The Toronto Star, in an ongoing opinion feature it calls “The Big Debate,” focused on equine safety in its most recent installment, asking the question, “Are race horses being put in danger.”
Taking the stand that the sport does put horses in danger was Katie Lamb, a horse racing enthusiast and free-lance writer based in Toronto who focused primarily on the sport's transition from one dominated by sportsmen who would breed to race to a business that revolves around the commercial yearling and 2-year-old sales market.
“Breeders know buyers at public sales do not want to wait years to find the winner's circle — they want action as soon as possible,” Lamb wrote. “And accordingly, horses are bred for just that: to be early bloomers — picture-perfect thoroughbred specimens when they're paraded in the auction ring as yearlings, quick and grown-up enough to race at 2.”
Lamb said the result is a “watering-down of endurance genetics and an emphasis on flash-in-the-pan brilliance.” She cited Triple Crown winner Justify's brief but spectacular career and the limited racing careers of both his sire and grandsire.
Equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital took the counterpoint, and even Lamb knew she had a formidable opponent to debate, posting this on Twitter.
— Katie Lamb (@katielamb) May 22, 2019
Bramlage defended the industry, saying the racing of horses does not “carelessly force them into a danger zone.”
He added: “Horses love to run and compete. They do it naturally. From the day they are born Thoroughbreds run in fields. When the foals are weaned and grouped, they race each other naturally, to see who is better at what they do best. It is what they love to do. It is what they are bred to do. It's the whole reason they exist.”
Bramlage wrote that Thoroughbreds are well cared for from the time they are born.
“Undeniable passion for the well-being of horses permeates throughout the industry, as well as the public. It's this passion that led to significant safety improvements long before the publicity the industry has faced recently.”
Bramlage pointed to a number of recent welfare and safety initiatives in the sport. He added that Woodbine “has a good story to tell” because of its good working relationship with regulators and an emphasis on safety, including significant investment in turf and synthetic surfaces that produce, on average, fewer injuries than in the rest of North America.
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