New York Times probes horse racing fatalities
The rough ride horse racing has experienced in recent weeks due to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for an investigation into the rash of catastrophic injuries at Aqueduct this winter and HBO’s cancellation of the horse racing series LUCK due to a third equine fatality is far from over. In fact, it’s probably safe to say the worst is yet to come.
This coming week, perhaps as early as Sunday according to sources, the New York Times will begin a multi-part series on equine fatalities in Thoroughbred racing throughout the United States over a three-year period. Led by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Bogdanich, with reporting by veteran racing journalist and two-time Eclipse Award winner Joe Drape, the series will rely on statistics compiled by an investigative team using Freedom of Information Act requests and official racing charts from Equibase.
The investigative team has also examined every rules violation related to medication, from overages of therapeutic substances to findings of banned performance enhancing drugs.
States that will look particularly bad from the standpoint of a high equine fatality rate and lax regulation, sources have said, include those where revenue from slot machines or casinos have enhanced purses, especially for horses racing in low-end claiming contests. Those are expected to include New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
However, other major tracks, including Aqueduct and Santa Anita Park (where a synthetic surface was replaced by conventional dirt after complaints from some horsemen and many gamblers) will reflect higher than average rates of catastrophic or fatal injuries, the Paulick Report has been told by a source familiar with the series.
In anticipation of the Times series, The Jockey Club this week released its own findings from the Equine Injury Database over a three-year period, from 2009-2011. That data shows approximately two equine deaths per 1,000 starts. One source told the Paulick Report the New York Times investigation will reveal a higher overall fatality average than that in The Jockey Club database.
Drape is well known in racing circles since joining the New York Times in 1998 to cover the Thoroughbred industry. He is the author of several books, including “The Race for the Triple Crown” and “Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend” (a biography of jockey Jimmy Winkfield). Drape has also written extensively about college and high school football.
Bogdanich, assistant editor of the New York Times Investigative Desk, has been with the newspaper since 2001, having worked as an investigative producer for “60 Minutes” and ABC News before that. He was also an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal. His Pulitzer Prizes were for investigative reporting on how poisonous pharmaceutical ingredients from China made their way into the global marketplace; substandard medical labs; and an examination of the American railroad industry (ironically titled “Death on the Tracks.”)
Dara Miles is a third member of the New York Times investigative team that has been examining horse racing fatalities for a number of months.