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Remember the old folk song about a horse named Stewball? “Stewball was a race horse/ and I wish he were mine/ He never drank water/ He always drank wine.”
Gosh, those were the good ol’ days for racehorses. Today, they’re “drinking” exotic cocktails containing corticosteroids, hyaluronate sodium, and even – get this – cobra venom! Actually, horses are not drinking these painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and stimulants. Rather, owners and trainers are injecting the substances into their racing steeds.
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I’m not talking about nags and losers running on third rate tracks, but top-of-the-line thoroughbreds, such as those running in the Kentucky Derby and other premier races. It is now common for billionaire owners to medicate their multimillion-dollar animals with drugs that cover up their ailments and fragilities, making the horses themselves vulnerable to painful and fatal breakdowns on the track.
This is one reason that there are about three breakdowns a day in our country – more than double the rate in England and Australia, where such careless doctoring is prohibited. The motivation of those in charge of these animals’ welfare has become a selfish desire to win at all cost to reap big purses and glory. Training these delicate horses has become “chemical warfare,” says one prominent breeder.
Indeed, in a survey of 20 owners or trainers of horses intending to run in the recent Kentucky Derby, only three would reveal the veterinary records showing what substances were injected into their animals. Most claimed this was proprietary information, one actually invoked his horse’s right to privacy, and one pleaded ignorance, saying: “I’m a mortgage banker. I don’t know what goes on back there [in the horse stalls].”
What’s going on, of course, is a race in which ethics is losing to the fast buck. As one of the honest owners says, “[We] should be taking care of these horses. We’re the ones that speak for them.”
“Despite Outcry, Derby Owners Fall Silent on Drugs for Horses,” The New York Times, April 30, 2009.