Tragedy At The Preakness Renews Questions About The Safety Of Horse Racing

Homeboykris (3), ridden by Horacio Karamanos, moves to the finish in the first race of the day on a muddy track ahead of the 141st Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 21, 2016, in Baltimore. CREDIT: GARRY JONES, AP
Homeboykris (3), ridden by Horacio Karamanos, moves to the finish in the first race of the day on a muddy track ahead of the 141st Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 21, 2016, in Baltimore. CREDIT: GARRY JONES, AP

Before Exaggerator won the Preakness and foiled Nyquist’s bid for horse racing’s second consecutive Triple Crown, there were 12 other horse races at Pimlico on Saturday.

Homeboykris, a nine-year-old gelding who has won 14 races in 63 career starts, won the first of those races. But after he posed for pictures in the winner’s circle, he walked about 100 yards, collapsed, and died, likely due to cardiovascular collapse.

Three races later, Pramedya, a 4-year-old filly, fell to the ground on the final turn of the race. Her front left leg was fractured, and she was euthanized right there on the track. Her jockey, Daniel Centeno, also fractured his right clavicle in the fall and was taken to the hospital.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the two horses’ deaths on Saturday was how seamlessly the activities at Pimlico moved on, and for good reason: It is not uncommon for horses to die on race days.


Last year at the Belmont, hours before American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown in 37 years, Helwan, a 4-year-old colt, broke his left-front leg and had to be euthanized on track. Eight years ago, the Kentucky Derby winner, Big Brown, was found to have used steroids. The runner-up, Eight Belles, collapsed right after she crossed the finish line and, like Pramedya, was euthanized on the track. Ten years ago, Barbaro, that year’s Kentucky Derby champion, broke his hind leg while racing the Preakness. The horse, who was owned by the same family that owned Pramedya, was euthanized 10 months later.

“Race horses die. Few of us pay attention, but it happens relatively often: various studies have found the number to be about 1,000 a year, or about 1½ deaths per 1,000 starts,” Christine Brennan wrote for USA Today. “They get injured during a race, and are put to sleep, sometimes right on the track, sometimes at the most inopportune time.”

According to the Equine Injury Database, 31 horses have died of injuries at Pimlico alone between 2009 and 2015. The Jockey Club reports that the overall fatality rate of thoroughbred race horses fell 14 percent between 2014 and 2015. But, of course, that statistic doesn’t help Pamedya or Homeboykris, Barbaro or Eight Belles, or the thousands of other horses who have died on the race track in the last decade.

As Kavitha A. Davidson wrote for Bloomberg View, horse racing is essentially “institutionalized animal abuse.”

In 2012, the New York Times investigated how the new economics of racing was making the sport more risky for horses. The reporting focused on the amount of pain injections and drugs that many horses were administered in order to help them get ready for race day, many of which push them far beyond their natural limits and mask other health problems that should be treated.


While this happens in the Triple Crown Series as well, it is particularly bad in the lower levels of the sport, where casinos are bolstering the purses of small horse races, therefore creating less incentive for owners to keep the hoses overall well-being in mind. In other words, if a win is worth far more than the horse itself, taking risks with the horse’s health is worth it. Even horses who don’t die on the race tracks are often still mistreated — thousands are sent overseas to be slaughtered and turned into pet food each year.

In 2014, eight states in the northeast joined together to uniformly overhaul their medication and drug testing standards. Still, there are no national standards — partly because there is no national governing body for horse racing.

“All of us are trying to figure out ways to make racing safer for riders and horses,” Dr. Rick M. Arthur, the equine medical director at the University of California-Davis and the California Horse Racing Board told ThinkProgress in 2013. “It is an ongoing effort. It’s an industry that doesn’t necessarily handle change well, but we have to pay closer attention to the welfare of our horses.”

PETA, which has found that an average of 24 horses die on tracks in the United States each week, has publicly called for the owners of Pamedya and Homeboykris to immediately release the medical records of the two horses, including a full list of all medications the horses were administered in the two weeks leading up to the Preakness.

“We have been advocating for no medications to be administered to horses in the two weeks before a race so that if a horse is sore or ill, the track veterinarian will be able to detect it,” PETA wrote. In today’s racing drug culture, at least three horses are dying every day on U.S. tracks. The foolish use of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and other medications must end now.”

“We haven’t fully digested the whole thing,” Roy Jackson, the co-owner of Pramedya, said shortly after her death. “But life goes on.”