Now that I'm back, I want to reengage my blog post writing. Okay, a few things at work have to get done first...but AFTER that...more blog posts.
My best to all students and educators as they finish up for the year.
If there is one thing horse racing has proven completely inept at, it's fixing its own problems. This is the ultimate can't-do sport: bereft of a national governing body and generally lacking in leadership, cohesiveness, vision, adaptability or a sound plan for connecting to the masses.
(Joe DeFrancis, chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club) drew an analogy to auto racing, saying that the potential for tragedy is there as well. But here's where that analogy falls short: When Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona in 2001, NASCAR didn't just shrug. It reacted, changed its safety regulations -- and became a safer sport. Lethal crashes are down since then.
That's the difference between a smart, assertive sport and an inert sport. Doing nothing only guarantees that the same injuries will keep happening.
The proposal would have made Kentucky the first state to ban race-day use of furosemide, marketed under the brand names Lasix or Salix. The drug is used to treat pulmonary hemorrhaging in racehorses. Furosemide is the only medication allowed to be given to horses on race day in the United States. Its use is banned in other countries because it enhances performance.
Last year, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers sought a national ban on performance-enhancing drugs in a bill that came three years after death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. A drug test proved that the horse was clear of steroids, but the death helped shine a light on safety problems and the lack of a single governing body for the sport.
Rick Dutrow, trainer of the 2008 Derby winner Big Brown, acknowledged he regularly injected the horse with the then-legal steroid stanozolol.
There is something racing can do to address the problem: It can seriously and aggressively study widespread installation of Polytrack, the synthetic racing surface that gained popularity in Europe, is establishing a beachhead in North America -- and has a reputation for being safer than dirt. Polytrack is formed from polypropeylene fibers, recycled rubber and silica sand covered in a wax coating.
The data is far from complete on Polytrack, but early indications are that breakdowns are dramatically reduced on that surface. According to Turfway, there were three catastrophic breakdowns during the first meet on Polytrack. The year before Polytrack was installed there were 24.
In 2006, the California Horse Racing Board ordered the state's major tracks to convert to synthetic and Santa Anita spent $11 million to do it.
A study of horse deaths over five racing seasons in California revealed 37 percent fewer fatalities on synthetic surfaces. That's also been the trend on the synthetic track at Keeneland in Kentucky.
After a near revolt by trainers and riders, Santa Anita (for 2010) won permission to go back to dirt.
But so far, the death rate at Santa Anita has nearly doubled on the dirt, now just under four for every 1,000 racing starts.