NYT report details culture of death and drugs in U.S. horse racing

A blistering New York Times investigation blows the lid off the horse racing industry in the United States.

"Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys," published in today's edition, lays out in exhaustive detail the jaw-dropping numbers of horses who give their lives to the sport every year, breaking down during races, most often because they are overworked, not properly conditioned, drugged or crippled - and the real threat those catastrophic incidents pose to hundreds of jockeys every day. 

A staggering 24 horses a week die on U.S. racetracks every week.

The project examined the thoroughbred and quarter horse racing industries buying data on 150,000 races between 2009 and 2011.

The report concludes that the industry is still mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains far worse than in most of the world.

Consider California where 635 horsed died over the past three years either racing or in training. 

Accompanying the story is a stirring video of Jacky Martin, considered one of the most successful quarterhorse jockeys ever until a break down ended his career, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. 

Also included is an interactive map showing state-by-state breakdowns or injuries. In a chart of incidents per 1,000 starts, area tracks ranked below average. For instance,  Delaware Park was at 4.9, New Jersey's Monmouth Park 4.4, Philadelphia Park (PARX) 4.3, Penn National 3.3 and Presque Isle 1.3.

Compare those numbers with California - with the worst safety record (that the state where the terribly unlucky horses who died on the set of "Luck" had raced ) New Mexico or Arizona.

But Pennsylvania tracks are hardly off the hook, recording 243 deaths between 2009 and 2011.

The Times obtained hundreds of necropsy reports on racehorses that died racing in Pennsylvania and found problems that included “severe degenerative joint disease,” “severe chronic osteoarthritis” and pneumonia with “severe, extensive” lung inflammation. One horse had 50 stomach ulcers. Another had just one eye. Pathologists also found metal screws in two horses that had broken bones from previous accidents.

To get a sense of the report's impact, there were close to 200 comments on the New York Times website within hours after the story was posted online. It hadn't even appeared in print yet. By late Sunday the comments topped 400.

A sure-fire Pulitzer Prize contender, I would wager this report will change the U.S. horse racing industry.