Racehorse Doping Scandal Brings Scrutiny to Vet Care for Racehorses

Photo: Paulick Report

For months a mysterious rash of deaths of racehorses has plagued the racing industry, and now prosecutors have, according to CNN, accused “27 people — horse trainers, veterinarians, and drug distributors — of carrying out separate but related conspiracies to covertly provide performance-enhancing drugs to racehorses.”  The FBI investigator, William Sweeney Jr., said, “What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse…They experienced cardiac issues, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury and, in some cases, death.”

Why This Matters:  The New York prosecutor in the case did not pull any punches — the indictments level charges against some of the most prominent trainers (and horses) in the sport.  The trainers and others did it because they were greedy — and, as the prosecutor said, ” it was the racehorses that paid the price.”  They secretly doped the horses and also covered up the scheme — even disposing of the dead horses’ bodies without reporting those deaths.  This scandal raises serious questions about the ethics of the sport and its ability to protect the animals at the center of it.  The industry, according to a 2017 study, has an economic impact of around $122 billion, employing around 1.74 million people, and is responsible for 7.2 million horses, with Texas, Florida, and California having the highest horse populations.

The Health Impacts on the Horses

According to CNN, the drugs the accused trainers used increased the horses’ red blood cell count, stamina and endurance, as well as relieving pain and reducing joint inflammation, according to the indictment.  The horses that died experienced cardiac issues, heart attacks, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury and, in some cases, death.  The investigation took two years, but even so, the prosecutors are not able to estimate exactly how much additional money the conspirators pocketed as a result of their doping, and they did not disclose the number of horses involved.

Santa Anita Race Track Deaths Last Year

In the 2018-19 racing season, the Santa Anita racetrack had an unusual number of horses that died that prompted the California Horse Racing Board to launch an investigation.  Yesterday, the State Board released the results of that investigation, concluding that no laws appear to have been broken, and 21 of the 23 horses that died had pre-existing injuries related to high exercise intensity. In fact, the investigation found that many trainers felt pressure to let their horses race, regardless of the animals’ health, which is not exactly an exculpatory finding even if not illegal.

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