24 Deaths a Week...

It's hard to ignore the brutal number of horse-racing deaths per week

The Preakness Stakes runs tomorrow, and I'll probably watch out of habit. I grew up at a time when the Triple Crown was still a really huge deal, so if you were a sports fan, you watched the big three races. In more recent years I occasionally decided that I should do more than tune in three Saturdays a year, so I even watched some of the run-ups, the Illinois Derby, the Wood Memorial, and so on.

But then I read that recent Times investigation. Every week, 24 horses die on racetracks. That's a really sickening number. Everybody who's up in arms about college football because the poor exploited athletes are only getting $20,000 to $40,000 a year (in tuition and fees), I suggest you shift your gaze.

Football players can at least complain, and quit if they're disgusted. But horses? And I wouldn't bet that they don't notice all this death around them. We all know of research about the emotional lives of animals being much richer than we humans used to allow.

Have you ever been at the race track when they put a horse down? I have. Ain't fun. Here's what happens.

The horse pulls up short of finishing the race. The second you see that horse not putting weight on one of its legs, you know immediately--everyone in the stands knows immediately--what's going to happen next. They try to sit the horse down. They roll out a large curtain attached to a frame so the fans can't see what happens next. And they shoot him, right on the spot. Still behind the screen, the animal is transferred to an ambulance and whisked away. It's the only humane thing, as a horse with a bad wheel can't live any kind of life. But still, it's a really disturbing thing to be a part of.

There is evidence that synthetic tracks may be safer for horses than dirt, but synthetic tracks are slow to catch on in the US. A report on NPR last night said their time may even have passed in terms of really catching on here. In any case, I'm not going to be able to shake that 24 deaths a week for a while.