The arrests of 27 people, including Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro, on Monday, March 9 brought again to the forefront the discussion of the higher number of horse fatalities in this country as compared to Europe.
According to the Jockey Club, the fatality rate at racetracks in the U.S. is two and a half to five times greater than the fatality rate in Europe.
Much of the media blames this on the use of drugs in America, but in fact there are a myriad of reasons.
According to many well respected trainers, owners and officials, the difference in breaking, training and racing horses in England and Europe is the biggest difference in fatalities, not drugs.
In this country, almost from the time they are weaned, youngsters, instead of growing up in pastures, are worked in preparation for sales, often being walked on walkers, always to the left.
The they go to the track where they are worked constantly to the left, putting a bigger strain on the legs on that side.
HORSES ARE bred for early speed, and 2 year olds are hardly broken, just backed enough so that they can be ridden.
Then many of them go to early sales where, prior to the sale, the 2 year olds are worked at speed, with in general those with the fastest works bringing the higher prices.
Almost all race horses in this country live at race tracks where they sit in stalls for over 23 hours a day, just being taken out for a few minutes a day to train.
And the highest number of races in this country are on dirt.
In England and Ireland, horses live at trainers' yards and train on grass, often on hills in both directions and in large numbers, without lead ponies.
They have to be better broken, because they are trained in open spaces, not on tracks.
They also are turned out for at least a few hours a day.
In Europe, horses are usually trained a large training centers that have turn-out facilities.
In this country, there are very few facilities such as that.
One like that belongs to Jonathan Sheppard, a Hall of Fame trainer with multiple Eclipse Award winners both on the flat and over fences, who trains out of his farm in West Grove.
His record shows. not only his ability as a trainer, but also his wisdom in training as they do in Europe.
Another is Fair Hill Training Center, where trainers such as Graham Motion can train on different surfaces and can turn horses out.
In England and Ireland, race meets move from one facility to another, allowing for a large number of turf races, while in this country horses live at tracks for months on end with all racing over the same surface day after day.
Europe also uses all-weather tracks more than this country does, with Wolverhampton and New Castle in England using Michael Dickinson's tapeta track, which has resulted in virtually no fatal breakdowns.
DESPITE ALL the negative publicity, this country is working towards improving safety for horses and their jockeys.
An analysis of data from the 11th year of reporting to the Equine Injury Database (EID) shows a decrease in the rate of fatal injury in 2019 (1.53 per 1,000 starts) compared to 2018 (1.68 per 1,000 starts), The Jockey Club announced on March 12.
The 2019 rate of fatal injury is the lowest number since the EID started collecting data in 2009.
The overall drop in the risk of fatal injury from 2009 to 2019 was 23.5 percent.
According to The New York Times, "Horse racing has a long history of re-purposing drugs in pursuit of a performance edge. This reliance on performance enhancing drugs combined with lax state regulations has made American racetracks among the deadliest in the world."
Many are calling for passage of The Horseracing Integrity Act, which is backed by the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, a diverse group of 18 members that include racing organizations, racetracks, owner and breeder associations, and animal welfare groups that support adoption of a national, uniform standard for drug and medication rules in horse racing.
However, according to Duncan Patterson, Chairman of the Drug Testing Standards Practices Committee, 90 percent of the tracks that are producers of betting handle have close to the same rules.
Just recently, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia are covered by a rule that mandates that no drugs other than Lasix are allowed for 48 hours prior to a race.
New York just passed a rule forbidding Lasix in 2-year-old races and in 2021 Lasix will be forbidden in all stakes races.
Trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, the two biggest names among the 27 people indicted Monday after an investigation into horse doping, are due back in court Mar. 23 for their arraignment. Both were arrested Monday in Miami and released on bail.
All 27 individuals were arrested in raids Monday across the country that included Florida, New York, Indiana, California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
Those trainers arrested were using Erythropoietin, know as EPO, these are the red blood cell producing drugs.
This synthetic hormone is used to stimulate the body's production of red blood cells which increases oxygen transport and aerobic power in the body.
That results in horses racing above their normal ability and has resulted in breakdowns.
Navarro was charged with two counts of “Misbranding Conspiracy,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years each; Servis was charged with one count.
Servis trained, among others, Maximum Security,who was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby for interference and just recently won the world's richest race, the Saudi Cup in Riyadh.
Rumors had abounded for years concerning all indicted trainers because of their high percentage of wins.
THE GOOD news is that, now that there is a test for the drugs used by those trainers, those drugs won't be used again.
The bad news is that if can take six months or more and $100,000 to develop a test for a new drug.
Ninety percent of the drug positives in this country are for people using too much of a therapeutically allowed drug allowed for racing at certain threshhold levels.
The majority of those overages are attributed to an innocent error or sloppy management,
There are four classes of drugs:
Class One; drugs that have no business being in a horse, such as frog juice and cobra venom, Viagra, cocaine, cobalt and heart medicines, most of which can now be tested.
Class Two; drugs that have a high potential to affect performance and are not generally accepted for medicinal use but may have some therapeutic use, such as prozac and lidocaine.
Class Three; drugs that may or may not have general therapeutic use but do have the potential to affect performance such as acepromazine and clenbuteral.
Class Four: therapeutic drugs like bute and banamine that are allowed at certain thresold levels.
There a three classes of penalties:
Class A; Class One and Two drugs, minimum one year suspension and a minimum fine of $10,000.
Class B: Class Three drugs, minimum 15 day suspension and a minimum fine of $500..
Class C; Class Four drugs, normally a disqualification from the race and a possible fine, unless it involves multiple violations which will lead to possible suspension and higher fines.
The drugs used by Servis, Navarro and the other trainers fall into Class One drugs and Class A penalties with a minimum of one year suspension and a minimum fine of $10,000, a penalty many consider to be much too low for what those trainers did.
"We're working in increasing the penalties for Class One drugs," said Patterson. "We are having discussions regarding substantially increasing the penalty for certain Class 1 drugs."