Last summer – and the summer before that – a spate of deaths had the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (and California, in general) scrambling. Dead horses are always bad for business, but most especially at such a celebrated, high-profile meet like Del Mar. So, in an effort to quell public upset, the powers that be assured these rashes were just anomalies – flukes. No need to panic, they say, for California fatalities – as reported, of course, by the CHRB – have been declining since 2007, conveniently omitting the fact that other relevant numbers are down as well – race dates, races, starts, even actual tracks. Their approach: distract, deceive, and keep fingers crossed.
With the current meet barely two weeks old, it’s dejavu all over again: As I wrote Wednesday, Del Mar ’16 is responsible for at least nine dead – with over five weeks to go. Looks like it’s going to be another fluky summer.
Fact is, dead racehorses have always been, but because “reporting” on them is a relatively recent thing – 2008 or so, when a very public pair of shattered legs kind of forced their hand – no one knows for sure how many horses died in, say, 1965. So in addition to the misleading way they present statistics, there simply exists no serious, unbiased, long-term database by which to draw reasonable comparisons. (The Jockey Club’s is a joke: the dead are anonymous; the data is voluntarily submitted. Ours remains the only site committed to truly exposing the carnage. But even at that, I concede that we do not – because we cannot: deaths at private training centers, owners’ farms – approximate a complete reckoning.)
Other times, officials respond to these clusters like buzzed dartplayers at a corner pub – keep flinging and see what sticks. First, identify a plausible culprit – claiming rules, track surfaces, weather – then vow to rectify. But nothing ever really changes. Sure, the deaths may ebb and flow, but I see that as (mostly) simple randomness. The inescapable truth is this: The killing is built in, inherent to what they do. In other words, expect more dead horses at Del Mar (and Saratoga and everywhere in between). There’s nothing they can do to stop it. And what’s more, they know.