Horse death rate for the first six months of 2021 at Parx Racing in Bensalem, PA, is on track to surpass the number of fatalities registered in 2019, according to data released by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Horse Fatalities Continue
The data report showed 30 horses died at Parx from January till June, and, if the current rate of fatalities is matched in the second half of the year, the racetrack is certain to surpass the 59 horse deaths from 2019.
The horse racing industry, which is among the most subsidized in Pennsylvania, with subsidies for the six racetracks since 2004 to the amount of $3 billion, is facing scrutiny after the horse fatality issue received more publicity, resulting in allegations of doping against high-profile trainers leveled by law enforcement officials.
Shannon Powers, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, responsible for racing oversight, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that significant funds poured into the industry had no effect on horse fatality cases, while the state horse racing commission continues to encourage industry stakeholders “to examine potential causes… with diligence and open minds.”
Powers reiterated the commission’s efforts led to changes, including out-of-competition testing for horses and larger enforcement provisions for medication violations, as well as mandatory necropsies after fatalities, implemented since 2016.
Horses Are Bred for Purpose
But “the killing is built in the system,” claims Patrick Battuelo, who runs the HorseRacingWrongs.org website based in New York. While recognizing drugs as being “part of the problem,” Battuelo believes the way horses are bred is the main driver behind high fatality rates.
They’re bred for speed with spindly legs and thin ankles. The thinner the legs, the bigger the torso, the faster they run.”Patrick Battuelo, HorseRacingWrongs.org
Battuelo further noted that none of the multiple horse owners at a racetrack like Parx would have much incentive to consider the health of the animals. “Reform is a ruse,” Battuello concluded.
Parx executives have previously stated the racetrack neither owns nor trains any of the horses at its track and will promptly ban any unscrupulous individual, while representatives for the owners have outlined their incentive to keep the animals healthy.
Neither Parx, nor the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the industry body representing the interest of horse owners and trainers, responded to the request for comments.
The horse rate fatality is not the single issue the industry is facing in Pennsylvania, after a state proposal is threatening to shift $199 million from horse racing subsidies to education. According to Gov. Tom Wolf, the funds will ensure that 20,000 students graduate with less debt, but on the background of falling live audiences at the racetracks since 2018, the move would destroy the industry, which directly and indirectly supports in excess of 15,000 jobs.