After HBO’s Cancelled ‘Luck,’ the Ugly Side of Horse-Racing

When Luck was cancelled in March, I wrote that it would be nice if we could get as upset about the health and safety of reality show participants as we do about animal cruelty on set. The New York Times has a disturbing new report about the state of horse racing in New York state that serves as an upsetting reminder that there are people inside the industry who don’t care very much about the fate of the animals they’re entertained by and make a great deal of money by racing even when it’s clear that their bodies are broken, the rot at the snapping point disguised by drugs:

“The horses go perfectly sound right up to the second they snap their leg off,” Mr. Clifton said. The following day he came back with a warning: “If we have one more horse break down, we are going to have a major problem on our hands.” That night, riding in the fifth race, Mr. Clifton heard a bone snap and saw another jockey, Ricky Frazier, vaulting off a horse named Laughing Moon. Mr. Clifton yanked his own mount, but they still went soaring over Laughing Moon. Within minutes, Mr. Frazier was in an ambulance and a veterinarian was administering a lethal injection to Laughing Moon, the ninth Gill horse to die racing in 10 months.

That is when the jockeys decided to take a stand: They would not ride in any race with a Gill-owned horse. Their boycott cast a harsh light on the Pennsylvania Racing Commission and Penn National Gaming, which owns the track.
“It wasn’t the commission or the racetrack or anyone with any responsibility for horses and riders who took action,” said George Strawbridge, a prominent breeder and owner. “It was the jockeys who feared for their life. That’s not a shame. That’s a disgrace.”

The fact that inspections of horses at the track before they race aren’t standard from state to state, giving owners like Michael Gill, the one described in those paragraphs, the ability to essentially go shopping for venues where they can race unhealthy horses, is deeply upsetting. I’m not saying horse racing needs to be federally regulated. But it’s hard to believe that track owners and racing commissions couldn’t come to relatively standard conclusions about the desirability of keeping horses from getting unrepairably injured on the track if only in the interests of keeping jockeys safe. And anyone who thinks watching animals hurt themselves dreadfully is part of the entertainment might want to take a careful look at themselves.