It takes a few seconds to realize what you are looking at.
The Sunday cover of
But this Sunday's cover didn't cause an immediate, visceral reaction. This took some studying. Set in the middle of the page -- and not very deep -- was a horizontal photo. The action is obscured by two rails in the foreground, and between them there's a man looking down at a horse. His hand rests on the horse's shoulder. A large silver cross hangs from his neck. You can't tell if the horse is dead yet.
The story below is entitled: Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys. It is a sprawling -- almost 6,500 words, covering three full pages inside -- piece of investigative work that comes to what probably is not a startling conclusion: the big-money business of horse racing is rife with unsafe practices for both the
It is disconcerting, though, that conditions appear to have gotten worse since the 2008
Maryland's tracks are among the safest in the country -- there's a state-by-state breakdown of that here -- with Pimlico averaging 3.8 incidents and Laurel 3.5 per 1,000 starts. The average is 5.6.
But Maryland's tracks also are not yet afflicted* with the force that appears to be the root cause of the problem: casinos. In states where slots and table games have been paired with horse racing, there's an injection of fresh money being pumped into the sport. But instead of using it to ensure safer conditions, some owners and trainers have pushed their horses harder than ever before.
*It's hard to figure out if afflicted is the right term. Casinos are seen by many as the last, best way to prop up the horse racing industry.
These are not new issues, of course. Horses have been overused -- is there another, better term for it? -- by man for centuries. One of the very best pieces of daily newspaper journalism ever produced, and one studied by anyone interested in writing about sports, is called "Death of a Racehorse." In it, W.C. Heinz tells of a promising horse's debut -- Air Lift, full brother of Assault -- ending with the vets removing
As to why so many horses seem to breaking down, the Times finds no new answers. Drugs are and have long been the culprit, and the innovators on the performance enhancement side will always be ahead of those on the testing side. (Though some of the ingredients being used --
If the Times article offers any sort of possible resolution to this problem, it's federal regulation. Which may, in fact, be on the horizon now that this story has appeared a month before horse racing takes the national spotlight in Louisville. It's worth the read, and the videos -- especially the one of paralyzed jockey Jacky Martin -- will haunt you.*