ice with state authorities for a series of missteps in dealing with government leaders, now finds himself in serious trouble as a result of the state Racing and Wagering Board inquiry that concluded he misled the public when he asserted that NYRA was surprised to learn it had overcharged bettors by about $8.6 million from mid-September 2010 through the third week of December 2011.

The New York Times has also been unfolding a devastating series of articles looking at the rising rate of injuries and deaths for both jockeys and horses.
Since a casino opened at Aqueduct late last year, offering vastly richer prizes, 30 horses have died racing there, a 100 percent increase in the fatality rate over the same period the previous year. Like Wes Vegas and Coronado Heights, many had been injected repeatedly with pain medication in the weeks before their breakdowns, according to a review of veterinary records by The New York Times.
Horse racing has always been a controversial, morally fraught sport — dramatic and beautiful to watch, but also burdened by corruption and exploitation of both horses and riders.
New revelations suggest that the situation has grown worse, not better.  What do you think?  Time for a house-cleaning?  Time to rethink the pros and cons of the sport?  Comments welcome.

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27 Comments on “Morning Read: Decline of NY horse-racing turns into freefall”

  1. I'm a Horse says:

    I personally find horse racing and casinos extremely depressing.

    I’m all for personal freedom, but as we see at our casino at Akwasasne, it’s mostly old people (a group that receives plenty of government entitlements) and people who look like they need a bath. People who get government handouts should not be allowed into any gambling establishment. If you are too disabled to work you are too disabled to sit at a slot machine.

    It seems like every few months we also heard about an embezzlement case where somebody steals thousands from their job to blow at the casino.

    Good riddance to this dying sport. Our government spends billions keeping people from smoking pot, which does nothing to you, yet our government subsidizes gambling which ruins thousands of families’ finances each year.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  2. Paul says:

    I love to watch horse racing. I almost never bet.

    “does nothing to you” – you horses are so silly!

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. Ken Hall says:

    “Time for a house-cleaning? Time to rethink the pros and cons of the sport?”

    YES and YES

    I for one would appreciate dissolution of the entire pseudo-sport of horse racing. As Brian noted the NY Times has been publishing articles about the rate of injuries and deaths for both horses and jockeys increasing. The likelihood is the statistics have been such for considerable time and are just now receiving additional attention.

    Horse racing is one of a plethora of pseudo-sports which promoters cleverly market such that regional and urban citizens acquire a devoted following of, akin to religion, primarily to augment the human fixation for the easy dollar via gambling.

    I have close friends who love betting on the horses yet were apprehensive to downright fearful of when visiting me at my farm when I had a dozen or more.

    Time for humans to grow up and stop proclaiming their macho through the efforts of animal and human actors on the “sports” canvas.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  4. Paul says:

    Rats, now I can’t drink milk, live near the water, or watch horses race? Ken, you are giving me a bad week and it is only Tuesday!

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Breakdown” That is what they call the abuse of an animal that leads to its death in horse racing. The whole sport is a form of legalized animal abuse that could be corrected to a large extent but the cost of making the sport safer won’t be tolerated by the Horse Racing Industry.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  6. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    What a surprise that NYRA has done something illegal. How long ago was it that they were renewing the contract for the racing concession in NY?

    At the time wasn’t NYRA under investigation for all kinds of illegal acts?
    Wasn’t Joe Bruno involved in getting the concession back for NYRA after they
    “promised” to clean house and do everything honestly from then on?

    Wasn’t Joe Bruno convicted of being a crook before the conviction was retroactively overturned?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  7. Paul says:

    I feel bad for Saratoga. This sport (or pseudo-sport if you prefer) is how lots of folks there keep the lights on. You lose this and you lose a great town.

    There are some abuses but it seems to me that some of these horses are the best treated animals out there. Ever been to some of these stables? It is pretty amazing what they do for some of these horses. You can’t make money with a dead horse.

    Hopefully the NY Times covers all aspects of the sport in their articles.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. mervel says:

    It is kind of interesting with all of the romantic/nostalgic movies out there about horse racing. One would think that the animals are loved and cared for from the movies.

    Personally if I am going to gamble I really do like gambling on horses, its fun not to fast and I know a little about horses so I can pretend I know what I am doing.

    Anyway sounds like a lot of problems, I am not sure it is worth these problems. Legalize video poker and you could make more and keep the gambling addicts just as happy.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. runfast says:

    Sport? For who? I guess for the horses, they are the only ones getting any exercise.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  10. Joe says:

    Sport seems to imply someone is getting some exercise, I guess it is the horses, they are doing the running. Humans betting on them may have their heartbeat raised but I wouldn’t call that exercise.

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  11. Paul says:

    It looks like the jockeys are doing something?

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    People certainly give lip service to the idea that the animals are pampered and many owners probably believe it wholeheartedly, but the undeniable fact is that horses are not physically mature at the age of two or three and the stress of running hard with weight on their backs causes leg injuries. And a serious leg injury in a horse is usually a death sentence.

    Owners and racing officials could agree to change racing making the minimum age for racing 4 or even 5 which would allow the animals bone structure to mature. They wont do that because (what else?) it costs them money.

    Then, of course, there is the doping that goes on. But that’s a different story.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  13. Paul says:

    knuck, I don’t know too much here. Sounds like you do. Are the number of injuries lower with 4 and 5 year olds as opposed to 3 year olds? There are lots of older horses racing so there should be lots of data.

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  14. Paul says:

    As far as doping goes there are cheaters in all sports. And that kind of cheating harms (sometimes killing) the athletes whether horses or people.

