A silly memory from my youth. Every Saturday morning broadcast of Archie Andrews, the radio version of the popular comic strip would reach the same moment of eruption, when Archie, or Jughead, or any of the other high school student characters would go too far, and Archie’s long-suffering dad would explode: “Enough is enough and plenty is too much!” The laugh-track roared and the rest of the show was about returning the loony to just about normal.
But Papa Andrews’ weekly fit raised two related questions: How much is enough? And when do things get to be too much?
Is thoroughbred horse racing safe enough because, according to the American Jockey Club’s database, on average, fewer than 10 horses a week died on American racetracks in 2018. Which means, again according to the Jockey Club, a major voice of a multi-billion dollar industry, that your chances of seeing a horse killed in a race are less than two in 1000? Still, even at those odds, the Jockey Club figures say more than 6,000 horses died racing over the past 10 years. Is that too many?
Or would close to 20 racehorses dying every week at American racetracks be too much? The equine death toll was an average 24 a week back in 2012 when the New York Times did a classic investigative report on the subject, but the Times agrees with the Jockey Club that things have improved since.
It’s hard to know for sure, because the difference between on the track, as the Club clocks it, and at the track as the Times counted is that the Jockey Club doesn’t count horses who die during or after morning training, rather than during or after an actual race.
Of the 23 horses who died at southern California’s glamor racetrack, Santa Anita, between December 26, 2018 and mid-April, 2019, 10 died during training, so the Jockey Club count is almost certainly a dramatic understatement of the problem.
23 dead horses in less than four months’ time at a single world-famous track in one of the world’s top media markets, has been almost unanimously judged to be “too much.”
Even though management at Santa Anita has responded with dramatic changes in the use of race-day medications and jockeys’ whips, even though milder versions of the Santa Anita reforms seem headed for wider adoption at other tracks in other states across the country, if the public perceives that these protections are not enough, and that the dangers thoroughbred racing inflicts on the horses are too much, an industry in trouble could become an industry as dead as those horses.
David Wharton is a featured sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times. His work has won the Associated Press Sports Editors award for enterprise reporting and has been selected for the prestigious “Best American Sports Writing.” He has written for magazines such as Surfer and Men’s Fitness, and is the author of two nonfiction books, “Conquest” and “Yesterday & Today.”