Thirty horses have died at Santa Anita race track since December 26 (After another horse death at Santa Anita, Hall of Fame trainer Hollendorfer banned, June 22). At least twelve horses have died at Maryland tracks so far this year (Five-year-old mare collapses and dies during second race at Laurel Park, June 17). As Maryland debates whether the Preakness should remain in Baltimore, the more important question is whether horse racing should exist at all.
Race horse fatalities of this magnitude are not inevitable. In a May interview on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Gina Rarick, who trains in France, said that "our horses have long careers, run drug-free, and don't die on the track like their American cousins. ...On race day there can be no drug in the horse's system. None." The key phrase is drug-free.
In his May 17 Sun piece about the "existential crisis" facing the horse racing industry, Childs Walker noted the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019 introduced in Congress that would bring uniformity to racing regulations across the U.S., set up an organization to oversee a new anti-doping program, and ban all medications for horses within 24 hours of a race (“As it prepares for 144th Preakness, horse racing industry faces larger 'existential' crisis,” May 17). Similar legislation has been before the Congress since at least 2013. Those with financial interest in the status quo have lobbied against passage and continue to do so.
I love the sport of thoroughbred horse racing. The runners are majestic, the jockeys strong and brave, and the races are thrilling adrenaline rushes. But the sport of kings has become a blood sport in the U.S. If it doesn't reform itself, it could go the way of dog racing, which Florida voted to ban by the end of 2020.
I for one would support such a fate.