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  15. Jim Bullard says:

    No loss to me. I wouldn’t mind seeing the demise o NASCAR too.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, I don’t know what the actual statistics are. Up until a year or so ago the racing industry made it extremely difficult to find out how many animals were died while racing. There was an investigation about a year ago that tallied the number; I think it was around 500 horses killed while racing. I don’t remember the exact number. But the tally didn’t include animals that died during training or in transportation accidents or accidents around the barns.

    Can I prove that fewer animals would breakdown if they were raced at an older age?
    No. I don’t have statistical evidence for that. But I can tell you from experience that no decent horseman outside of racing would expect a 2 year old to do any work. A 2 year old horse is about the equivalent of a 12 or 13 year old human. A 3 year old horse equates to about a 16-18 year old person. A 4 year old horse equals about a 20-21 year old and a 5 year old is physically mature, maybe like a 24or 25 year old.

    Race horses have the added complication that they are so closely bred. Many bloodlines go back to Native Dancer who was a tremendous horse but had weak feet and he passed the genetic predisposition on to his myriad descendants.

    But the money in racing isn’t in winning purses. The money is in breeding and selling livestock – livestock with great pedigrees. That is why you see so few fillies racing. The fillies are often just as fast as the colts but there is not much incentive to run anything but the most exceptional filly in a race because the cost to train is high and the filly can only produce a few offspring while the stud colt can sire hundreds of colts. Stud fees range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for top colts.

    So the industry rewards burning through colts young and putting the few winners out to stud rather than trying to run an animal a long time to collect purses. Each time you run the animal you risk it being injured and a horse that won a major race at 3 years old can make millions in stud fees the next year. If it ran and lost the value in stud fees would probably decrease.

    So what happens to the thousands of horses that are foaled but never race or race and lose? There is no financial incentive for a breeder to keep all those stud colts hanging around.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  17. Pete Klein says:

    My only real objection to the “season” at Saratoga is having to put up with a month long of “live from the track” during the local TV evening news.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. Paul says:

    knuck, thanks for the info.. It looks like you know what you are talking about. To me it seems like a short run on the track for a three year old horse is no big deal, maybe even something that it might want to do anyway but it sounds like that is not the case.

    “So what happens to the thousands of horses that are foaled but never race or race and lose?”

    I suppose they could be euthanized but I would imagine they are all the thoroughbreds that you see at the stables around here that people just ride for ten or twenty years? Are they systematically euthanizing horses that don’t make the cut? My friend paid something like 25K for a TB that was a washed up race horse. He loves it but it does seem to have issues all the time. You better have some bucks if you want to properly care for one of those. But there is a good market (probably the evil 1% types, my friend isn’t one he just doesn’t have any kids!).

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  19. Scott vanLaer says:

    I have never read so many posts by poeple who have no idea what they are talking about. Runfast, you have obviously never ridden a horse.

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Yeah, we had a thoroughbred once. A retired jumper, though, not a race horse. He was a decent pet and he stayed in the pasture only because he wanted to, he could jump out any time he wanted. They’re good horses for fox hunts, hunter jumper shows, and running fast in a straight line but not much else. Shorter, more agile, more versatile breeds are better for trails, pulling carts, ranch work etc.

    Your friend spent too much money. People are giving away retired track horses all the time.

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  21. Paul says:

    “Shorter, more agile, more versatile breeds are better for trails, pulling carts, ranch work etc.”

    He is not interested in any of that stuff. He rides dressage and does some jumping as well. He is quit a horseman. He is one of these guys that can train the horses that everyone has given up on. Of course it helps that he is also a vet that specializes in animal behavior.

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  22. Paul says:

    Scott you are right on for me. I basically have no idea what I am talking about.

    All I know is that if I did bet (which like I said I don’t) my money would be on Alpha in the derby this weekend. Forget about that white horse!

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  23. Paul says:

    Knuck, they are not exactly giving these horses away. Sort them by price high to low.

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  24. Ron Shirtz says:

    State Horse Racing, Lottery, its all the same. Exploitative activities that cost non-participating taxpayers to subsidize a morally compromised activity, enriches certain state employees with pay & benefits far beyond the average workingstiff in the private sector, and enables and profits from those with gambling addictions.

    Yep, the state government is the biggest legit organized crime mob. The shenanigans with the extra betting surcharges and so called “mis-steps” only prove the lack of ethical over-watch and competency over a questionable enterprise. I mean, the money is just too good not to be tempted to skim some off to ensure one’s state job and benefits.

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  25. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, you didn’t indicate that it was a dressage horse, but still I believe that falls into the category of things I said thoroughbreds are good for. As far as the link you gave there are about 4100 horses listed, some as low as $250. There are 20,000 -30,000 thoroughbreds foaled every year. Do the math.

    I hope your friend enjoys his horse anyway. There is a real need for people to adopt the animals that the horse racing industry doesn’t take care of.

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  26. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Beep-beep-bee-bee-beeep This just in:

    SARATOGA SPRINGS — The state attorney general’s office has sued Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s directors to force their removal, charging that nearly 100 horses the firm manages died in 2010 alone and that many others suffered serious neglect because of the group’s fiscal mismanagement.

    I don’t know the details of all of situation, but the take away for everyone to understand is that the Horse Racing Industry is throwing the cost of caring for retired animals onto charities.

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  27. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    And the other news is that Racetrack Joe Bruno is under indictment again. Remember that Joe Bruno was instrumental in getting the contract for NYRA again.

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